<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Journalist Alex Contreras Detained Illegally by Bolivian Authorities

US-Imposed Repression, Military Dictatorship, and Persecution of the Press, Return to Bolivia


By Al Giordano
A Narco News Global Alert

October 15, 2003

When Journalist Alex Contreras Baspineiro landed at the Viru Viru International Airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, earlier today, the police were already waiting for him. There, he was forcibly detained and his journalistic work materials were filmed against his will.

Contreras, a frequent contributor to Narco News and to the BolPress Agency, was returning from covering the Indigenous-Campesino Summit in Caracas, Venezuela, when he was illegally pursued and held by authorities.

The agents refused to identify themselves, but claimed to be members of the anti-narcotics police. Contreras reports frequently about repression against coca growers in the Chapare region of Bolivia. Contreras showed his press credentials to the authorities, but reports that the agents responded that they had orders from above to detain him.

The agents then filmed documents, notes, and source materials that Contreras brought from covering the indigenous summit in Caracas. In a complaint Contreras filed through the Cochabamba Press Workers Union, he wrote that the documents included “some texts about the functions of the Venezuelan government and about the global indigenous and farmers event that I went to cover. They singled out material, page by page, to be filmed.”

After a half hour of detention, when Contreras tried to take photographs of the agents, “they tried to take away my work tools by force. We had a small altercation. After they contacted someone in authority, they proceeded to free me.”

Not an Isolated Incident

This latest attack on freedom of the press comes at a time when the regime of Bolivian President Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada is desperately attempting to cling to power as the nation is paralyzed by blockades, demonstrations, a General Strike, and mass dissent. The uprising, fueled by government efforts to export the nation’s natural gas supplies and its subservience to the US-imposed War on Drugs, has now grown into a widespread revolt calling for the resignation of a president who has lost the support of his people. In recent days, massacres of unarmed protestors have been committed by Goni’s military and police forces. The president’s approval rating, according to Reuters, has bottomed-out at nine percent. (For frequent updates on the Bolivian revolt, see http://www.bigleftoutside.com/ )

Earlier today, according to Bolpress, government agents confiscated editions of the daily El Diario newspaper and a special edition of Pulso magazine that contained facts damaging to the president’s credibility.

Page one of the confiscated El Diario included a headline: “Bolivians Have the Right to Ask the President’s Resignation.”

“The media is going to be attacked just like in the days of the dictatorships,” warned El Diario editor Jorge Aliaga on the Catholic Church’s Radio Fides program, according to Bolpress.

Gustavo Guzmán, editor of the weekly Pulso, denounced that his magazine had been seized in various regions of La Paz. The page one headline read: “In the Name of Democracy the President Must Resign.” Pulso included an investigative report documenting that four United States military officials are, in fact, directing the Bolivian military’s actions during this crisis.

Authorities also raided and shut down Radio Jiménez, which broadcasts in the Aymara indigenous language from a poor neighborhood of La Paz, Bolpress reported.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas reports that five journalists from the state-owned TV station resigned in protest because “the channel has withheld information about the unrest and the number of people killed.”

The Narco News Bulletin warns the United States Embassy and Ambassador David Greenlee that the U.S. government, as an institution, and Greenlee, as an individual, will be held institutionally and personally responsible for any further attacks on our journalists who are reporting on the events in Bolivia. As Pulso magazine has demonstrated, US military operatives are now commanding Bolivian military and police forces in a last-ditch effort to salvage the unpopular and disgraced regime of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Therefore, the attack and illegal forced holding of journalist Alex Contreras Baspineiro today upon his return to his native Bolivia from reporting in Venezuela, could not have occurred, in our judgment, without the aid, consent, and intelligence operations of the Embassy. Be advised, Ambassador, that any harm or further repression against Contreras, against Narco News Andean Bureau chief Luis Gómez, against correspondent Andrea Alípaz Arenas (the latter two have also been reporting for the Mexican daily La Jornada this week), or any other sources or correspondents, will be considered and dealt with as a direct attack on all of us and will be dealt with accordingly for as long as it takes for justice to be done.

Some information in this report appeared first in Bolpress.

For a summary of recent events in Bolivia click here.

For frequent updates, click here.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America