Special to the AmNews

A prominent cartoonist in Ecuador is under fire for an editorial cartoon that pokes fun at an Afro-Ecuadorian politician.

Aug. 5, 2014, political cartoonist Xavier Bonilla, better known by his nom de guerre, “Bonil,” published a cartoon in the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo that mocked National Assemblyman Agustin Delgado.

A celebrated former professional soccer player, Agustin Javier Delgado Chala was elected in 2013 to represent Ecuador’s Imbabura Province, the region where he was born. Delgado, who is Afro-Ecuadorian, won fame playing soccer first in Ecuador and then later internationally in England, Spain and Mexico from 1991 through 2010. Since retiring from soccer, Delgado has become a member of the Alianza PAIS political party and was elected to serve in the country’s National Assembly.

In the Aug. 5 editorial cartoon, Bonil pokes fun at Delgado in a photomontage. One photo shows Delgado stuttering as he delivers a speech. The cartoon has the congressman claiming that in the past, people would take one look at him and shamefully declare “poor guy” when they heard him talk. But in the second photo, Delgado is seen declaring that since he has become a congressman and earns so much more money now, the world no longer thinks of him as some “poor guy.” The editorial montage suggests that with money and his political connections, Delgado has won a political position he is unqualified for and which is unmerited.

Delgado was quick to condemn the Bonil editorial cartoon. In an Aug. 8, 2014, video message (which can be seen at http://goo.gl/MP709M), Delgado deemed the cartoon an attack on him personally and, by extension, Ecuador’s Black community. Delgado’s video declares that Bonil’s cartoon was not an expression of freedom of speech but was actually closer to an attack on Blacks. “A cartoon should not encourage mockery or cruelty towards disadvantaged social groups,” said Delgado.

Blacks in Ecuador are one of 14 ethnic groups. They make up only 5.6 percent of the nation’s estimated 15.2 million total population.

Some 17 Afro-Ecuadorian groups also expressed outrage about the cartoon, saying it promotes discrimination. Even Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, who is a member of the same political party as Delgado said he regarded the cartoon as racist. Correa noted that because Delgado was videoed haltingly reading a document in Congress, people like Bonil felt it must mean that he is unintelligent. “If a white politician had done the same, no one would have said anything about it,” Correa declared.

El Universo has been threatened with a possible $500,000 fine from the government because the editorial may violate a 2013 communication law that was designed to promote greater diversity and democracy in Ecuador’s media. Journalist organizations have been supporting the newspaper, and Bonil and others have compared this to incidents involving the French editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo, where depictions of obscene images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad were met with violence. Bonil’s supporters claim this is yet another effort to curtail a cartoonist’s freedom of expression.

Two days after the editorial cartoon was published, Bonil wrote an open apology to Delgado. “If there are people who feel injured or have taken this personally, I’m sorry; but I’d like to encourage you to understand that a cartoon is not a personal weapon against anyone. It is only [my] depiction of an event or an action that, as a citizen, I consider questionable. With that, I earnestly extend my hand to [Agustin Delgado], but I will continue to question the assemblyman,” Bonil wrote.