The authoritarian power wants us stupid

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By Iván Carvajal*

Bonil is an artist, a cartoonist, a caricaturist. As such, he is ‘obliged’ to resort to satire, irony and jokes. He is involved in the game of criticism; in the demolition of values, customs and habits. On behalf of those who await his drawings, Bonil is ‘obliged’ to be irreverent. If he is not, he simply would not be a cartoonist. And what is a cartoon? The first two entries in the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy define it is as a “satirical drawing which distorts someone’s features and appearance,” or a “work of art that ridicules or makes a joke of its intended subject.” Satire, joke and even artistic ridicule. But today, under the political regime imposed on Ecuadorians by Rafael Correa, precisely these prerequisites of a cartoonist’s artistic work have become the subject of police action, prosecution, control and punishment.

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On December 28, 2015, a date known in Ecuador as ‘the day of innocents’, i.e. a day of jokes, pranks and mockery, the newspaper El Universo published a Bonil cartoon. In the drawing, one woman asks another, pregnant, woman, “What is it, a boy or a girl?” The pregnant woman replies: “I don’t know. We have to wait and see what it chooses on its cédula” (the Ecuadorian identity card). What could be more ‘innocent’ than this picture? The cartoon was published in the context of a semantic, legal and political debate on the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ with regard to people’s civil registration status. Obviously, the cartoonist is playing with the ambiguity or multiple meanings of the word ‘sex’, as did many young men and women a few years ago when filling out university registration forms. When they arrived at the question on sex, many young people answered cheerfully, ‘every day of the week.’

The cartoon plays on the difference in meaning between the current information of the unborn child’s sex (male or female) and the future information on sexual identity or, as they say today, ‘gender.’ This latter status will only be declared in the future, as part of the cédula application process. Who does this joke denigrate or discriminate against?

Nevertheless, a representative from an LGBTI rights organization has deemed the cartoon offensive and discriminatory, filing a complaint against the cartoonist and El Universo with the Superintendency for the Control of Information & Communication (Supercom). The newspaper has previously been punished for publishing allegedly ‘discriminatory’ content.

It’s not possible to know whether whoever has filed this complaint against Bonil is a Correa supporter or government official. But is clear is that Correa-ism has perverted civil harmony in Ecuador through reactionary laws containing totalitarian provisions; laws that have been imposed over the last few years, during which Correa has held an absolute majority in the National Assembly. Ecuador’s social fabric has been corrupted through fear and a miserable spirit of submission that has spread to large sections of the population. These legal instruments have been used to persecute community leaders and students, accused of terrorism and sabotage for participating in protests or marches organized by social organizations. The judicial system has been corrupted to prosecute, punish and silence journalists and media outlets. No, the persecution of cartoonists is not funny. Nor is it a joke that in Ecuador, a truck driver is accused, prosecuted and imprisoned for terrorism, after being hired to transport a sheep made of green cloth. The sheep was destined to be burned in a game similar to that played at New Year’s Eve parties, when flames consume effigies of the past year to symbolize the passing of the old and the emergence of the new.

What was intended in this case was the joy of symbolically burning the majority Congressmembers who, at the very start of their mandate, renounced their capacity as representatives of the people in order to submit to ‘party discipline.’ As this ‘discipline’ is nothing but unconditional surrender to their chief (a surrender which they have the cynicism to call a ‘code of ethics’!), Correa-ist Congressmembers are regarded as members of a flock of sheep.

In 2013, this National Assembly majority passed a Communications Law which created an inquisitorial body, the Superintendency for the Control of Information & Communication (Supercom). This body exists to moralize the country; to impose control over communications; to decide when a joke stops being a joke and becomes offensive, or an ‘incitement of violent acts or practices based on some kind of discriminatory message,’ to quote this legal monstrosity. No more and no less.

What discrimination or violence might arise from Bonil’s drawing? The point is, it doesn’t matter. Bonil has already been prosecuted and punished in a similar case for his drawing of an Afro-Ecuadorian Congressmember who was entrusted to raise a motion in the Assembly by his Government colleagues and was unable to read the document in question. The cartoonist was subsequently accused, not of making fun of the Congressmember’s illiteracy, as might be supposed, but of ‘racism,’ of ‘racial discrimination.’ And if it had been a white-mestizo Congressmember who could not read a half-page document? We do not know if that would be punishable in the eyes of the 21st Century Inquisition, but we now know that one must not caricaturize an Afro-Ecuadorian official (and certainly not an ‘indigenous’ one, to use the politically correct language) because such a caricature will be immediately considered as discriminatory, or even worse, as incitement to violence.

Bonil has been the victim of constant persecution by Correa-ists. They harass him, hound him, accuse him; and will continue to do so relentlessly, at least until the end of this Government. In the same way,  they harass El Universo and all media outlets which take a critical, or even independent, stance against not just the Government, but the majority of the Assembly, the judiciary, the Constitutional Court, the National Electoral Council, the so-called Council of Citizen Participation & Social Control … all the scaffolding of Correa’s regime. Those outside of Ecuador should be asking themselves, what kind of legal instrument is used to pursue an artist, under the assumption that a cartoon is a ‘discriminatory message’? How can an inquisitorial apparatus be used in this way, to punish humorists with fines and jail? Surprised Charlie Hebdo readers should be asking themselves these questions when they find out about these persecutions in Ecuador. Ah, cartoonists of the world, laugh! What an outrage! Although we cannot expect any solidarity from indignant European leaders, who turn a blind eye to ‘progressive’ Latin American governments’ persecution of students, cartoonists, journalists and truckers carrying effigies of sheep.

How is it possible that a court of the inquisition, on behalf of the so-called Citizens’ Revolution, sentences journalists and media outlets to pay fines and publish corrections for not reporting what central or local government officials tell them to report, especially in a country whose leader mandates that none of his subordinate officials, including ministers, provide any information to the media? This isn’t a joke. It’s not a cartoon. Nor is it a joke to prosecute and punish media outlets for broadcasting programs deemed inconvenient, discriminatory or untrue by the integrated police/inquisitorial apparatus that is Supercom.

There is no doubt that the State, the Correa-ist regime, safeguards morals and good behavior. There are no citizens, just a herd that must be protected, educated and informed on what the regime deems necessary and no more. Roberto Aguilar, the great chronicler of the Correa-ist era, uses the term ‘propaganda State’ to refer to this nanny regime that presides over the moral health and correction/submission politics of the herd. The herd’s education and information are provided through official propaganda: Correa’s weekly public addresses and acceptance speeches for his collection of honorary degrees; the oppressive and endless broadcasts that are transmitted by radio and television stations at various times each day.

Thus, the State is responsible for defining what should be heard, seen or known; and at what time. The regime’s censors are always scouring the media, passing any suspicious material to ‘semiotics experts’ to divine the evil intentions of the offending writer or cartoonist. Minors, women and older people must be protected, not expected to decide for themselves. Rather than individuals, or people capable of critical thinking, they want a herd. We have them to think and decide for us; to keep watch over public morality; to acts as guardians of truth. They want us submissive, mediocre and obedient. They want us stupid.

* Iván Carvajal is an Ecuadorian poet, philosopher, essayist and university lecturer.

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