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US cartoon provokes Colombia ire

Carlos Castaneda, 39, chosen as the new Juan Valdez in 2006
The character of Juan Valdez was created 50 years ago

Colombian coffee growers are planning to sue a US cartoonist for millions of dollars over a cartoon they say damages the reputation of Colombian coffee.

The cartoon is by Mike Peters, whose work is published in the US and abroad.

In it, one character refers to crime in Colombia and then to Juan Valdez, the fictional coffee grower used for years to advertise Colombian coffee.

Coffee growers say the cartoon links their industry with violence. Mr Peters has said he intended no offence.

The cartoon strip which appeared on 2 January is part of the Mother Goose and Grimm series that Mr Peters draws.

In it, Mother Goose is sighing over a cup of fresh Colombian coffee.

Another character comments: "Y'know, there's a big crime syndicate in Colombia. So when they say there's a little bit of Juan Valdez in every can, maybe they're not kidding."

This plays on a former slogan used to advertise Colombian coffee.

The comic strip finishes with Mother Goose drinking tea.

National dignity

Colombia's National Coffee Growers' Federation, Fedecafe, said they had instructed their lawyers in the US to begin proceedings against Mr Peters and the agency which distributes his work, for "damage and harm, detriment to intellectual property and defamation".

In a statement, Fedecafe said the cartoon "associated organised crime and the atrocities committed by violent groups with the hard, delicate and honest work of more than 500,000 coffee growers and their families".

The cartoon also affected the reputation of Juan Valdez, the "icon and symbol" of Colombian coffee, by suggesting that there was a connection between coffee tins and the victims of violence, Fedecafe said.

The iconic coffee grower, accompanied by his faithful mule, was created in 1959, and has appeared in countless TV advertisements, in the US and elsewhere.

The federation said they would expect coffee growers to be adequately compensated for damage caused.

Humorous subject

Gabriel Silva Lujan, Fedecafe's general manager, told reporters in Bogota that the cartoon "was an attack on national dignity and the reputation of Colombian coffee."

He said he expected the lawsuit to be filed by the end of the week and would be for at least $20m (13m).

Mr Peters has said that he loves Colombia, drinks Colombian coffee and did not intend any offence.

"The cartoon is meant to be read along with the rest of the week as a series of which the theme is based on the fact that the inventor of the Pringles can had his ashes buried in one," Mr Peters said in a statement, reported by the Associated Press.

"I thought this was a humorous subject and all my Mother Goose and Grimm cartoons are meant to make people laugh. I truly intended no insult."

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31 May 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Colombia
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