New York, April 24, 2000 — CPJ is deeply concerned about a series of recent threats against Bolivian media organizations covering corruption and state violence.
On April 14, at 9:30 a.m., the La Paz-based daily Presencia received an anonymous bomb threat, which followed a series of telephone threats made to the newspaper’s staff beginning in early March. Police arrived on the scene, but found it to be a false alarm.
Bolivian journalists suspect that the threats relate to Presencia‘s recent reports on the Italian-born businessman Marco Mariano Diodato, who in 1999 was charged with offences that included drug trafficking, money laundering, and involvement in an international Mafia ring. On February 23, 2000, Diodato, who is married to President Hugo Banzer’s niece, was acquitted of all drug trafficking charges. Following the controversial acquittal, Presencia continued to publish reports linking Diodato to high-level officials in the Bolivian government and to a money-laundering racket administered through illegal casinos that he has been accused of running.
Gloria Eyzaguirre, chief of information at Presencia, told CPJ that she began receiving telephone death threats in early March. In one such threat, the caller gave a detailed description of her daughter’s daily routine, including how she had been dressed when she left the house that morning. Other Presencia reporters also received threats during this period, according to Eyzaguirre. Presencia has also aggressively covered human-rights abuses, including the disappearance of a university student in 1972, at a time when Banzer was the head of a military government.
The threats against Presencia came during a week of violent protests that flared up across the country after the government announced an increase in water rates. In response, President Banzer imposed a state of emergency that lasted for nearly two weeks.
Several other media outlets received threats during this period, including the nationally-broadcast PAT television station, which had aired footage of a sharpshooter firing into a crowd of demonstrators.
CPJ is also concerned by reports that the Bolivian military temporarily occupied three small radio stations in towns surrounding Cochabamba during the first day of the state of emergency. Cochabamba, the nation’s third-largest city, is where the wave of protests that engulfed Bolivia started.