viernes, 31 de enero de 2014

Censorship fuels satyre and inspiration



Latin American chapter of the  book “ Zones of Silence” ,published by Joe Szabo of Wittyworld – Cartoonists Rights´ Network- The Prince Claus Fundation ( Netherland)

By Ana von Rebeur


Latin America is passing a controversial process in the last decades.
Humor publications that once held the honour of being a stronghold of truth and freedom against military dictatoriships during the ´70s and ¨80´s , dissapeared after the becoming of democratic governments in  most of these countries. At first glance, this fact could be taken as good news: freedom is now so common that those strongholds are not longer needed. Unfortunately, it is not so .
The sad truth is that cartoons are now considered a lesser art. Its contents became empoverished, getting naive and harmless, due to the constant vigilance of editors, who make clear that they prefer a kind of childish and empty humor, to humor that points out real social or political problems. Irony and satire are rejected on a daily basis. In most of Latin American countries, so called democratic goverments are turning themselves into absolutist dictatorships. Presidents are obsessed with changing the Constitutions in order to extend presidency periods or trying to be candidates for next elections, to perpetuate themselves in power…amost forever . They change the members of the Supreme Court, putting judges that will obbey their orders, and they much more prone to take decisions that will benefit big investors than to take much needed ( and promised) social measures. The only social measure is “ asssistencialism”  by giving not jobs nor education , but poor wages to poor families ( extra salary  per each newborn and jobless sons or daughters) in a way in which the vast majorities of poor population gets money by doing nothing, therefore are willing to vote for the same system again and again.
Cartoonists are victims of these greedy systems .Newspapers and magazines are not interested in using cartoons as a true way of expression. Therefore, cartoonists  don´t draw what they would like to draw , but only what they know it will be accepted .Most of them send their best cartoons to contests and exhibitions abroad, because they are “ unprintable·” in their own countries.
This need to express themselves  away from press circuits have resulted in the development of huge cartoon festivals in Brazil, some of them  not casually being born after the fall of the military dictatorship, two decades ago. The rest of the cartoonists take an active participation in cartoon contests abroad . Militar dictorships took cartoons so seriously that it prosecuted their uthors.Democratic governments let this art die by indifference, maybe also by the fear of the iconoclastic power of humor.  
In most of Latin American countries censorship is subtle and hidden. It is not much noted by cartoonists who are “ inside” the system. Most of them already know the editorial line of newspapers and magazines, and they don´t risk to make cartoons that may be rejected. They do recognize that they cannot make fun of embassadors or diplomats, drugs, abortion, clergy, nor draw polititians in the shape of animals ( this is subject to rproblems everywhere). They also must avoid doing cartoons that may bother the customers who pay advertising. Goverments not only buy advertising, but also sell press paper or are the owners of the media, thus granting editorial line will favour them.
Empoverishment of inhabitants of these countries make newspapers and magazines to depend not on the meager sales of their publicatoions, but on the adversing only. Therefore, Latin American cartoonists are victims of economical censorship. Generally speaking, they may make cartoons about intrenational news, but not of local matters. Needing to know what is the editorial line that the publisher will accept- be it explicit or implicit – there is no freedom of expression. This constant vigilance over their creations leads to an active self-censorship that only few cartoonists are able to recognize.
New generations of cartoonists are hopeless. Publishers don´t dare to contract new talents in cartoonism. They´d rather stick to the old ones,- who know the tacit rules, are tamed and reliable, and always speak of general, “harmless” issues.. Therefore, there is virtually no future for young cartoonists. Young artists express themselves in blogs, websites, animations and fanzines, which are bought by themselves, in a quantity rounding 300 – 500 issues , no more than that.
Famous cartoonists are working steady for big newspapers during 30- 50 years. Some of them in the biggest newspapers recognize the lack of freedom of expression. Many of them are only replaced by their sons. Their style is either innocent or surrealistically absurd, far from being critical eye –openers. It doesn’t mean they don´t know how to be satirical. They just cannot do it any more. 
In adition to the problem, general cultural level of Latinoamerican readers got empovireshed in the last decades, with goverments who send meager expenditures to culture or educational national budgets. As a result of it, cartoonists feel thay cannot send too subtle messages because they risk not being understood by the common reader.
In Uruguay, though cartoonists may generate controversies  and opinions in the readers,  “ we still cannot  get any respect from the media”-  Tunda Prada says. Uruguayan cartoonist Raquel Orzuj  also says : “Editorial guidelines clashes against creativity and frustrates the artists in a no-win situation: if the artists is bored, the reader gets bored.”
In Brazil and Uruguay, cartoonists feel free to express themselves because they can now make cartoons that would be unthinkable 20 years ago. But some cartoonists see this as a warning sign : “We are no longer a menace,because people don´t get the message . They just smile at our cartoons, but they don’t care about the real problem, nor think about making a change. They are under   anesthesia. Corruption is not longer a scandal: it is a banal word , that tuned into an old joke here ” ( Renato Alarcao)  Eduardo Baptistao  (“Estado de Sao Paulo”) says that only a few cartoonists in Brazil ar so respected as to be able to impose their work in an uncensored way.
Censorship situations were suffered everywhere. Jose Alberto Lovetro  ( Jal) was censored many times in the lates 80´s , for making cartoons on corruption cases or making fun of the Sao Paulo City major “ because he was a friend of the nespaper´s owner´s cardiologist “., Jal thinks that the cartoonists´ voice  acts as a kind of thermometer of the peoples´will and wishes . In the same year Jal was awarded with Vladimir Herzog award  for Human Rights( Vladimir Herzog was a journalists killed by the dictatorship) for his cartoons on elections after dictatorship.
Brazilian cartoonist Mauricio Pestana says that “speaking about freedom of expresion in Brazil is  like speaking of it in Irak, Iran or Afganistan” .”Cartoons where the only way to denounce torture, crime and violation of human right during dictatorship. “ , Pestana adds , “ All of a sudden, after the end of dictatorship, the right to denounce was rejected , and  I began to hear everywhere the phrase “this matter  doesn´t belong to our editorial line”  When I dared to make a joke on one presidential candidate, I was called by the newspaper´s owner and the editor in chief  who told me “this newspaper is not a place to do propaganda of your political party” . And I didn´t belong to any political party . The cartoonist creaction depends on his place in society , therefore  what is the truth for me , may not be seen by another one , and that  affects my freedom . As a black cartoonist, I fought against preconceptions like drawing the robber always as a black man. When I draw the thief as a white man, they say I am being a racist.”
Santiago (Neltair Rebbes Abreu) is a Brazilian cartoonist  who wrote in “O Pasquim” humor newspaper of March 2004 the fact that the cartoon by  Eduardo Felipe, winner of the  Salão Carioca de Humor ( Humor Salon of Rio de Janeiro) was censored by the same Salon who awarded it  and by O Globo newspaper ( the biggest in Brazil) . The reason was that the winner editorial cartoon used the Bradesco logotype as a parallel of the Twin Towers . Bradesco is a  big bank, one of the biggest sponsors in Brazil. “ The design doesn´t even crticized the bank, it only registered a great find of visual analogy, which is the prime matter of humor” , says Santiago.
Brazilian cartoonist Henrique Magalhães thinks the best cartoons are published in independent magazines and on websites. Therefore, cartoonists always find a way to skip censorship and express themselves.
Latin America cartoonist deal with the uneven competition of massively imported syndicated cartoons and comic strips that  plagues media with  foreign and cheaper characters and superheroes ( Garfield, Spider Man ) who are already known by the public , and manga  and aminé comics from Japan , often  copied by local artists. Everybody knows it is almost imposible to compete with Peanuts or Hagar the Horrible.
Most Latin American editorial cartoonists still preserve a very personal artistic style of their own, in contrast with European or Chinese editorial cartoons copied from USA style.
Cartoonists are asked by editors to work exclusively with one or two publications, for not being accused of desloyalty. Exclusivity is not paid.  
Latina America has a 48, 7% freelance journalists. Cartoonists are considered in a nowhere land between artists and  journalists, but generally , for contracts they are treated as journalists . Freelancers never get official identification, and unions never negotiate with employers for individual cases. It is the cartoonist who fix the prize of the work , and that means a «Take it or leave it » situation for the worker. In a case that a cartoon or its idea is robbed by the editor, the syndicate lawyer in Argentina refused to sue him saying «  It is not convenient for you to turn against the media, or you´ll loose a potential future employer ».
According to legislation of freelancers  in Argentina, they are not offcially recognized as workers. A full time  journalists in Argentina is considered a «  permanent collaborator ». A « permanent collaborator » is anyone who has published  24 or more collaborations in one year in a same publication. Knowing this,  editors avoid carefully to publish cartoon number 24 , and they fire him without getting an idemnization.In this way, cartoonists are going around,  changing  different  publisher houses yearly because they don´t last long in any place, and therefore they cannot get a place or name in any magazine or newspaper.
In Peru , there are cartoonists who struggle to be free, and those who serve to the interest of the owner or director of the media. “We may see that their works are mere "illustrations" of the editorial line of the newsapere where their work”, Peruvian cartoonist Omar Zevallos Velarde reports.
 Lack of Latin American syndicates or cartoon organizations make all cartoonists defenseless in a lone struggle. The vast majority are working freelance under very short contracts, and that makes the fragilization of  their work, and the menace  of being fired in no time, if they don´t stick to what they are expected to do .
In Mexico, media is hostage of government advertising and economical support. Specially in the interio states , media are vulnerable to demagogic measures and no cartoon speaking about governemet or politics is accepted . Being poorly paid, cartoonist rather  stick to what they are asked to . Anyway there are fine examples of trying to critisize and give a different opinion about the power circles, if not in one place in another . As a consequence of saying too much in a cartoon , the newspaper “Noticias” from Oaxaca, Mexico,  was closed as a political revenge . Governor José Murat self – attack  propaganda maneuvre was shown satirically by a lot of cartoonists who were allerted by editors to stop doing so. They were safe because the case had got  national  headlines. “What allows us to be free is that we have lots of newspapers and magazine where to express our points of view “, Dario Castillejos report .
On the last twenty years Mexico has new kind of inedited freedom. TV is owned by Televisa monopoly , and press paper was owned by the estate . Critic press was harassed and journalists  were bribed to speak in favour of the govenrment . Since last PRI president  Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000)  presidents could be caricatureized in newspaperes with realtive freedom .
Mexican cartoonist Antonio Neri Licón was changed from nacional news  to International news  after making a cartoon of the Secretary of Economy ( El Universal) . He was then fired from Intrenational News by petition of Hebrew community in Mexico for making a cartoon on Shamir as Israel First Minister. He was mopved to  Financial News where he made cartoons that bothered the  newspapres ´s owner , and he was also  fired. He later worked in Economista newspaper were though they received readers complains for making cartoons on religion , they were published  anyway. Now he works  in Milenio newspaper , having total freedom .
In 2001, in Panamá , “La Prensa” cartoonist Julio Briceno was sued by Panama ex vice-president Ricardo Arias Calderón, who told him to pay one million dollars for offending him in a cartoon showing him as a traitor to his own principles, favouring dictaorship´s  party PRD . He still stand for his freedom of expression under his own motto “ As a citizen , I have friends. As a cartoonist, not” He says Panama  cartoonists are  concient of their main goal , who is watching for the peoples rights and against power abuses.
In Costa Rica, Oscar Sierra Quintero, director of La Pluma Sonriente cartoonists organization, in 2003 was  fired from “Prensa Libre” ( “Free Press”! ) newspaper– where he worked for 4 years – for drawing a cartoon on Bush policies in Irak war. He didn’t get an idemnization, and he couln´t sue the newspapers because he was  not working under contract , but as a freelance cartoonits. He was profesionally ostracized in his own country, and now works for “LaPrensa”  Nicaraguan newspaper  in which he took care of making a contract be signed . He knows about a  Nicaraguan cartoonist who was threatened by a political party. Now,  Briceno  tries to show his opinion in ways that may be acceptable in the newspaper in which he works , and he makes his most satyrical works only for exhibitions or international cartoon contests.
 Colombia is a country punished with endless problems of government allied with narcotraffic maffias .Chento was a famous editorial cartoonist working for El Tiempo newspaper in Bogotá. During the 80´s and 90´s , bombings in the streets and shopping centers was an everyday matter. One bomb- car was destined to El Espectador newspaper, a journal opponent to narco- politic maffias. Chento made cartoons against ultra right terrorism which exterminated the only leftist party (Unión Patriótica), who and threatened jounalists and media.
 Interamerican Press Society ( SIP) awarded Chento . And he had to run out of the country. El Tiempo doesn´t publish these kind of cartoons anymore, Colombian cartoonists Roberto Sanabria reports. 
Nani Mosquera , Colombian cartooinst living in Spain, says there´s a lot to be satirysed by a cartoonists in Colombia, but “ it is a work for the bravest”·  She admires Héctor Osuna Gil, for having dared in the profession, since 1959 in El Siglo newspaper,  Occidente and Semana.magaizne, and during more than forty years in  El Espectador , where  he also  writes columns in which he mixes fiction with reality .Not casually, imaginary realism  was born in Colombia – also the style of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez- as a defense mechanism and a by- product of a  place where  - as Adriana Mosuqera says - “you never know where the bullets come from ” .Most of famous and awarded Colombian cartoonists as Osuna , Calarcá, Mico, Palossa, Cabellero, Grosso, Chócolo, Betto, Garzón, Matador , practice self censorship as a way of self preservation . “ Everybody knows they have  much more audacious ideas they cannot publish”. Alter the crime of humorist Jaime Garzón (1961-1999), brother of cartoonist Alfredo Garzón – everybody knows that being a cartoonists is a running a constant risk . Not one cartoonist wants to be next Jaime Garzón in Colombia. Cartoonist Alfin,- from   El Nuevo Siglo newspaper- had to flee abroad after being menaced .“ Cartoonists give the joy of daring to say what most of peopele dont dare to think.  This is common everywhere , but in Colmbia you risk  your life”  ( Adriana Mosquera “Nani”)
In Cuba, any cartoonist who is not with the regime, is considered to be against it . Cartoonists are  difficult to catalogue as a Union – says Cuban cartoonist Tomaso  Rodriguez Zatas “ Tomy” -  “ In theory, we belong to the  Unión de Artistas y Escritores de Cuba (UNEAC) ( Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba)  and to the  Unión de Periodistas de Cuba (UPEC) ( Union of Journalists  of Cuba) . But as cartoonists, the people of UNEAC see as as journalists, not artists. And in the UPEC, journalists see us a artists. Therefore we fell in nobody´s land, no one  knows what we are , and we are underprotected as workers” .
In Cuba there have a lot of celebrated humor magazines (Palante, Melaíto) and the humor section  on Juventud Rebelde newspaper , called DDT “ as a venom ahianst the bad things of society” , joins the works of lot of good artists
Due to constat censorship  in Cuba, Latin America is full of great exiled Cuban cartoonists, as  Aristides “ Artes” Hernandez or Angel Boligá in Mexico,  Alén Lauzán in Chile , and Angel “ Gélico” Fernández  in Canada .
Their creativity and skilled art is the best in the continent, maybe due to the censorship suffered during his career , which acted as a trigger in their creativity .“ Not a critic against the Cuban Revolution is admitted, much less a cartoon. “ says Gélico. “ While in Cuba I was jailed inside the Ministery of Interior during two days for makings a caricature on Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl Castro ( showed here) , that were exhibited in my first personal exhibition in 1993, in the Gallery of the House of the Young Creators, in Santa Clara, Cuba. Since that day, I was fired from all newspares and magazines in which I worked, forcing me to emigrate.” As in Canada he couldnt find a new horizon as cartoonist-  “humor is dry and poor “- Latin Cartoonists and  humor writers  express themselves in a Canada- born website named  Proyecto Cañasanta. ( He also send cratoons to international festivals, where he got  several awards.
Alex Falco – Cuban resident cartoonist–  mentions revolutionary leader José Martí saying that cartoonists must awaken  conciences as  "a whip with bells in the extreme" ,  to turn us into better human beings .
 In Cuba there is a rebirthing of the book industry for any genre ( novel , poetry , essay) except for cartoon books. Any other kind of books seems to be more interesting than cartoons or comics. “ Publishers  will rather make fiction books  than humor books . Novels give more money back. Once a humor collection was  planned , it was  cancelled to do novels and essays, instead.” ( Arturo , Ediciones Luminaria, Sancti Spiritu, Cuba).
Most of the biggest cartoonists in Latin America are working for foreign countries,  or emigrated to live abroad , looking for better work conditions. The biggest emmigrations have happened in Eastern Europe countries , Cuba , Argentina and Pakistan .
Courageous cartoonists are always awarded. On this , succesful brother cartoonists Idígoras and Pachi from Spain , in a  crowded ceremony to their homage,  said abruptly : “ Thank you , but  we cartoonists are fed up of homages . What are this honours worth of , if we cannot publish our works?”
The most industrially or politically controlled the media, the most conservative they get .  Humor can ruin the image of a certain product, person or business. The constant making fun of some political individual damages his image in a permament way. A good joke about a powerful person is the most vivid memory anyone can have about him. “Ridicule diminishes power forever.” ( Argentinian Dante Voccia , ex- sales manager of “Humor”magazine)
It is not strange that countries where presidents want to keep power forever in absolutists systems  will not welcome the skills of cartoonists as  “justice watchers “.
Media, press industries and publishers are much aware of the power of humor, and always control very closely the contents of cartoons delivered by the authors (except in cases were they are sure that cartoons are inoffensive).
Powerful people know that, innocent as it seems, cartoons get to the core of the situation in a snap, and  are much remembered by the readers.
This only shows cartoons work. Cartoons are powerful. And cartoonists are determined to use this power in spite of censorship. Thanks to Internet, our work has neither boundaries nor limits. 
Once I was producer of a HBO special docummentary on Argentine cartoonists. After a week interviewing cartoonists  I asked this Venezuelan crew what was their final impression . “ Cartoonists are jobless, they are  censored, they are  nostalgic of better times, they are desperate . But they are also amazingly self -determined and perseverant in their job!”
I think this apply to all Latin American cartoonists.  .