Ithaca N.Y.—“My country is under a dictatorship, so even if you don’t want to talk about politics — politics is everywhere.”

Pedro X. Molina, renowned Nicaraguan cartoonist, has been awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent for his work as a political cartoonist. That work has continued since Molina fled his home during a crackdown on politically vocal media members, settling in Ithaca as a guest of the organization Ithaca City of Asylum and teaching at Ithaca College. Established in 2012 by the Human Rights Foundation, the Vaclav Havel award recognizes artists who use their work for dissent

Molina was born and raised in Nicaragua and grew up during the Nicaraguan Revolution in the 1980s. Due to the war and the economic embargoes placed on the country, the country’s economy struggled, making leisure activities difficult. Thus, as a child, he drew for entertainment, inspired by the cartoons of the newspapers his father would read. As he grew up continued drawing and by the age of 17 he became a professional cartoonist, using his cartoons as a means of expression during difficult times. 

“I got into politics because I wanted to ask why we got into a war, why we couldn’t live safely, why schools were the way they were — all this from a young person’s point of view,” Molina said. “You could see that things were not the way they were supposed to be, or the way they were presented by the government.”

His work was not unnoticed, attracting the attention of the Nicaraguan government, which in 2018 raided the offices of Confidencial, the news organization Molina worked for, as part of a wide campaign of intimidation, arrests and incarceration of journalists. In response, Molina left the country with his family and arrived in the city of Ithaca, as a guest of Asylum through the Ithaca of City of Asylum organization. 

“If we wanted to keep doing independent journalism and talk about the abuses of the regime, we were forced to go into exile,” Molina said. “That’s not only me, many of my colleagues were [also] forced to leave.”

The crackdown on dissent continues today, affecting not only the media, but higher education and even the Catholic Church. In 2021, the offices of Confidencial were raided by Nicaraguan police again

“The thing is that, for a dictatorship, anyone who doesn’t agree 100%, all the time, is the enemy,” Molina said. 

To him, raising awareness regarding the issues affecting Nicaragua is what really matters.

“It is great personally [to be recognized], but it’s also a sense of responsibility,” Molina said. “If I am one of the few Nicaraguans who actually have a voice to speak, then I feel like I need to do it.” 

The attacks on news media and the spread of misinformation, from governments to everyday individuals, have become near commonplace across the globe, including in the United States. Molina said now, more than ever is an important time for journalists to continue to emphasize critical reporting. 

“I think you have to be careful, but you cannot adopt silence or self-censorship,” Molina said. “You have to be clever. We are facing a digital era […] I am convinced that good journalism is needed now more than ever before, because there is all this technology that people don’t know how to deal with.”