On 17 September 2014, a cartoon by veteran Venezuelan political cartoonist Rayma Suprani was published in El Universal. The cartoon shows a regular electrocardiogram line with the heading “Health” above another line made up of former president Hugo Chávez's signature and a flatline heartbeat with the heading “Health in Venezuela”. That same day, Suprani was fired, ending a 19-year career with the paper.
Suprani's work has elicited strong reactions in the past, some of which have crossed the line into blatant attempts to silence her. In 2011 she received a threat on twitter in response to a cartoon she had drawn criticizing Venezuela's telecommunications system and comparing an underwater cable to a noose: “We are going to use that rope on you for being apátrida (unpatriotic), for being pitiyanqui (a yankee wannabe) and for being disloyal to Venezuela". She has always refused to be intimidated into changing her cartoons or her message, reports IFEX member Espacio Público.
In November 2012, Suprani was profiled in IFEX's campaign to raise awareness about the issue of impunity. Earlier in the year a radio host had accused her of being a “hate-filled elitist and racist”, after El Universal had published her cartoon criticizing then President Chávez's housing plan. According to the Cartoonists Rights Network International, those comments were followed by threats of violence, expulsion from Venezuela, and even death.
Check out the gallery of Suprani's work that was part of IFEX's 2012 campaign to end impunity:
The Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela reported in March 2013 that Suprani was once again receiving threats, an “avalanche of text messages” aimed at discrediting her work.
When those threats against Suprani were taking place, El Universal was still widely considered a pro-opposition independent publication. When Spanish company Epalisticia bought the paper in July 2014, the new owners insisted that they were not connected to the Venezuelan government and would not change their editorial line. The New York Times reported, however, that the editor in chief, Elides Rojas, thought the new owners were “connected to people friendly to the government”.
As the International Press Institute (IPI) reported in August, the paper's new directors had indeed decided to alter its editorial line, and the consequences have been felt. Since the change in ownership, at least 18 El Universal writers have been suspended, and 11 more were “either dismissed or made the decision to leave” after they were notified that their columns would be temporarily suspended.
After almost two decades with the paper, political cartoonist Rayma Suprani has now been added to that list of former El Universal contributors. However, as she shared via twitter just after she was dismissed, Suprani intends to continue using her creative work to critique the realities of Venezuelan society and politics.
A mis lectores y seguidores les digo que seguimos adelante por otros medio más pequeños pero con infinita creatividad pic.twitter.com/DKGchy3o9g— rayma (@raymacaricatura) September 18, 2014
Watch a video produced by AJ+, part of the Al Jazeera Media Network: