A display of Rayma Suprani's art in Caracas.

Photographer: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

It's a Great Time to Be a Brazilian Cartoonist

Mac Margolis writes about Latin America for Bloomberg View. He was a reporter for Newsweek and is the author of “The Last New World: The Conquest of the Amazon Frontier.”
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With the economy dragging bottom, corruption spreading and a president with the worst ratings in a quarter-century, Brazilians haven't had a lot to laugh about lately. All the better for the country's busy cartoonists, who -- like jailhouse lawyers, but more fun -- flourish when the country weeps.

Chico Caruso knows the drill. I recently asked the lead illustrator for O Globo, the big Rio de Janeiro daily, how he picked his targets among so many scandals and scoundrels. "No sweat," he said. "They all work for me."

If that is so, then President Dilma Rousseff is putting in overtime. Over the last two years, the harried Brazilian leader has gone from low to low, driving millions of protesters to the streets, her allies to despair and illustrators to their sketch pads.

As her popularity has tumbled -- she polled 9 percent on July 1 -- Rousseff has become increasingly insular and occasionally inscrutable, offering an easy mark for send ups.

The nation's sharpest pens delighted in Rousseff's recent speech at an indigenous sporting event, in which she sang the praises not of her country's global edge in high-tech agriculture but the cassava, "one of Brazil's greatest achievements," and then reveled in the native genius behind the original soccer ball, rolled from banana leaves.

Cartoonist: Sponholz

Her nine-party governing coalition, with its appetite for pork and patronage, has served up a steady fodder for the lampoon artists.

Cartoonist: Clayton

So has her government's habit of "fiscal bicycling," or borrowing from state banks to pay current expenses, which federal auditors have condemned.

Cartoonist: Duke

But nothing has resonated like the pillage of Petrobras, the state oil company, which Rousseff's allies allegedly drained to finance electoral campaigns, including her own 2014 reelection bid, though she claimed to be none the wiser.

More than schadenfreude, the parodies are a democratic purgative, helping Brazilians stomach a daily diet of outrages.  And with its history of generalissimos and caudillos, Latin American leaders have long been cartoons waiting to happen.

Some of the region's jefes still can't take a joke. Ask Xavier Bonilla, the Ecuadoran cartoonist who was dragged to court by President Rafael Correa, or Rayma Suprani, the award-winning Venezuelan illustrator, who was fired last year for spoofing Bolivarian health care by rendering former President Hugo Chavez's signature as a flatlining cardiogram.

That most nations can now skewer the rich and powerful without seeing their artists censored or sued is a sign that basic liberties have taken across the hemisphere. It's also an indication that indifference to misdeeds in high office has vanished.

"We've always had corruption and politicians on the take," said Caruso. "What's new is that it's prohibited."

Not one to miss a cue, he recently took his rant to the stage in a musical parody of the Petrobras corruption case. Honors to the percussion section, which pounds on oil drums smudged with oily four-finger handprints -- a nod to former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who lost a finger to a lathe accident but basked in the oil bonanza.

Not everyone is amused, but at least Brazilians have a scandal they can hum. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mac Margolis at mmargolis14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net