Ciudad Bolivar, October 1st, 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com) Political Cartoonist Rayma Suprani, long renowned for drawing scathing critiques of the Venezuelan government and its supporters, was fired last month from Venezuela's largest daily newspaper and leading anti-government news source, El Universal. The artist attributed her removal to a cartoon she printed, which manipulated late president Hugo Chavez’s signature to satirize what she considers poor healthcare conditions, and told reporters there were “government hands” behind the decision.
Rayma also claimed her sacking is a result of the sale that recently placed the 105 year-old publication under new ownership.
“Obviously we still don’t know who bought the newspaper El Universal…” Rayma told CNN on September 17th, “But now we know they are bothered by critical commentary and from there we can assume that it’s not the invisible man who bought El Universal, but government hands.”
The circumstances of the newspaper’s new ownership are widely known, however. Spanish Private Equity Firm, Epalistica, which has capital commitments of over $1 billion with investments primarily in private equity and startups across Europe and Latin America, according to the firm’s own website, purchased the paper in July from the oligarchical Mata family, who were the sole owners since its foundation in 1909. According to inside sources, the Mata family had been negotiating the sale abroad during many months, for an estimated minimum of 90 million euros.
Arturo Casado, El Universal’s ex-vice director of marketing, who worked alongside Rayma for many years and quit just days after her dismissal, insisted that censure had nothing to do with the sacking.
“The drawing she deceitfully attempts to use as the reason for her dismissal was never censured,” Casado noted. “On the contrary, it appeared in the paper without modifications or delay – real censorship would have been impeding its publication.”
“The real reasons for her destitution,” he said last week, “which she was informed directly by Elides Rojas, her boss, had to do with her constant challenges to the paper’s administration… a behavior I am sure no editor in the world would have accepted.”
Casado referenced a cartoon of hers in which the paper’s president was depicted as a “hairy rat,” and other “disrespectful” actions towards her seniors.
The marketing director insisted her conduct was that of one who wishes to be fired, and cited the double benefits due to her in liquidation after her 20 years of employment as possible cause for such provocation.
A former colleague of Rayma’s who wished to remain anonymous told venezuelanalysis.com that the artist’s fierce character leaves “little room for mediation.”
“She is conceited, and overbearing,” the former colleague said, contending that the “radical and aggressive” outlook portrayed in her drawings is equal to her outlook on life. “I was not surprised to hear she had been fired, even if she was always spoiled by the management.”
Rayma’s cartoons, which have been rejected as racist and classist by countless government supporters, often depicted chavistas as overgrown, brutish gorilla-like figures in red shirts, chained to their political party in shackles. One 2013 cartoon showed a pointy-eared and buck-toothed Chavez leaving behind a trail of bananas, presumably for his followers to consume.
A 2012 cartoon depicting a chavista sleeping in a dog house branded with the words Mision Vivienda, directed at the government program providing housing for the numerous and poor refugees of the disastrous 2010 which hit coastal city La Guaira, was met with harsh review.
In an open letter published on community news forum aporrea.org, writer Emilio Aranguren addressed Rayma, “I presume you have never inhabited a shack when it rains; you feel the rain harder indoors than outdoors. I am sure you live in a middle class apartment acquired by a credit granted to you by a bank… But by your pen, the poor have no right to a dignified home, and if they are given such a thing they are considered “dogs” or irrational animals. I hope you know that those thousands of Venezuelans [recipients of homes] are very grateful to the Bolivarian government…to a leader who finally cares for the common people, the people that your kind and the rancid oligarchy hates, offends, and scorns.”
In conversation with venezuelanalysis.com, award winning graphic artist Pablo Zapata questioned whether Rayma’s cartoons could even be considered artistic protest, especially since until recently she was paid a desirable salary to draw them. “The only form of protest I recognize is not selling out to anyone,” Zapata mused, while wondering aloud if there may have been bribes behind Rayma’s allegiance to the Venezuelan opposition parties.
In response to the cartoonist’s claims of censorship, Zapata said, “Her career has been built on blaming the government for everything imperfect, and, while I’m not very pro-government myself, I know how to recognize when someone is lying for the 100th time. Everyone knows the media says whatever it wants in this country.”
Still, questions remain whether El Universal’s new ownership has indeed made a difference in the paper’s narrative line.
“There were many expectations regarding the changing of owners,” Rayma’s anonymous former colleague told venezuelanalyis.com, “After being owned by the same family for over a hundred years, things were bound to change. It’s clear to me the new management seeks to neutralize the paper’s tone. But, for example, former political director Ernesto Ecarri was promoted to a general director position, and his [anti-government] politics have always been clear.” No one else has been sacked, the inside source said, although many journalists are not happy with the switch.
The Caracas daily continues to print articles highly critical of the socialist government, including the “rumors” column by infamous opposition journalist Nelson Bocarranda. A headline from October 1st reads, “Capriles Warns; If Things Don’t Change, No One Will be Able to Afford Anything.”
As for the colleagues cited in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Guardian upholding Rayma's claim, the former Universal reporter noted, “I saw some support coming from Venezuelan reporters who now live abroad. But really, almost no one who still worked with Rayma stepped forward.”