The Attacks on the Cartoonists

Authoritarian figures target the press and refuse criticism of any kind

"I would like to report the disappearance, on the Folha website, of the June 8 cartoon by João Montanaro. The gallery jumps from the 7th to the 9th. Was it a threat from the government or pressure from an angry person?", asked a reader.

There was no disappearance. The editor responsible for the cartoon informed me that, due to a technical error, corrected quickly, the cartoon was not in the place where it should have been. However, given what happened in the last few days, the reader's preoccupation is not unreasonable.

In the first half of June, some of the country's most talented cartoonists came under judicial pressure.
Governor Jair Bolsonaro asked to open an investigation into the cartoonist Renato Aroeira, and also requested that journalist Ricardo Noblat, a columnist for Veja magazine, be investigated for publishing Aroeira's material on social media.

The illustration shows the president painting the ends of the red cross, an emblem of humanitarian assistance, with black ink, forming the swastika. Aroeira drew it after Bolsonaro asked his followers to film the hospitals' interior to check if the emergency beds were occupied.

Days before, Folha and four cartoonists (Laerte, João Montanaro, Alberto Benett, and Claudio Mor) were questioned about the publication of cartoons critical of police violence.

The request for explanations - a kind of preparation for future criminal action - came from the Association of Military Officers of the State of São Paulo and Defense of the Military Police (Defenda PM), a conservative group whose president is the parliamentary adviser to Senator Major Olímpio (PSL- SP).

The group called Folha six months after it published the cartoons - all about the invasion by the PM of the Paraisópolis favela in São Paulo, an operation that caused nine deaths.

This request is just no more caricature than the attack made at the end of 2019 by deputy Coronel Tadeu (PSL-SP), who destroyed a piece of an exhibition in the Chamber of Deputies. The exhibition reproduced a cartoon about police violence against the black population.

Why so much trouble?

There are no limits to humor. There are legal remedies for those who feel offended—but that does not fit these cases.

The attacks on humorous criticism have specific targets (the cartoonists, Folha, the journalist Noblat). But the press' harsh criticism comes from people who don't like criticism and don't want their actions to be exposed as ridiculous by these drawings.

We know that Bolsonaro did not take a can of black paint and paint swastikas. With humor drawings, the essential thing is the allegorical, metaphorical, figurative aspect of the critical commentary - of immediate understanding.
It is not possible to accuse the cartoonist of being untrue to reality because that is obvious: it is the false, but easy to perceive, which gives thanks to the situation.

The cartoon is a humorous drawing in addition to a caricature, illustration, and comic books. It has a relevant editorial function in critically portraying current themes, often reflecting the publication's profile.

Folha has always given the cartoon a noble place in its pages, already occupied by designers the size of Glauco, Angeli, Laerte, and Paulo Caruso.

Belmonte, a major cartoonist between the 1920s and 1940s, can be considered the grandfather of this generation. He drew for Folha da Noite and Folha da Manhã, later united in Folha de S.Paulo.

22.May.1934 - Getúlio makes his offerings to the god Povo, who, suspiciously, claims that the "jewels" are nothing more than jewelry from a famous store of the time, Casa Sloper Reproduction

His main character, Juca Pato, embodied the São Paulo middle class's concerns and much of his satirical criticism aimed at Getúlio Vargas (who even forbade him to make his drawings) - and Hitler.
Legend has it that Belmonte received criticisms from Joseph Goebbels, head of Nazi propaganda. It does not appear that the regime sued him.

In response to the request, Folha affirmed that cartoons do not contain explanations and that if the entity were concerned with the image of the Military Police, it would be dissatisfied with the lethality of the institution.
The cartoons refer to specific events from a historical moment and, therefore, are difficult to understand out of context.

This makes the police group's reaction even weirder. The cartoons that deal with police violence could have portrayed what happened on the outskirts yesterday, 20 or 30 years ago: anyone would understand.
Laughter speaks of a society's moral values and can reinforce the maintenance of its social relationships.

However, it is powerful when it questions these social relations and their political imbroglios, prejudices, and inequalities.

It seems exaggerated to imagine a newspaper cartoon's disappearance under pressure from an authority, but it is not. These authoritarian figures don't choose the press as the enemy by change.

Flavia Lima
Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. Sha has been the ombudsman at Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon