Cartoonist Xavier Bonilla is seen in Cumbaya, Ecuador, on January 9, 2015. He recently received threats from the son of the country's former president. (AFP/Rodrigo Buendia)

Cartoonist Xavier ‘Bonil’ Bonilla threatened by son of former Ecuadorian president

Bogotá, Colombia, August 13, 2020 – Ecuadorian authorities must swiftly and thoroughly investigate the threat to cartoonist Xavier Bonilla, ensure he has adequate protection, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On August 6, Jacobo Bucaram Pulley, the son of former President Abdalá Bucaram Ortiz, tweeted a threatening message to Bonilla, a cartoonist at local newspaper El Universo, according to the Quito-based free press organization Fundamedios and Bonilla, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.

In the tweet, which has since been deleted but was screenshotted by Fundamedios, Bucaram Pulley wrote, “May God save and protect you in case I find you because you will have to defend yourself like a man, you goddamned SOB.”

Bonilla, commonly known as “Bonil,” said he did not report the threat to authorities, but said police officers had contacted him and said they would monitor his home for security threats. On August 11, Freddy Carrión Intriago, the country’s official human rights ombudsman, issued a statement calling on the attorney general’s office to investigate threats to the cartoonist.

“Ecuadorian authorities should thoroughly investigate the threat to cartoonist Xavier Bonilla, ensure his safety, and see that those responsible face justice,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Authorities must send a clear message that Ecuadorians are free to distribute and consume news and opinion, be it written, broadcast, or drawn.”

Bucaram Pulley sent the tweet in response to Bonilla’s August 6 cartoon that depicted him fleeing authorities. According to news reports, Bucaram Pulley disappeared last month after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest for his alleged involvement in the sale of overpriced medical supplies to public hospitals dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bonilla told CPJ that he often receives insults on social media for his cartoons, and initially ignored the threat, but became more concerned after a cooperating witness in the price gouging case was killed inside a prison on August 8.

Yesterday, former President Bucaram Ortiz was arrested as part of a probe into the witness’s death, according to news reports.

“I didn’t think I was at risk, but you never know what can happen,” Bonilla told CPJ.

CPJ called the attorney general’s office for comment, but no one answered.

In 2014, during the presidency of Rafael Correa, authorities ordered Bonilla to “correct” a cartoon and fined El Universo about $95,000 for printing it.

In its 2015 special report, “Drawing the Line,” CPJ found that cartoonists are often targeted for harassment because their satirical portraits, whether backhanded or overt, communicate complex political ideas in a form that is accessible and resonates with mass audiences.