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New Costa Rican website says ‘use your head’

From the print edition

Visit FueraJustoOrozco

Thousands of faces look out from the computer screen. The rows of faces go on and on. A woman with purple hair. A middle-aged dude in a cowboy hat. A young man kissing his girlfriend. There’s also Homer Simpson, Salvador Dalí and a parakeet. The photos are varying and relentless.

But these 14,600 images – and counting – have something in common.

The mugs make up the “Poné Tu Cara” (“Show Your Face”) project. The website, built by the San José-based online ad agency Big Web Noise, has provided an outlet for Costa Ricans irate with their government. 

“We were really shocked,” said Antonio Barrenechea, of Big Web Noise. “We thought in the beginning that if we got from 1,000 to 2,500 people on the app, it would be a huge success. We couldn’t believe that after that first weekend we had 4,000.”

That stands as an extraordinary number for an idea dreamt up over cups of coffee one morning, and a website built in one day. But the site seems to fill a need. The page gives young, Internet-savvy Costa Ricans a place to sound off on a current event. 

“Fuera Justo Orozco” (“Out with Justo Orozco”) refers to an evangelical lawmaker who was selected as president of the Legislative Assembly’s Human Rights Commission on May 31(TT, June 1). Orozco has made comments deemed homophobic and sexist by critics. Last week, Orozco helped bury a bill extending economic rights to same-sex couples, adding that homosexuality is a sin that can be cured with prayer. His election sparked backlash among Costa Rican residents aghast at the idea that a conservative Christian is in charge of advocating legislation relating to gay rights and in vitro fertilization. 

A protest declared for Saturday morning in downtown San José (see box) will test the legitimacy of the indignation, as Orozco shows no desire to step down. But at this moment, has done an apt job of amassing outrage on the web.

In a sharp, white-and-yellow font, the website declares, “If a signature is not enough, we’ll show our face.” (The signature refers to a previous online petition, which garnered 6,800 signees.) The bottom of the page reads: “We demand the immediate resignation of Justo Orozco as president of the Human Rights Commission of the Legislative Assembly.”

Then a large button asks visitors to “poné tu cara” (place your face). Click the button and the site asks to connect with your Facebook profile to add your face to the collection of heads already on the site. 

The website’s launch has attracted international attention. In the first 48 hours, the appeal reached thousands of Facebook users. The majority came from Costa Rica, but hundreds of stopovers to the site arrived via the United States and Spain. Visitors from El Salvador and Mexico asked if the website could be redone for perceived injustices in their own countries. 

The site’s popularity caught the interest of organizers for in London. The nonprofit group asked Big Web Noise to apply for an initiative that grants prizes of $20,000 to web developers that “use information technology to promote and enable human rights or deliver a social outcome.” 

Barrenechea, 34, said if they receive the money, the company plans to use it to turn the site into an open source code project that could be shared freely online. 

The project also has received mainstream attention in Costa Rica. Big Web Noise designer Cristian Cambronero has undertaken a media blitz. He’s given interviews to a plethora of news sites and TV stations.

Cambronero has downplayed the role of the website in the movement, saying its purpose was simple and obvious: to mobilize and give a voice to an undercurrent of Costa Ricans that feel unrepresented by the government. 

“All the site really did was bring together a pre-existing culture of discontent and dissatisfaction,” Cambronero, 31, said. “What we did was channel this disgust and visualize it in the form of faces, which seems very powerful.”

Cambronero hopes the government will pay attention. He believes the current generation of 20- and 30-year-olds will be the deciding factor in electing the next president in 2014. And yet that demographic has its issues overlooked by those in the assembly and the ruling government, he said.

He’s tired of hearing critics dismiss equal rights for same-sex unions as an issue solely important to homosexuals. The images on the website and the rhetoric heard on social media reflect the diverse range and backgrounds of LGBT rights’ supporters.

However, images on have one other commonality. The majority of the website’s visitors are between ages 18-34.

Since the initial launch of Fuera Justo Orozco two weeks ago, the number of new headshots added has slowed down. The site appears as a static wall of faces, but the developers hope to do more with the site. Barrenechea said Big Web Noise would like to create more interactivity between the users of the site, such as ways to share messages or to organize protests – any idea that lets Costa Ricans express an opinion they feel is being ignored.

Said Barrenechea: “We think it’s important that young people have opportunities to say to the guys who are in power, ‘We don’t like what you’re doing.’”

Invisibles March

Equal rights activists are planning their first organized protest against Justo Orozco’s election as president of the Human Rights Commission in the Legislative Assembly. Already 5,000-plus people say they plan to attend the demonstration, according to the Marcha de Invisibles Facebook page.

What: The Invisibles March – For a Free and Equal Costa Rica

Where: Parque Central, in downtown San José

When: 9 a.m., Saturday

More Info:

Correction: The original version of this article spelled Cristian Cambronero’s first name incorrectly.

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