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.
The author simply tried to reflect what had happened, the party continued, an editorial cartoon in the author’s style.
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.
“If the cartoonist ever appears in this city, he will be treated with disdain and discourtesy,” they said.
“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”.
“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”
“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.
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.
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.
Together with the apologies, some letters with complaints received by the newspaper are published.
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.
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)
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.
Interview with Alejandro Salazar “Al-Azar”
i 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.
we 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?
as 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.
despite these incidents, I am optimistic and believe that it is still possible to work freely. However, in an election year, conditions can change.