CARTOONISTS RIGHTS presents the Robert Russell Courage in Cartooning Award to Abel Bellido Córdova – ABECOR – of the Página Siete news outlet in Bolivia. We acknowledge our partner – the FREEDOM CARTOONISTS Foundation – and their support in delivery of this work. Our award alternates biannually with their own, the Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award.
A talented folk musician and sculptor, Abecor’s daily cartoons are clear in their intention and fearless, taking aim at societal problems and powerful people in equal measure. The government of Bolivia is often criticised by human rights and free expression organizations.
Bolivia ranks 117 out of 180 nations in the 2023 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, which further warns that “attacks, threats, censorship, and harassment by the government and pro-government forces constantly violate press freedom. Attacks against journalists, especially by the police, are becoming increasingly frequent”.
Little wonder Abecor’s cartoons are so popular and his postings on all major social platforms bear testimony to their impact. This, no doubt, is what has brought about the troubles that have visited him in recent years.
In August 2021, he pictured the blue suited attorney general Wilfredo Chávez in free-fall while declaring that the Organization of American States (OEA in Spanish) had not audited the electoral results. Blue is the color of the ruling political party MAS.
After posting the cartoon he received the following response via Instagram: “You are crazy about the colour blue Abecor. Focus on something else or you’ll be offered blue flowers when you die”. A brazen, public death threat, empowered by social media’s promotion of unaccountability through anonymity.
Refusing to be intimidated, Abecor featured the attorney general in another cartoon just two months later. Here, he is seen – dressed in blue again – standing in front of the State Attorney General’s Office which is styled as a blue circus tent. This time the attorney general is comically depicted as an illusionist pulling a rabbit from a hat. The rabbit is holding an upside-down sign that ironically declares “No Fraud”; another reference to the disputed elections.
This time the death threat, emanating from the same anonymised account, was as swift and sinister, yet even more blatant: “Your end is near, prepare to go underground Abecor, even without your moustache you will not be able to camouflage yourself”. As a precaution, the cartoonist had shaved in the recent past and the accurate observation made plain this was a local and therefore credible threat.
Shortly afterwards, Abecor and his family began noticing that they were being followed and photographed by suspicious persons, and threats mentioning family were received via Facebook. Earlier this year a piece of abject disinformation was distributed via Twitter by AG Chávez, in which a photo was said to show the cartoonist at a meal with a person wanted for participating in the massacres that followed the ousting of the (previous) Morales government.
Abecor laments; “I have received reviews both good and bad, yet never thought that this would reach such extremes, in terms of threats. If before I could easily go about the streets, now I go only with trepidation. This government gives rise to ‘digital guerrillas’ whose main objective is to create false accounts on social networks – to attack, insult, denigrate, and threaten anyone whose opinions differ from government policy. Bizarre to say, they receive a salary from our taxes.”
Last week CARTOONISTS RIGHTS presented the 2023 Robert Russell Courage in Cartooning Award to Abecor at a private ceremony, held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Abecor is the 40th cartoonist that the organization was recognised with an award. The last recipient from the Americas was Nicaraguan Pedro X. Molina in 2018, and he was on hand in Washington to congratulate his colleague.
The following day, Abecor was the honored guest at a special panel discussion event hosted at the Library of Congress. Cartoonists Rights’ Executive Director Terry Anderson gave a keynote address on the defence of cartoonists’ freedom of expression, and on the panel where local cartoonists Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher and Alexandra Bowman. Expert opinion on threats to all media workers and journalists was provided by Gabe Rottman, Technology and Press Freedom Project Director for Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The panel was moderated by Roslyn Mazer, Amicus Counsel to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell.
Please note a video presentation of the entire event will be made available via the LOC website at a later date.
With the support of Página Siete, national and international institutions, and regular people who have shown their solidarity, Abecor stands resolute. “I want to keep the pencil sharp. I want to keep drawing about the happenings of the time. Because I believe that most important, above all, is freedom of expression.”
CARTOONISTS RIGHTS extends its thanks to:
- The FREEDOM CARTOONISTS Foundation, our partner in awards-giving
- The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), our presentation event sponsor
- Staff at the National Press Club and Library of Congress, most especially Sara Duke, curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art, Prints and Photographs Division