A journalist and media assistant were killed during the coverage of unrest in Bolivia in 2001. Investigating corruption also remains a dangerous activity for journalists.

Working conditions for journalists reporting on social unrest in Bolivia were once again difficult in 2001. In April, security forces tried to stop reporters covering a protest march by peasants from Cochabamba to La Paz. In El Alto, near La Paz, Juan Carlos Encinas was killed while covering a dispute over control of a mining cooperative. Since his wife belonged to one of the two rival organisations, questions were raised about exactly why he was on the scene. The replacement in early August of President Hugo Banzer, who had lung and liver cancer, by his vice-president, Jorge Quiroga, did not bring changes in the press freedom situation. At the end of September, troops fired on six journalists, killing their guide, in Chapare province (northeast of Cochabamba), where clashes occurred between the army and coca farmers.

Corruption was also a tricky subject for journalists to cover. Seven reporters were threatened or attacked for investigating the reported corruption of police and political figures. The other bad news was passage of a new electoral law which included heavy penalties for media which did not comply with rules about publishing political advertisements at election time. Media diversity suffered a blow in June, with the closure for financial reasons of the Catholic daily Presencia.

A journalist killed

Juan Carlos Encinas, a reporter from the TV news programme "Enlace," broadcast by the station Canal 21, was fatally wounded on 29 July 2001 while covering a dispute between two organisations fighting for control of a mining cooperative, Cooperativa Multiactiva Catavi Ltda., in El Alto (19 km from La Paz). The journalist, whose wife belongs to the group controlling the mine, was on the spot with a tape-recorder and camera when he learned that the rival group was about to attack. A few hours later, the attackers surrounded the site and fired shots. Encinas was wounded in the groin and died as he was about to be taken to hospital. Roger Romero, Enlace's producer, said Encinas was gathering material for the programme. The reporter had already been shot at on 5 July 2000 while covering the same dispute and his camera had been smashed. The Bolivian Media Workers' Federation (FTPB) and the El Alto Media Workers' Union said police weapons experts found that the ammunition used by the attackers had come from army stocks.

A media assistant killed

Ramón Pérez, a peasant from the Chapare region, was fatally wounded when troops opened fire without warning and hurled tear-gas grenades as he was taking six journalists to the Loma Alta Garrison on 27 September 2001. The six – Tania Sandoval (a reporter) and Alfredo Orellana (a cameraman) from the TV station ATB, Carlos Arévalo of the TV station Unitel, Fernando Cartagena and Iván Canelas of the La Paz daily La Razón and Dico Solíz, of the Cochabamba daily paper Opinión – were covering peasant demonstrations against the destruction of coca plantations in the Chapare region. They had wanted to talk to garrison commanders about how the army viewed the conflict with the peasants. The shooting lasted 20 minutes, until the journalists were able to establish their identity. Pérez died as he was being evacuated by helicopter.

Five journalists attacked

A correspondent in the eastern city of Santa Cruz for the TV station PAT-Canal 39, Carlos Lazcano, was abused and attacked on 3 January 2001 by three unidentified people who threatened to kill him. The TV station had several times spoken of corruption scandals that Roberto Landívar Roca, former head of a failed bank, had been charged in connection with. Legal action had been suspended when Landívar Roca was elected a parliamentary deputy. The TV station said it had no evidence he was involved in the attacks.

Cecilia Saavedra, of the Megavisión TV station, was injured on 29 November while she was covering the police break-up of a student demonstration in the eastern city of Santa Cruz. She had 11 marks of rubber bullets on her thighs.

O'Connor Daguino, of the daily El Diario, was brutally attacked by unknown people outside his home on 9 December and as a result lost the use of his left eye. The same day, another reporter on the paper, Daniel Fernández, was also beaten up by unidentified people. A third El Diario journalist, José Velasco, had been attacked three days earlier. Roberto de la Cruz, another reporter on the paper, along with one of its photographers, had received phone calls threatening them if the paper continued to publish articles about the murder of a policeman, Róstico Espinoza, who had been killed after accusing police chief Walter Osinaga of corruption.

Journalist threatened

A reporter for Los Tiempos was threatened on 4 December 2001 by an unidentified person who warned her to "keep out" of matters he said were none of her business. She had been investigating the use by police commander Col. Eduardo Wáyar of a reportedly stolen vehicle.

Pressure and obstruction

The headquarters of the La Paz Media Workers' Union was ransacked on 16 March 2001 and many documents destroyed and tape recordings stolen. Computers were left switched on, suggesting their contents had been examined. The incident occurred as the union was negotiating with the government over a proposed law on the confidentiality of criminal investigation. Journalists' organisations said the attack could have been carried by intelligence officials.

The Bolivian Media Workers' Federation and the La Paz Media Workers' Union protested on 18 April against military and police intimidation of journalists who had come to cover a national protest march by peasants from Cochabamba to La Paz. The two bodies said security forces tried to dissuade reporters by threatening to destroy their equipment.

An attempt by the army to occupy the premises of Radio Ondas del Titicaca, broadcasting from Huarina (50 km northwest of La Paz), on 17 July failed when the local population intervened. However the station was forced to go off the air.

The senate approved a new electoral law on 3 December, which requires (article 119) the media to register with the official National Electoral Authority (CNE), which would decide which media could publish election advertisements in the weeks before the voting. The law obliges political parties to deal only with these media or risk a fine. Media publishing such material without permission would be punished, ranging from fines to suspension of a newspaper for a period to be decided by the CNE. Media which did not charge the price set for the ads by article 119 would also be punished.


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