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.”