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Perspective. “Humour, essential for any democracy”

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Perspective.  “Humour, essential for any democracy”

The first cartoon to appear in Colombia on political issues is one by an anonymous author called “The new hallelujahs” and alludes to the confrontation between Bolivarians and Santanderists.

With regard to these ideological differences, which were marked in a radical way in the Ocaña Convention, this caricature made from the engraving technique appeared, published in 1829, which constitutes the oldest record of this genre that exists in the country. This first cartoon is by an anonymous author, as many of the cartoons of the 19th century and even the first decades of the 20th century used to be, for fear of retaliation from the rulers on duty.

This is how Nicolás Pernett, historian and Master in Literature, remembers it. “Then already in the 30s and 40s the custom of making fun of the powerful continues to be maintained to a large extent, in this case Santander, which ruled a good part of the 20s and 30s.”

Pernett recalls that, for example, the art critic Beatriz González identified some lithographs by Carlos Casar de Molina, which appeared on the coast, in Cartagena, for example, which is as important a city as Bogotá in that sense.

Similarly, he points out that José María Espinosa, one of the most important painters and artists of the 19th century in Colombia, also ventured into caricature in the different newspapers that appeared at that time.

“Or the conservative José Manuel Groot, who was also a writer, historian and costumbrista painter, are the ones who stand out the most during that time, when the liberals gain a lot of strength, later on, even the Radical Olympus is established, but precisely the conservatives like Groot are the ones who counterbalance it through cartoons. Then when it is the conservatives who come to power, with the Conservative Hegemony, already at the end of the century, it is that cartoonists appear who are going to go against the conservatives”, recalls the historian.

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Alberto Urdaneta was in that period, who was also an excellent engraver and lithographer and is one of the most important painters of the century, who will become an authority on caricatures, Pernett mentions.

the 20th century

Likewise, Alfredo Greñas stands out, who publishes a newspaper called “El Zancudo”, who is also quite critical of the conservative government. Already at the end of the century and the beginning of the next, there is Lázaro Escobar, who makes engravings for a newspaper “El Amolador”.

“In the new century, the great masters of caricature will appear, such as Pepe Gómez, artist and caricaturist, and Ricardo Rendón, a man from Antioquia who first starts in Medellín with the Los Panidas group and then comes to Bogotá to make caricatures. against the conservative hegemony”, exposes Pernett.

“They say that when the conservative hegemony fell and the liberal government arrived, Rendón also came to make caricatures against the liberal government. In other words, he really was a critical mind, beyond the political party that was in power. And in addition to a critical mind, he was also a troubled and pained mind, because he ended up committing suicide in a cafe, shooting himself”.

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Already for the second half of the 20th century the possibilities are greatly expanded, explains Pernett. “From caricaturists like Osuna, but there were also some satirists who wrote for the press, like Lucas Caballero Calderón, the famous Klim, who did not draw, but did like to invent nicknames and criticize the government of the day, conservative or liberal; from a family that has a tradition of protest in Colombia, because both he, Klim, and his brother Eduardo Caballero Calderón, were very scathing critics and journalists”.

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“Eduardo Caballero’s son, Antonio Caballero, don’t even mention it; and Antonio Caballero’s daughter, Isabel Caballero, also continues the family’s journalistic tradition. So there are several generations of that family that can be counted among those humorists, but also critics. In other words, humor is nothing more than a way of hiding criticism or of making it more friendly”, narrates the historian.

New ways of spreading humor are also born, like the radio, for example. “Then figures like Humberto Martínez Salcedo, who came to appear on television in the 70s and 80s, but above all his career was made as a comedian on the radio, in the 50s and 60s; he is also quite critical of governments, quite sardonic and satirical. He is the father of Néstor Humberto Martínez, the former prosecutor, and was characterized by being able to do imitations on the radio. Even presidents like Carlos Lleras did not know how to distinguish if it was his voice or that of Martínez that was reproduced on the radio ”.

In this way the tradition of the imitator and the imitator begins to gain a lot of strength. “At the end of the century, the ‘La Luciérnaga’ program, which appeared at the time of the Gaviria blackout, as a way of dealing, precisely, with the darkness, became famous first with Guillermo Díaz Salamanca and then with other imitators and imitators of great weight, like Alexandra Montoya, who also becomes an institution in this matter. And imitation is also a form of caricature, because someone’s voice and portrait are being taken, and they are exaggerating and making them comical”, illustrates the historian.

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He points out that this also happens in the United States with some imitators like the actor Alec Baldwin, who became more famous as Trump than Trump himself. “And Jaime Garzón also started as an impersonator; Of course, he is well known for creating his own characters, such as Heriberto de la Calle, Dioselina Tibaná or Néstor Elí, who are his characters, but if you look at Jaime Garzón’s files, you will see that he was an excellent imitator”.

the need for humor

For Pernett, who in his most recent book, “Presidents without a pedestal”, makes it clear that Colombia, for being such a formal country on the one hand, and so violent on the other, at different stages of history, needs the reverse of humor. “Because formality is present in our daily lives, in government, in bureaucracy, in cultural life. And also precisely to escape from that formality we have a tradition of humor, of making fun of, of making fun of everything. Humor is a reverse of national characteristics and that is why it is important to appreciate it and know that it is a bastion of culture, it is not just a distraction, an entertainment: it is essential for any democracy and culture in the world”.

Photo 2: “New year new life”. 1929. Caricature of Ricardo Rendón in “Cromos”. (Page of the Bank of the Republic)

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