“Cartooning is a civilized way to express disagreements,” said Xavier Bonilla, as he spoke on his decision to enter the profession. Bonilla, who goes by the pen name Bonil, has been an editorial cartoonist in his native country of Ecuador for more than 30 years. One has to admire his optimism in light of the horrific murders in January of cartoonists at the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. In today’s world, the reactions of some to political cartoons have become anything but civilized.

While much of the world focuses on the violence and threats that Western political cartoonists have faced for depicting the prophet Muhammad, many cartoonists are silenced around the world thanks to good old-fashioned government censorship and political oppression. In Latin America, cartooning against the government in certain countries can carry heavy consequences.

According to Freedom House, Ecuador was listed as “not free” in its 2014 Freedom of the Press rankings. President Rafael Correa’s administration has created a hostile environment for the press, using multimillion-dollar libel lawsuits and draconian communications laws to repress the media. Speaking to Bonilla, though, who has a sociable, easygoing manner and laughs off Correa’s tactics with ease, one would never guess that he himself is one of the government’s targets for his cartoons.

In 2013, the home of journalist/activist Fernando Villavicencio, a frequent critic of the Correa administration, was raided. His computers and files were seized by police, and he was sentenced to prison for defaming the police. Bonilla took notice of the incident and drew this cartoon for the newspaper El Universo:

Needless to say, the Ecuadoran government was not pleased. The authorities notified Bonilla and El Universo that his cartoon was in violation of the communications law. Not only was the paper ordered to pay the equivalent of $93,000, but Bonilla also was instructed to write a correction for his cartoon, which he did in a way that only a cartoonist would do:

boni0402Villavincencio: “Who is it?”
Police: It’s the police! Good evening.
Villavincencio: Ah! Please come in! What a pleasure…I was expecting you.
Police: Nice to meet you M. Villavicencio…We came to confiscate your computers, tablets, etc…Why don’t you call your lawyer?
Villavincencio: No! Don’t bother, I trust you. You’re the legitimate authorities…Take everything you need.
Police: But we’ll make a list of everything we take so that you can sign it.
Villavicencio: No need to insist.
Police: We’ll keep it under seal so that we don’t break the chain of command.
Villavincencio: But why do you bother with such details?
Police: I’m just letting you know in case you think we might show it to someone in the next few hours.
Villavincencio: Forget about it. It’s safe in your hands!
Police: Ok, bye! Say hi to your family.

After publishing the sarcastic “correction” cartoon, Bonilla got a mixed reaction from the government. “The president was very angry, furious, with the correction. But the superintendent of communication said it was okay,” Bonilla said. He also added that he was the only cartoonist who has been targeted to make a correction in a newspaper.

Last week, the Ecuadorian government filed criminal charges against Bonil for lampooning Afro-Ecuadorian Assemblyman Agustin Delgado, accusing the cartoonist of racism and discrimination, which carries a punishment of up to 3 years in jail.

Ecuador is not the only Latin American country putting pressure on cartoonists. Venezuela is also listed by Freedom House as “not free” for the press in its 2014 rankings. After the 2013 death of longtime president Hugo Chavez, conditions for press freedom only got worse. The administration of Nicolas Maduro, his successor, has imposed fines on private media outlets arbitrarily and clamped down on outlets that are sympathetic to the opposition or that dare criticize the government’s social programs. Cartoonist Rayma Suprani had trouble with censorship as well when she drew this cartoon for the newspaper El Universal criticizing the Venezuelan health-care system using Chavez’s now-iconic signature:

She was fired the next day. “The illustration was published in the newspaper,” Suprani said. “The next day when I was going to hand in the next one, the editor called me and said that I shouldn’t even send it. I have this certainty that I was fired from my job for doing it well.”

Before her firing, Suprani said, she had been the recipient of death threats. She also has had to change her phone number twice and takes care to keep her home address discreet. “The two cartoonists from other papers that were still working had to leave the country because of legal problems, because of threats,” Suprani said. “And so we’ve become closely tied to human rights organizations, freedom of expression organizations, to look at what’s happening in Venezuela and help us to protect that space, to help us keep working in illustrations.”

Suprani and Bonilla, who both visited Washington this month to speak on cartooning under authoritarian regimes, were adamant that they would continue to keep drawing despite their hardships. “Last month, the journal [El Universo] received death threats for me,” Bonilla said. “The attitude of the president creates a climate where his followers online feel free to threaten and insult people. It’s normal now to ask, ‘What are my limits?’ People see limits as normal, and freedom as not. But limits have no place in humor.”