Dead and buried Argentine ex-dictators walking through the streets in “The Walking Dead” mode, Bolivian presidents invading Brazil with their troops, Russian bases installed in Venezuela that not even the Pentagon knows about (but that a lawyer in São Paulo’s region claims to have)… these are the unusual “cases” with which Sigmund Freud would have vast material for new books. The pity is that the good Austrian doctor died in London in 1939 (yes, before someone invents the conspiracy theory that “Sig” faked his death before the Nazi bombings in London and moved to Itabuna, Bahia, where he has an inn with Elvis Presley, I warn you that he really died in the British capital). But these are the kinds of things that crop up daily in Twitterdorf, capital of Twitteristan, a country neighboring the Facebooktown, and the paranoid Republic of WhatsAppland.
Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) used to say that “conspiracy theories generate delusions because they free people from confronting the truth”. And these deliriums on social media are not exclusive to the right-wing ones, since they have also frequently afflicted sectors from the leftists over the years. The “internet peyote” affects the entire ideological spectrum.
Walking Dead Videla
In December 2015, a week after the inauguration of the neoliberal Mauricio Macri as President of Argentina (a “neoliberal” who never privatized anything), a wave of rumors was unleashed on social networks in Brazil that maintained that Macri had been given amnesty and released from prison around a thousand former members of the last Argentine military dictatorship (1976-83) who were imprisoned until that moment due to their crimes against humanity (kidnapping, torture, and murder of civilians, among other human rights violations).
Among those amnestied in December 2015, they claimed on social media and blogs, was the former general and dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. The information generated a wave of praise from the right and criticism from the left. It was like this, give it or take:
Group 1: “Well done, congratulations to President Macri for releasing those who protected the country from a communist dictatorship! Viva Jesus, viva Videla!”
Group 2: “Yankee boot-licking scoundrel, Macri has released Videla, who is on the streets.”
But both groups were colossally wrong. There had been no amnesty.
1 – An amnesty of this kind would have occupied the headlines of the international media.
2 – The news would also have generated the immediate interest of biologists. And also theologians. The reason: if Videla had left prison, it could only have been in “walking dead” mode, since the bloodthirsty ex-dictator kicked the bucket (or “went to beat rump in the ungrateful land”, as we used to say in Brazil‘s countryside city Londrina) in May 2013. The Universe discontinued Videla as he sat in an un-martial position on the toilet in his cell in the Marcos Paz penitentiary.
However, it is difficult to convince people who fervently wish to have faith in fake news otherwise. But the it expanded: two days later, at the Mercosur summit in Paraguay, the Venezuelan chancellor at the time, Delcy Rodríguez, criticized Macri in public, accusing him of having given amnesty to former dictators. In Argentina, this fake news had not spread, as it was too absurd. In this way, Macri stared dumbfounded at the chancellor, without understanding what she was talking about.
Cuban physicians “expelled”
A month later, in January 2015 another fake news about Macri emerged. And, once again, he was applauded by the right and cursed by the left for something Macri had not done.
The new fake news – which circulated on social networks and from there spread to radio programs and small newspapers in the interior of Brazil – claimed that Macri had expelled thousands of Cuban physicians from Argentina.
According to the fake news, these doctors (“communists infiltrated to implant a soviet”, according to the right-wing), had been brought to the country by the Kirchner government. A kind of remake of the Cuban physicians’ program in Brazil made by the leftist workers’ party PT.
However, Macri had not expelled any Cuban doctor. And the reason was simple: Cristina Kirchner never took doctors from the Caribbean island to Argentina. Well, if you don’t have a Cuban doctor to expel it’s impossible to expel. Hint: put more René Descartes (one of the fathers of modern logic) in your lives.
“State-ownization of companies”
Last year, sectors of the Brazilian government began spreading fake news that President Fernández had “nationalized the telephone, internet, and cable TV companies”. However, in the real world, Fernández had not carried out any nationalization. As I said in the case of the agricultural sector, the hypothetical state-ownization of all these service sectors would have been world news. But, it was not news because it did not happen. Just like the marriage of the Easter Bunny and Werewolves. It didn’t happen, to begin with, because both don’t exist (forgive me, chocolate egg manufacturers).
Last year, the Fernández government decided to intervene in the very important export company of agricultural products Vicentin, from the province of Santa Fe, due to an immense default it had given to the state-owned Banco de la Nación. However, in the face of opposition from various agricultural sectors, the President backed down and abandoned the project.
In Brazil, at the time, a fake news story circulated that the company had been nationalized. The company – which remains private – is currently trying to renegotiate its debt with the Banco de la Nación and other creditors.
Ursal, an exclusively Brazilian delirium
In 2018 fake news emerged indicating the creation of a demonic-Marxist entity, the URSAL, a kind of political transgenic between the USSR – which died in 1991 – and Latin America. The authors of the conspiracy theory indicate that the URSAL (although non-existent) would intend to implant “communism” in all the countries south of the Rio Grande and north of Cape Horn.
In 2018 the U.S. President was Donald Trump. But, not even the intensely conspiring head of state mentioned such a URSAL. Nor did the CIA and the Pentagon talk about this “Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist-Stalinist-Maoist-Guevarist-Bolivarian” entity. That is, several groups of people in Brazil, allied with Bolsonaro, considered themselves supposedly more informed than Trump. In the rest of Latin America, the main leaders of the right-wing parties ignored the new conspiracy theory made in Brazil. There is a URSAL in Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia. However, it is the Union of Redemptorists of Southern Latin America, an association of Catholic priests devoted to the Virgin of Perpetual Help, without a single Marxist touch in their catechesis.
What would become of the mediocre lives of people without a conspiracy theory to take them out of the boredom they suffer daily? In the case of the URSAL, the subject becomes more interesting because it was first used by the Brazilian academic Maria Lúcia Victor Barbosa, although in a satirical way about something non-existent. However, years later, an unsuspecting Brazilian guru (but resident in the American state of Virginia), Olavo de Carvalho, believed that it (which was a joke) was serious and began to rage against this regional entity that intended to “communistize” all of Latin America.
The thing got out of hand, with right-wing politicians vociferating against the non-existent URSAL (and with left-wing sectors – but in smaller numbers – also believing it to be true, yet defending the Ursalian action as a way to stop the expansion of the CIA and Wall Street in the region). A multitude of reverends took advantage of the issue and – going beyond their theological affairs also fired against URSAL in their pulpits and TV channels. They warned against this organization that intended to build a “communist and anti-Christian nation” in Latin America.
And, as Brazilian politics have a surplus of delusions, the subject ended up in the electoral debate of the 2018 presidential campaign. On that occasion, former military firefighter and congressman Cabo Daciolo, presidential candidate, asked candidate Ciro Gomes: “You are one of the founders of the São Paulo Forum (a conference of leftist political parties and other organizations from Latin America and the Caribbean). What can you say about the URSAL plan? Do you have anything to say to the Brazilian nation?”
The way things are going, in the 2022 electoral debate we will have some candidate asking another something like “is it true that you receive undeclared money from the Atlantis embassy??? Answer!!!”
“Pablo Escobar” in Patagonia
Colombian narco-traffickers Pablo Escobar was the most famous figure in the world history of drug trafficking. He, although dead for almost three decades, is still the best-known name related to cocaine business. For this reason, his biographers have investigated – and continue to investigate – the details of his turbulent and bloody career.
However, social media participants always think they know more than the Pentagon, Harvard, the CIA, and Albert Einstein combined. Thus, in 2014, a photo emerged that Twitter and Facebook users claimed that showed a “meeting in 1990” between Escobar and the Néstor and Cristina Kirchner couple. At that time, Néstor was mayor of Río Gallegos, a small capital city of the province of Santa Cruz, in the southern foothills of icy Patagonia. Cristina was a state deputy.
A rendez-vous between the powerful global drug trafficker and Kirchner, at the time an unknown mayor, would be very peculiar. Even more because the province of Santa Cruz was not at the time on the narcotics traffickers’ route (it is not even currently part of the route). Santa Cruz is close to the Falkland Islands. Ahá!!! Escobar wanted to traffic to the islands! No. Even for fake news, it would be too delirious…
The fake news around the photo was denied by Mariana Zuvic, daughter of the so-called Pablo Escobar in the picture. Instead of the drug trafficker, the person who appears in the image, with a chubby face and a mustache, is the San Salvador politician Miguel Ángel Zuvic, who was a friend of the Kirchners at the time (and with whom he quarreled afterward). The people who appear as Cristina and Néstor Kirchner in the photo are themselves.
Days later, when the photo with the alleged mustachioed Escobar had already been denied in Buenos Aires, the delay effect of the networks appeared in Brazil. Brazilian people on social media (and blogs and small media) printed the photo. But adding a new character: Brazil‘s former President Dilma Rousseff.
The promoters of the photo tried to indicate that it had been a meeting of the “South American left” financed by narco-trafficking.
But in “1990” the Kirchners were part of the Peronist neoliberal right-wing, allied to the then-president Carlos Menem (more than a decade later they would make the state-interventionist turn).
1st – Dilma, who was already left-wing, and the Kirchners, who were right-wing at the time, did not know each other at the time. And it did not even make sense for them to meet at the time.
2nd – Rousseff had not traveled to the farthest reaches of the Americas at the time.
3rd – The person who appears with short hair, sitting between Cristina and Nestor Kirchner is not Dilma, as she was Ema Zuvic, the wife of the mustachioed Miguel Zuvic Scepanovic. Disclaimer: not every woman on the planet with short hair is Dilma Rousseff.
But, there is an additional factor in this fake news: this photo was not from 1990, as claimed by the misinformation, but from 1981. The little girl with black hair that appears next to Zuvic is Mariana, a future opposition member of parliament, who was 7 years old at the time (and who in 2014 would be responsible for denying the fake news).
At the time the Kirchner couple had not even entered politics. They were lawyers who were getting rich by foreclosing on the mortgages of people who had gone bankrupt because of the economic policies of the then minister José Alfredo Martinez de Hoz.
In short: fake news, besides creating parallel universes in the present (such as the “nationalizations of large companies” attributed to President Fernández) also tries to alter the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if some time someone appears in Brazil claiming that Winston Churchill visited Rio’s city of Búzios in 1970 and there he exalted the famous Brazilian cocktail caipirinha. Churchill might have been a fan of alcohol. But he was never in Búzios. And there is another crucial factor: Winston had died in 1965.
The Italian essayist Umberto Eco (1932-2016), shortly before his death, was appalled by the spread of fake news at the time (perhaps he couldn’t imagine that the situation would be much more serious half a decade after his death). At the time, he said “internet gives the right to speak to legions of idiots, such as the village idiot, who used to speak only in the pub after a glass of wine, without harming the community (…) But now he has the same right to speak as a Nobel prize winner. The internet has promoted the village idiot to the level of the bearer of truth…”.
(Translated by Isabela Fleischmann)