Rayma (left) and Bonil (right) speak at Freedom House Wenesday. (Ashley Gilmore/Medill News Service)

Rayma (left) and Bonil (right) speak at Freedom House Wenesday. (Ashley Gilmore/Medill News Service)

WASHINGTON—Political cartoonists argued Wednesday that humor that questions power and societal conventions should not be limited by government authorities, but protected.

At a Freedom House forum, two South American cartoonists Rayma of Venezuela, and Bonil of Ecuador, discussed humor’s role and said government should not stifle citizens’ creativity.

For political cartoonists, objections from government aren’t anything new. Humor has always attacked power and society’s foibles, but these days the need for such expression to be protected is more crucial.

In January, employees of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked by terrorists, calling into question what the limits of expression should be in that country.

“Graphite doesn’t hurt anybody,” Bonil said, speaking in Spanish. “But lead – bullets — do.”

“Humor has no limits. The whole reason for being is that humor helps us overcome hurdles, to break barriers,” Bonil said.

Rayma added that “humor helps us, and that dark humor can also be a useful reflection of society…Humor is a manifestation of free thought, and as cartoonists we question taboos.”

Freedom House is a nonprofit watchdog group dedicated to monitoring human rights worldwide. According to the organization’s 2014 Freedom of the Press Report, only 14 percent of the world enjoys the benefits of a free press, free of government intrusion and not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.

Freedom of Press Around the World

Freedom House's 2104 report on global freedom of press.

Freedom House’s 2014 report on global freedom of press.

Freedom of the press is facing challenges in Venezuela and Ecuador, Freedom House says. Both countries have constitutions that provide freedoms of press in name, but that have been weakened by recent amendments, criminalizing and severely punishing libel and defamation in the media.

Xavier ‘Bonil’ Bonilla is currently on trial for a cartoon published in El Universo of a celebrity legislator who serves in government with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. The cartoon portrayed the former football player and implied the public felt sympathetic for a mistake he made in a political speech, but didn’t feel sorry about his large salary. Correa called the cartoon racist.


‘Rayma’ Suprani, was fired from, El Universal, the newspaper she worked at for 20 years for a cartoon she drew critiquing the health care system with a mention of late President Hugo Chavez.


While drawings are also considered freedom of expression, many political cartoonists’ face criticism for their work when it’s deemed too insensitive or radical. In political cartoons the humor should be taken lightly but the message seriously.

Rayma said, “we need people who can translate the reality of what is happening to us.”

Bonil added, If you’re offended by the subject matter, “then don’t read it.”