Cartoons and death, the Al-Azar case

 
 

This story begins with an accident.

On Saturday 1 March 2014, during the Carnival celebrations in Oruro, Bolivia, a catwalk collapsed on a group of participants in the carnival entrance, a massive parade that attracts thousands of people.

The accident killed five people, four of whom were members of the musical band Espectacular Poopó and a fifth who died was a spectator. The collapse also left dozens injured.

On Thursday 6 March, Alejandro Salazar “Al-Azar” (Cochabamba-1959) drew this allusive cartoon which was published in the newspaper La Razón and can still be seen in the digital edition of that day.

Cartoons and death, the Al-Azar case

Al-Azar cartoon

The author simply tried to reflect what had happened, the party continued, an editorial cartoon in the author’s style.

Reactions

What happened next is something that could happen in any country, in fact it does happen and will continue to happen. When death, that inevitable and everyday occurrence, activates a series of mechanisms based on unwritten laws that seem to authorise some to stone others for their opinions.

And here cartoonists almost always lose out when they do not move within what is socially imposed.

Individuals and collectives felt offended, but at some point the reactions got out of control.

Authorities in Oruro protested against the cartoon. The governor, the mayor, the president of the Municipal Council, the president of the Civic Committee and the Departmental Federation of Mining Cooperatives all complained to La Razón, outraged by the cartoon.

naricesthe Mayoress of Oruro, Rossío Pimentel Flores, even allowed herself the luxury of threatening the cartoonist in the name of her city with this dangerous warning:

“If the cartoonist ever appears in this city, he will be treated with disdain and discourtesy,” they said.

naricesThe representative of the Ombudsman’s Office, Clotilde Calancha, considered the cartoon to be an attack on “Oruro’s cultural rights”, and put it this way:

“I believe that humour is a way of doing journalism and reaching the population, but I believe that everything has a limit, we cannot allow that under humorous themes such as these caricatures, which were published, they first attack the dignity of a collective such as the entire population of Oruro”

“This is a way of attacking the cultural rights of the people of Oruro, because the Carnival, Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, is a cultural, transcendental, universal festival and this cannot be because although humour is a form of journalism, there must also be analysis in what is done in a moment of pain like the one that happened with the fall of the catwalk”.

naricesThe president of the Departmental Federation of Professional Musicians of Oruro, Gonzalo Choquehuanca, said:

Here we have satanic images that this journalist (Alejandro Salazar) has practically touched hearts and has done a lot of damage to musicians, which is why we are going to ask for the expulsion of this bad journalist”.

And referring to other media he added: “tell other national networks not to touch our Carnival, Oruro respects itself and the musicians respect themselves”

naricesConvergencia Nacional (CN) deputy, Franz Choque, also sent a letter to the media director in these terms:

“A caricature is published that we consider offensive to the Oruro Carnival. This publication ridicules and offends a tragic and tragic event that took place in the Oruro Carnival 2014”

This same person also said that“the leaders will not take responsibility for the actions taken by the social sectors”. (Another dangerous message).

In their letters, they all said more or less the same thing: the Oruro Carnival is untouchable, the maximum expression of national folklore, unique in the world, heritage of humanity, and they also considered this to be an insult and a mockery of the deceased and their families.

it “attacks, denigrates, humiliates, offends” not only the carnival, but “an entire people”.

The cooperative miners tried to prevent the distribution and sale of the newspaper, demanding an apology from the newspaper’s editor, Claudia Benavente. They even went so far as to threaten the newspaper with closing its offices and burning its copies.

They also demanded sanctions for Al-Azar “using the law to set a precedent“, setting a 48-hour deadline for their demands to be met, otherwise:

“We will be forced” to take drastic measures. Or worse: “if we see La Razón circulating in Oruro, we will burn them until they apologise”

I wonder what might have happened if the cartoon had been published in a blog instead of in a newspaper; would the cartoonist also have been threatened with having the pages of the blog burnt?

the National Press Association (ANP) responded with a statement, ambiguous to say the least, in which it made a very lukewarm “fraternal call for dialogue and mutual understanding between the parties”.

It would not have been out of place if, instead of playing it cool, it had also contained a more forceful condemnation and outright rejection of the threats, as well as uncompromising support for the media in the face of threats to prevent it from broadcasting.

anp-comunicado

As we can see, all this is taking place without anyone making use of laws of any kind to argue and legitimise their actions; all discourse is constructed on the basis of personal opinions or moral considerations.

But before the vengeful fire of the vigilante but before the vengeful fire of the angry ones appeared, the newspaper’s apology arrived on Sunday 16 March. It is very curious that a media outlet should be forced to apologise “to a city”. Something very ambiguous, relative and intangible.

The apologies

In addition to the apology offered by the director of La Razón, a courageous defence of the cartoonist was made in some opinion columns in this and other media.

disculpas-cartas

Together with the apologies, some letters with complaints received by the newspaper are published.

pdf-2 View/download full page. PDF. 3,32Mb

Support

Several initiatives of support were launched. In one of them, through the Facebook page “Todos con Al-Azar” (now closed after fulfilling its mission) artists from several countries, including only one Spaniard, Carlos Giménez, showed their support for the cartoonist by publishing versions of the cartoon and messages of solidarity and defence of freedom of opinion and expression.

pdf-2 Finally, on 28 April, a free 100-page book edited by the digital journalism project “La Pública”(Twitter) was published and presented, with more than 60 drawings that bring together the support and opinions, the publication can be downloaded here. 4,23 Mb (PDF)

portada-todos-con-al-azar

narices Allusive cartoons compiled in this blog.

elmer

Cartoon by cartoonist Elmer Sosa (Mexico) published on 21 March in the newspaper Cambio

The mayor rejected the possibility of resignation, declining any responsibility. In the end, three officials of the technical commission of the municipal government were arrested and charged as allegedly responsible for the collapse of the footbridge.

narices-verdeThanks to Claudia Benavente and Rubén Atahuichi of the newspaper La Razón for their help in writing this text and for facilitating contact with Alejandro.

Interview with Alejandro Salazar “Al-Azar”

salazar
Salazar, December 2011. Supplement Animal Político. Photo: La Razón/file
Born in Cochabamba (Bolivia) in 1959. He has been a political cartoonist since 1994 and has published in the newspapers La Razón, La Prensa, Pulso and El Día.
He currently works for the newspaper La Razón, doing the editorial cartoon four days a week and a full-page drawing for the supplement “Animal Político” on Sundays.
jr-respuesta how long have you worked for La Razón?
alazarsalazar: I’ve been working for La Razón since 2011, that’s three years
jr-respuesta how have you managed this chain of accusations and attacks?

alazari think that this type of reaction is part of the professional risk when one does honest and professional work, I also consider myself part of a team and therefore I accept my responsibility when I express my opinions but I also consider that the team has its share of responsibility.

jr-respuestaalthough you have also been singled out for criticism, most of the complaints are directed at the newspaper , has anything similar happened to you before?

alazaryes, some drawings have caused similar reactions, perhaps with less intensity.

jr-respuesta have you directly received any complaints, criticisms or threats of any kind?

alazari haven’t received any threats directly, but on the Facebook page there are all kinds of insults against me, but there is also respectful criticism and frank support.

jr-respuestawe know that the whole debate is between intentionality and wounded sensibilities according to different interpretations of the cartoon, which is always inevitable, but what is the exact message you intended to convey with your cartoon?

alazaras you know, in drawing there is no unique and definitive interpretation, I write the one that comes to my mind now. Carnival is a party to celebrate life, where people dance, eat, drink and commit some excesses, that’s fine. But that day in the Oruro carnival, death defeated life and went out to celebrate its triumph.

jr-respuestado you think the freedom of expression of cartoonists in Bolivia is in good health?

alazardespite these incidents, I am optimistic and believe that it is still possible to work freely. However, in an election year, conditions can change.


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