What couldn’t be achieved through law—an attempt to regulate cartoonists by including a paragraph in the Integral Law Against Violence Against Women—has finally been done by executive decision by the owners of El Nuevo Diario. Without any scruples and in an abrupt manner, the newspaper eliminated its Sunday-edition satirical comics supplement, El Alacrán, to stop offending those in power.
The criticism of cartoonists is easy to decode; people don’t need a high level of education to identify the public figures, issues or situations that are subject of ridicule. In the world of cartoonists, politicians are the most appetizing subject matter. And the reasons are obvious. Their transgressions and recurring missteps in the management of the country are spread out on the table in pieces and chunks by these secular angels.
Pedro Xavier Molina, the creator of El Alacrán (The supplement was called “The Scorpion,” due to its obvious sting), turned his subjects into a delicious feast for the public to devour. And the more people tasted of his work, the hungrier they got for more.
Molina’s supplement evolved over 10 years and six months—a total of 540 editions. The cartoonist was constantly refining his style and perfecting his aim. Every Sunday—since Aug. 18, 2002 until March 24, 2013—El Alacrán was the faithful companion of the poor, unmasking the outrageous abuses committed by politicians and government functionaries. El Alacrán was a mural that the whole family could enjoy at home.
“How do you characterize the executioners of El Alacrán, among whom is the seasoned political satirist and newspaper director León Núñez? Is this a comedy or a tragedy? Instead of defending their fellow satirist, they become his gravedigger. It’s sad, but what can we do about it? (Molina says the “official reason” given by the newspaper’s directors was that El Alacrán was eliminated to save money).
Starting in March, 2009, economic difficulties at El Nuevo Diario forced the newspaper to incorporate the funny pages supplement into the regular pages of the newspaper. But the move didn’t weaken tame the spirit of its author. With the same sense of humor and enthusiasm, edition No. 338 of El Alacrán was published in section B of El Nuevo Diario.
Other great Nicaraguan cartoonists also contributed grace and fangs to El Alacrán. The great “Martinera” gave us the uncontrollable vicissitudes of an insufferable couple. “Fontanarrosa” gave us the erotic humor of his comic strip “Róger,” and cartoonists Pilozo, Martín and Yasir, who now work for the daily Hoy, were also early contributors to El Alacrán.
El Alacrán and La Prensa’s weekly comics supplement, El Azote, have always been in the crosshairs of those in power. In four of five boxes, the cartoonists are able to expose all the deformities of Nicaragua’s political class. They also know how to depict the troubles and complaints of the poor. Their satirical cartoons seem to be fired with the aim of telescopic sights, or guided by infrared lasers.
Molina’s cartoons are a compendium of the final judgments of politicians, and a film of the week’s events—a true picture of the inconsistencies and political excuses. El Alacrán was distinguished by its sting—one that would leave a mark. Like a good zookeeper, Molina knew how to exhibit the animals’ behavior to spectators.
I am surprised that no other cartoonist has raised his or her voice in protest over the cancelation of El Alacrán. Are the chains of solidarity broken? Are people unable to put aside their different views to express shared distain for the decision taken by the owners and directors of El Nuevo Diario? Are the cartoonists pens restricted to criticizing politicians? In the current vortex, has it become every man for himself? Will the thousands of readers who followed El Alacrán faithfully every Sunday raise their voices in protest of the newspaper’s decision?
Every time a dissident voice or critical observer disappears, democracy suffers. After what happened to Molina, and with the untimely change in El Nuevo Diario’s editorial line, should we expect the situation to get even worse? One of the ripe lessons from all this is that bankers do business easily. The assets at stake make banks vulnerable businesses. There is a wide panoply of interests around those who head financial institutions; credit card owners, hotels, restaurants, real estate companies, commercial centers, industry, cattle farmers—all factors that force the banks to form alliances with the established powers that be, and prohibiting them from being critical.
The disappearance of El Alacrán casts a shadow on the panorama of national media. It corroborates that El Nuevo Diario has renounced its pledge that all media outlets take: to offer a complete version of the occurrences in society and acting as a watchdog for society.
In recent years, the most trustworthy criticism of our national occurrences has come from cartoonists. The reduction of Pedro Xavier Molina’s role in the newspaper, limiting him to one cartoon a day, is only the first step in getting rid of his services altogether. Over his head hangs the rope and the sword to hang him or ruthlessly cut him loose when he least expects it.
An academic, writer, and media analyst Guillermo Rothschuh is the former Dean of University of Central America’s Journalism School and is head of CINCO’s media watchdog group. Rothschuch’s blog is http://prohibidoparaconverso.blogspot.com/