Puerto Rican Newspaper Cancels PEPITO Comic for Comparing Politician to Garbage Can

Puerto Rico’s Primera Hora newspaper canceled the 10-year-old comic strip Pepito after the cartoon compared a woman politician, María Milagros “Tata” Charbonier, to a garbage can (“zafacón”).

Photo sent to LR by Pepito creators

One day after the publication, the president of the Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, sent a letter to the president of GFR Media, María Luisa Ferré Rangel, demanding an apology from the newspaper. (GFR Media owns Primera Hora.)

Méndez called the cartoon’s action towards Charbonier “disparaging, insulting and discriminatory.”

It did not take long for the newspaper to call Charbonier to apologize as she stated in one of her tweets, while also thanking the newspaper for the apology.

Charbonier is known for her anti-LGBTQ agenda and pro-religion efforts.

On Thursday, the newspaper published its apology in the “Tiempo Libre” section where the comic strip used to be published from Monday to Saturday, saying Pepito will no longer be part of the paper’s section.

Photo taken by Latino Rebels of Primera Hora page

We are committed to give spaces that foster the discussion of ideas and plurality of thoughts. However, these actions must not promote any attacks or show any insensitivity towards people as it happened with Pepito’s publication on Tuesday, July 12th. As a result of publishing a cartoon that does not represent the values of our brand, we have made the decision to cancel the publication in this section. We offer our sincere apologies to María Milagros Charbonier, member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives and our readers.

Latino Rebels reached out to Primera Hora for further explanation on the decision. The newspaper declined to comment. “José Luis Santa María [Deputy director of GFR media] won’t be making any comments for now,” a staff member told LR over the phone. Later in the day, Primera Hora emailed Latino Rebels to say that the questions sent to the newspaper were forwarded to Ana Enid López, a deputy director for Primera Hora..

Meanwhile, in response to Primera Hora’s decision, Pepito creators Aníbal Quiñones and Harold Jessurun posted a statement on Pepito’s official Facebook page, expressing their discontent.

“We are not satisfied with the decision. Especially because we were not given a space to discuss what happened,” part of the statement says.

Here is the full statement in Spanish:

Pepito’s creators are blaming different groups connected to the Puerto Rican government, saying they wanted to end the controversial comic strip and “silence the voice” that they believe has been portraying the realities and truths of the Puerto Rican government.

With humor and satire, Pepito’s mission shed light on the social, political and economic issues affecting Puerto Ricans.

In the past, Pepito has had so much impact that the main character actually changed things on the island. For instance, in 2015, Pepito wrote a letter to the then president of the House of Representatives, Jaime R. Perelló, asking for an increase in the fine for texting while driving. At that moment, the fine was only $50.

When Pepito was taking the letter to the mailbox, he got hit by a driver who was texting and driving, leaving him in a coma. Pepito remained in a coma for three weeks until the government actually took action and increased the fine to $250.

For so many Puerto Ricans, the decision was an attack on freedom of artistic expression.

As for Pepito’s future? Its creators said that will share details soon on Facebook.

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María Camila Montañez is a journalism student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Spanish-language program. She is originally from Colombia and tweets from @mariacmontanez.

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