Interview. We spoke with the Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff about his political formation and his work. ‘A political cartoon can have the effect of a surgical strike, or it can become an aerial bombardment, depending on the target.’

Political satire according to Carlos Latuff

Irreverent, politically engaged and poetic, Carlos Latuff, like Cyrano, doesn’t forgive, but strikes mightily with his cartoonist’s pen. He makes fun of the powerful, criticizes social injustices and condemns war crimes. His cartoons continue to spread around the world, testing the boundaries of censorship, through magazines, posters, demonstrations and social media. His satirical work against American imperialism and Israeli politics in particular have led to him being on the receiving end of violent criticism and threats, but the Brazilian artist has no intention of stopping.

What is your political background?

I first started working for the bulletins of the left-wing trade unions in 1990. Before that experience, I’d had no political or ideological education, because my dream was to work as a cartoonist. Thanks to the political analyses I read in those publications, I started learning and moving closer to the ideas of the left. I don’t consider myself a communist, a socialist or an anarchist in particular, but simply a left-wing artist.

What tools do you use for your work?

I am old-school. I prefer to use paper and pencil, or pen. When I’m not at home with my scanner, I use my iPad to add colors. I do the sketch on paper, I take a picture with the tablet and I add colors on the tablet. At other times, I draw the cartoon on paper, I color it in pencil, I take a snapshot and I finish up the design with an app on my phone.

When does satire become offensive?

Satire is always offensive. It all depends on whom one wants to offend. A political cartoon can have the effect of a surgical strike, or it can become an aerial bombardment, depending on the target. If you draw a comic that criticizes Netanyahu, you might be accused of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, but you will find that those who are trying to criminalize you are the same people who are supporting policies against Palestine. As far as Israel is concerned, my targets are the politicians and the army, but never Jews as such. I don’t criticize Judaism, but the apartheid policy of the state of Israel. The same is true for Turkey: I have never wanted to offend the entire Turkish population, but only Erdogan and his followers. However, sometimes even those who are not his supporters feel offended. It happens.

What do you think about Assange’s arrest?

What happened was both absurd and dangerous. Assange was one of the people responsible for bringing to light confidential documents about the American war in Iraq, and Great Britain is a faithful ally of the US: that is the main point. Assange lived for around seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy, and he was effectively living as a prisoner; the way in which he was captured, in disregard of international law, is unbelievable. I believe his arrest constitutes a threat to any whistleblower in every part of the world, because you can be arrested and persecuted for showing the truth to the people. It is a principle that is valid for journalism, for those who take photos and for those who draw cartoons. If you write something that your government does not agree with, you are called a terrorist and a spy and you can be arrested and extradited. Assange had a very important role in independent journalism, but he was most of all a hero in the fight for the freedom of information.

Journalism and communication: how do these connect with your work?

As a rule, the role of a political (or non-political) comic strip, especially before the advent of the Internet, used to be to provide an illustration for the articles in newspapers and magazines. In my experience, political cartoons have gone beyond this function. When you publish one on a social media platform, it can be used in different ways: for example, on protest signs during demonstrations, or on posters, as the pro-Palestine movements do. Political cartoons summarize a concept or explain a complex international situation in a single allegorical image, and this is more attractive to people. The political cartoon has a power that goes beyond journalism as such, because it is also a form of activism.

About Venezuela: you have drawn Guaidó as a puppet of the United States, but don’t you think Maduro has also made mistakes?

The problem in this case is not Maduro, but defending the sovereignty of a country. When a country is about to be invaded by the US, it is necessary to show solidarity, because the pretext of “bringing democracy” there is absolutely a false one. The same has happened in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya, and it has nothing to do with democracy, but with geopolitics: oil, gas, business interests. I wouldn’t want another Libya in Venezuela, or in Syria.

What will be the future of Brazil?

The forecast doesn’t look good. The previous two presidents have been representatives of the left, but Lula was not a revolutionary. Unlike Chavez, Lula was a reformist, and he turned the poorest into admittedly wealthier consumers. However, social change has never actually taken place in Brazil. In Venezuela, on the other hand, they have managed to create a strong popular consensus and a consciousness among the lower classes, and that is why they are still fighting. In Brazil, since the great corruption scandal of 2005, there has been an aggressive media campaign that has convinced the population that the Workers’ Party was the most corrupt party in the history of Brazil. The people decided to give their trust to a person who didn’t present himself as a traditional politician, but as a soldier who wanted to make the country more moral and bring order. The election of Bolsonaro was the victory of anti-politics; he got votes not only from the extreme right, of which he is a representative, but also from ordinary people who have benefited from Lula’s social programs. It is ironic, but it is the price that must be paid for not giving the people a political consciousness. Bolsonaro is not only a fascist, misogynist and racist, but he represents the most brutal version of capitalism and neoliberalism.

The true disgrace lies in the fact that, unlike the past military dictatorship, this person was democratically elected. Likewise, Trump did not present himself as a politician, but as a businessman, and that is the same strategy that Grillo adopted in Italy. People don’t like traditional politicians and they want to vote for something new. History, however, comes in seasons: after the summer of the left, now we have the dangerous winter of the right.

Does the Democratic Party bear any responsibility for Trump’s victory?

Yes, it does, but that analysis must be viewed in a broader perspective, taking into account the whole of the left. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the revolutionary left has dissolved; after the collapse of the Soviet Union, no one has supported and funded revolutionary organizations across the world any longer. To survive, the leftists have adopted a more reformist approach: that is the problem. Revolutionaries are interested in radically changing things by transferring power from one side to the other. The reformists, however, only give you the impression that change is happening. The reformist left is not interested in power, but in government. It wants to be an administrator, but in order to do that it needs to make agreements with those who actually hold power. The left is no longer historically relevant precisely because it is no longer an agent of change. This is one of the reasons why it gets defeated so easily by the right. We will remain irrelevant until we again adopt a revolutionary approach: with models that are different from those of the past, of course, but this is necessary in order to promote real social change.

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