From exorbitant fines to charges of “socioeconomic discrimination” to threats from ISIS, cartoonist Xavier Bonilla, best known by his pen-name Bonil, and his work have been frequent targets of the Ecuadorian government. As we learn in a recent interview with Sampsonia Way, he continues to fight for his and all cartoonists’ right to free expression in spite of the persecution.
“Even though Ecuador does not have as big of a tradition in the comic genre as other countries, cartoons also have their history,” notes Bonil. A country with a well known a history of political and social turmoil, artists across Ecuador have turned to cartoons as a means to comment upon issues. With a heightened amount of attention focused on Ecuador after its recent presidential change, it is the act of expressing oneself in the press — often criticizing the Ecuadorian government — that has gotten Bonil in hot water.
The types of actions that the government has taken in the 30 years of Bonil’s career has evolved and changed, shifting from a more isolated and secretive form of action to a full-on and very public war against all forms of media and press. “When I started publishing in the newspapers, the president of the time was considered to have great authoritarianism and disrespect of the law. Journalists faced confrontation and insults, and there were cases of newspaper retaliation,” recalls Bonil. “But what we face today is different because the war against private media communications has been established as an opened and declared government policy. Therefore, the climate is hostile not only for cartoonists, but also for journalism in general.”
To avoid repurcussions, any criticism of President Correa in the country must be censored and any negative depictions of the government must not be published in the press. Bonil says:
Since the beginning of his term [President Correa] has displayed interest in controlling any hint of criticism. But more than being a topic related to his temperament or intransigent personality, this is a response to the script that governments, such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Argentina, and others, have proposed as a control of constructing the social narrative. The seriousness of the issue here is that they pretend to do it from within the state. And they control the state.
The prosecutorial actions taken against Bonil — just last spring, he was fined $500,000 by the state for a cartoon mocking assemblyman Agustin “Tin” Delgado — indicate that the issue of state control and governmental mandated censorship has become a very serious matter. “The president is the one who creates a climate of aggression and stigmatization as he endlessly insults people, and this environment allows for those kinds of threats.”
Although this hostile environment doesn’t seem likely to disappear anytime soon, Bonil believes that by continuing to speak out and produce works that point to these weaknesses in the government he can incite others to action to stop censorship:
I can notice reactions through social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. There are a lot of people who identify themselves with my drawings, encourage me to carry on, show solidarity and express similar opinions to mine. This is a cartoon: a space of complicity and social cohesion.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!