Opposition activists attack state-owned media

New York, September 10, 2008–Opposition activists in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra stormed the offices of two state-owned media outlets on Tuesday, destroying equipment and forcing them to halt broadcasts in the wake of two-week long antigovernment protests. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the attacks and called on Santa Cruz’s governor to ensure that all media can work freely without fear of reprisal.

Violent protests broke out Tuesday in several provinces, including Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, and Tarija, as opposition groups demanded a greater share of the country’s natural gas revenues and that the government scrap a draft of a new constitution, according to local and international news reports.

In the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz, hundreds of protesters led by the youth group Unión Juvenil Cruceñista raided several public buildings as military and police forces fired gas to disperse the crowd, according to news reports. Dozens were injured during the clashes, said the Santa Cruz-based daily El Deber.

Angry protesters attacked the offices of state-owned radio Patria Nueva, hurling homemade bombs at the station, said the La Paz-based daily La Razón. Opposition militants also seized the offices of television station Channel 7, stole equipment, and set furniture on fire. No one was injured in the attacks, but the offices of both outlets suffered substantial material damage. Both stations halted broadcasts. 

“We condemn the attack against Channel 7 and radio Patria Nueva,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s Americas senior program coordinator. “We call on Santa Cruz governor Rubén Costas to control groups that clearly operate outside the law by promoting violence against the press. Authorities in Santa Cruz must ensure that all media can report the news without fear of physical retribution.”

The Bolivian government strongly condemned the acts of violence. Interior Minister Alfredo Rada described the attacks as a “civic coup,” blaming the political opposition. The opposition has long demanded more autonomy for their regions and opposes Morales’ plan to hold a referendum in December for the constitution’s final approval. In the last year, tensions between the country’s majority indigenous population and the lowland, rich city of Santa Cruz, dominated by a European-descended, Spanish-speaking elite, have increased.

Bolivia’s Historic Moment,” a 2007 CPJ special report, concluded that increasing ethnic and class tensions in Bolivian society have fueled resentment between President Evo Morales government and the private media