Six journalists were attacked, two others arrested or threatened and a radio station closed during the social unrest which plagued the country again in 2002. These incidents mostly happened in January, when peasants in the Cochabamba region clashed with the army after the government banned the growing of coca plants there. Journalists were sometimes suspected of being on the side of the farmers and attacked by security forces.
August saw the return to the presidency of Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada (after a previous term in 1993-97), with the aim of fighting social exclusion, unemployment and corruption.
Press freedom was satisfactory overall. Obstacles to it included the partisan use of the state-run Televisión Boliviana Nacional and protests in December by the chamber of deputies against the daily paper La Razón’s report of how deputies had increased their own budget.
A journalist arrested
A French freelance photographer, Hervé de Williencourt, was detained for several hours on 22 August 2002 as he was covering the army eviction of landless peasants who had occupied an estate near the eastern city of Santa Cruz. Officially he was picked up because he could not show his papers to police. His camera and notes were stolen on July 25 during his reporting on the unrest in the country.
Six journalists physically attacked
Carlos Arévalo, of the TV station Unitel, and photographers Dico Soliz and Fernando Cartagena, of the dailies Opinión and La Razón, were injured on 22 January 2002 while reporting on the repression by riot police of a demonstration by coca farmers in Cochabamba. The first two were wounded by gunfire and the third was struck by police for taking pictures. During this period of unrest, the Cochabamba journalists’ union also reported that Canal 12 TV cameraman Juan García was attacked by police and troops who tried to seize his equipment and that Walter Unzuetta, of the radio station Pio XII, received death threats.
Cristina Márquez and Roberto de la Cruz, of the daily El Diario, were attacked on 6 March by five thugs who tried to strangle them with ropes, beat them up and stole their papers and money. De la Cruz, who said it was a bid to intimidate the newspaper, had been threatened in 2001 for reporting on police corruption.
Pressure and obstruction
The offices of Radio Soberanía, in the Chapare region (northeast of Cochabamba), were raided, shut down and some equipment seized on 21 January 2002 on orders from the telecommunications authorities, who said it was broadcasting illegally. The station’s owners, who are coca farmers, said the authorities had blocked its efforts to register legally for several years. Journalists said the raid was an attempt to silence the station.
The Cochabamba journalists’ union reported that between 15 and 29 January, the interior ministry asked several journalists and media outlets to hand over any material they had about the murder in Cochabamba of four coca farmers and four members of the security forces.