By Mridula Tirumalasetti
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela–A longtime editorial cartoonist in Venezuela was fired from the El Universal newspaper because of the caricature she drew. The cartoon was used to satirize the health care system in Venezuela. Although nothing has been confirmed by the newspaper, Rayma Suprani, who was the cartoonist, said via Twitter, “I was informed of my sacking from El Universal over this caricature and my awkward attitude over graphic satire.”
The cartoon pictured a normal- looking electrocardiogram with the title “health” underneath it and another that combined Chavez’s signature with a flat heartbeat line, symbolic of a cardiac arrest. Under that electrocardiogram was the title “health in Venezuela.”
El Universal’s editorial page published the cartoon. The newspaper’s editorial page has always been critical of the socialist government of Venezuela. However, a pro-Chavista government company acquired the newspaper this summer, and the anti-government stance has softened. Many columnists have left the newspaper since.
The cartoon touched on two sensitive topics for Venezuelans: the legacy of Chavez and the way the socialist government has been managing healthcare.
Supporters of Chavez argue that Chavez transformed the healthcare system to one that is friendlier towards the poor. Chavez initiated the “Barrio Adentro” (Inside the Neighborhood) program, which established a network of small health clinics around Venezuela. The health clinics were staffed by Cuban health care professionals and offered free treatment.
The opposition does not deny the welfare advance made by Chavez, but they insist that the advances were patchy and are critical of the shortages of medicine and equipment. Henrique Capriles, who is an opposition leader, not only paid public tribute to Suprani after the cartoon incident, but also used the incident to take a stab at the Maduro government, which is currently in power.
According to a statement issued by the staff on the newspaper, Suprani’s firing reflects a bigger issue: the country’s “increasing censorship.” Under the governments of Chavez and Maduro, any critical media outlets became extinct. For example, the RCTV station, which was a critical TV station lost its broadcast license in 2007. Since 1999, when Chavez became president, several indenpendant radio stations and newspapers were forced to close. El Nacional remains the only opposition newspaper.
Suprani told local radio, “[m]y immediate boss called me and told me he didn’t like my caricature and I was out. We’ve become a country where if you say things, have your own criteria and try to provoke reflection, it’s not well-viewed.”
For more information, please see:
LA Times–Firing of editorial cartoonist raises censorship concerns–19 September 2014
The Guardian–Venezuelan cartoonist ‘fired’ over healthcare satire–18 September 2014
The Tico Times–Venezulan cartoonist fired after sketch slamming health care–18 September 2014
Reuters–Venezuelan cartoonist says fired for health satire–18 September 2014