Ecuadorean cartoonist Bonil (Xavier Bonilla), who cartoons for the Guayaquil-based daily El Universo, has gone on trial for a cartoon published on August 5th, 2014. The cartoon juxtaposes a newly elected celebrity assemblyman’s communication skills with the substantial salary politician’s pull down.
Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, publicly declared the cartoon “racist” because the politician in question, ex-footballer Augusín Delgado, is black. The charge now being considered by Ecuador’s Superintendency of Communications (Supercom) is “socio-economic discrimination.”
President Correa’s antagonism towards the press is well-documented. In 2010, he sued Bonil’s paper over a published column and the paper was slapped with a US$42 million fine. Though the fine was quickly suspended by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the episode was cited by the New York Times as “Rafael Correa’s campaign to silence and bankrupt El Universo, Ecuador’s largest newspaper” and condemned by Reporters Without Borders.
A complaint by President Correa over a previous Bonil cartoon led to a $90,000 fine in 2014. Correo’s changes to Ecuador’s media regulations, which an International Press Institute report characterized as ‘threatening press freedom and eroding freedom of expression,’ leave Bonil and his paper facing a possible fine of near US$500,000.
Bonil summed up the situation in an pre-trial interview with the rights advocacy organization Index on Censorship, saying “Freedom here is permanently at risk.”
A decision by Ecuador’s Superintendent of Information and Communication, Carlos Ochoa, is expected on February 12th.
UPDATE: On February 13th, 2015,Ecuador’s Superintendent of Information and Communication (Supercom) found political cartoonist Bonil and his paper, El Universo, guilty of breaking the country’s Law of Communication by publishing a cartoon that negatively affected “the Afro-Ecuadorian social collective.”
El Universo was ordered to publish an apology in the paper where the Bonil’s offending cartoon had appeared, and to post an apology on its homepage for seven consecutive days.
Bonil was given a written reprimand “to correct and improve his practices for the plain and efficient exercise of the right to communication” and “to abstain from repeating these acts that are at odds with the Law of Communication.” Bonil’s lawyer, Lenin Hurtado, reportedly summarized Supercon’s decision as “making it so that an Afro public employee cannot be criticized. It is a tragic resolution and a terrible message for the national and international community,”