On August 6, Former military dictator Hugo Banzer, who was suffering from advanced cancer, resigned his post as president and handed over power to Vice President Jorge Quiroga Ramírez, who will head the government for the remainder of the five-year presidential term, which ends in August 2002.
Despite widespread social and political unrest, the Bolivian press did not face significant impediments to covering the news. Quiroga Ramírez’s new government took no active steps to curtail press freedom.
Bolivia is a landlocked country with a poorly developed communications infrastructure. Nearly 40 percent of its 8.3 million inhabitants live in rural areas, according to World Bank data, making newspaper distribution difficult. However, local journalists say that high rates of poverty and illiteracy are the main reasons for low newspaper circulation. This renders the press vulnerable to pressure from a small pool of advertisers.
Media outlets that support the government benefit from generous state advertising, while opposition or critical media must survive on scanty private advertising. Some media outlets are bankrolled by politicians and businessmen who use them to advance their own interests. Bolivia’s entrepreneurial class is small, and most media owners have close personal connections throughout the business community. As a result, journalists find it difficult to write about corporate malfeasance.
The Bolivian army, which has often wielded excessive force against landless peasants, coca growers, and miners protesting government policies, has occasionally cracked down on the media. On September 27, soldiers fired at six journalists who were covering coca growers’ protests in Chapare, a tropical region in central Bolivia. The journalists, who intended to interview an army commander, were traveling down a road leading to a military camp when soldiers fired without warning. One of the journalists’ guides was killed in the attack.
Juan Carlos Encinas, 39, a free-lance reporter in the small town of Catavi in La Paz Department, died on July 29 of wounds sustained while covering a fight between two mining cooperatives that were vying for control of a limestone quarry outside the town.
Investigative journalists often draw the ire of public officials. In August, Luis Roberto Landívar Roca, a parliamentary deputy from the small opposition party New Republican Force, launched a smear campaign against Carlos Mesa and Amalia Pando, of the television station PAT, who were covering a corruption scandal involving Landívar. He publicly accused the journalists of embezzlement and murder, respectively. In addition, he published the allegations in advertisements in several papers and funded the publication of a tract aimed at tarnishing Pando’s image.
According to Bolivian journalist Roger Cortés Hurtado, authoritarian traditions and attitudes that still permeate government bureaucracy hinder reporting. With no legal obligation to release information to the public, government agencies remain secretive about issues of clear public interest, such as budgets and public finances.
Journalists in Bolivia must have a university degree in journalism and be registered in the National Registry of Journalists. Though enforcement is lax, penalties are potentially severe and include imprisonment. In 1985, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica ruled that mandatory licensing of journalists violates the American Convention on Human Rights.
Juan Carlos Encinas, free-lancer
Encinas, 39, a free-lance reporter in the small town of Catavi in La Paz Department, died of wounds sustained while he was covering a fight between two mining cooperatives that were vying for control of a limestone quarry outside Catavi.
On July 29, about 50 armed members of the mining cooperative Marmolera Comunitaria Ltda surrounded and attacked members of Cooperativa Multiactiva Catavi Ltda, which controlled the quarry.
The attackers fired at least seven shots, wounding a worker and Encinas, who was shot in the groin. Encinas was initially treated at a local medical post but died on the way to a hospital in the city of El Alto.
ýncinas was carrying a camera and a tape recorder, and his credentials identified him as a journalist. Three days before Encinas’ death, a small production company hired him to report on the story for La Paz-based TV channel Canal 21, according to the local press union Federación de Trabajadores de la Prensa de Bolivia.
Two days after Encinas’ death, the El Alto police arrested eight men suspected of the killing. Though they were initially ordered released on bail, the Superior District Court of La Paz overturned that decision and the suspects remained in preventive detention.
Tania Sandoval, ATB
Alfredo Orellana, ATB
Iván Canelas, La Razón
Fernando Cartagena, La Razón
Carlos Arévalo, UNITEL
Dico Soliz, Opinión
Six local journalists and three guides were attacked while covering clashes between coca growers and the military in Chapare, a tropical region in central Bolivia, according to local press reports. One of the guides was killed in the attack.
The journalists included Sandoval and Orellana, reporter and cameraman, respectively, with the television station ATB; Arévalo, a reporter for the television network UNITEL; Cartagena and Canelas, reporters with the national daily La Razón; and Soliz, a reporter for the Cochabamba-based daily Opinión.
The journalists were on their way to interview an army commander. As they traveled down a road leading to the Loma Alta Military Camp, soldiers suddenly opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas canisters.
The gunfire lasted at least 15 minutes, forcing the journalists to hide in the bush and run uphill. The soldiers continued to shoot despite the fact that the journalists yelled, “We are from the press,” and were wearing vests that identified them as members of the media.
On October 8, the journalists filed a written complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office, supported with video evidence of the attack. At press time, the government had taken no action on the complaint.
Cecilia Saavedra, Canal 18 Megavisión
Saavedra, a reporter with the television station Canal 18 Megavisión, was wounded by police fire while covering a protest by university students in the city of Santa Cruz.
The journalist and a cameraman were covering the second consecutive day of clashes between local police and students from the Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno who were demanding that the governor of Santa Cruz Department increase the university’s budget.
At around 5 p.m., some students began pelting police with firecrackers. Police responded by throwing tear gas canisters and firing rubber bullets. The police then charged the protesters in an effort to break up the demonstration.
Choking on tear gas, Saavedra decided to leave the scene. As she was walking past a university building, at least 11 rubber bullets struck her legs. A taxi took her to a private clinic where the bullets were surgically removed. Saavedra was released from the clinic two days later.