University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in The Republic of Bolivia, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.53, Doc. 6 (1981).





A. General Considerations

1. The right to free expression is part of the constitutional law of Bolivia. Article 7 of the Political Charter provides that under the provisions of the law governing the exercise of that right, everyone is entitled to express his views and opinions freely by any communications medium.

2. Since the current government took power, the activities of the Military Junta have sought to control the mass media through direct intervention in newspapers and broadcasting stations, or by detaining and deporting national and foreign journalists and intervening in the operations in the operations of national television.

3. On July 24, 1980, through resolution No. 03, the Ministry of Information and Sports decreed that “as of that date, all daily and weekly news publications, magazines, bulletins and newsletters published within the national territory must renew their registration in this office for circulation and publication purposes.” The foregoing was also decreed for any new temporary or permanent publication without which authorization they too could not go into circulation.

B. Mass Media Affected

a. Radio

1. Information received by the Commission indicates that all private broadcasting stations, including those listed below, were closed on the day of the military uprising:

Radio-Fides: owned by the Company of Jesus. It was doing important work through its adult education programs. The destruction and unlawful removal of equipment as well as the suspension of its license have made it impossible for that station to resume operations. Priests who were present at the time of the events were detained by paramilitary groups receiving orders from the Ministry of the Interior.

Radio San Gabriel: was also subjected to unlawful entry and pillage, which caused physical damage to its facilities. It continues to be under government control.

Mining Radios:2 These stations continued to broadcast after July 17, heading the resistance to the new Government, until the military occupation reached the mining districts. Since then, they have been in the hands of the Armed Forces.

Other stations, for the most part the property of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, that were also closed are: Radio Cruz del Sur; Radio Panamericana: Radio Cristal; San Miguel de Riberalta; San Rafael de Cochabamba; and Loyola de Sucre. Others, such as Radio Yungas and Radio Santa Clara have been subject to intimidation and threats by military authorities.

According to the latest communications the IACHR has obtained, after some weeks of inactivity, the private broadcasting stations resumed broadcasting and accepted the conditions of censorship imposed by the government. One example is the condition that no news commentaries or opinion may be broadcast. The news has become the exclusive monopoly of the military regime through Radio Illimani and National Television, which is controlled and managed exclusively by the Government.

3. On July 18, 1980, Archbishop Jorge Manrique demanded compensation for damages caused to the Church’s broadcasting stations and called for immediate operation of them, demanding respect for freedom of expression. The IACHR does not know whether this request has been granted.

b. The Written Press and International News Agencies

4. The case of the daily newspaper “Presencia”

On the day of the coup, a group of paramilitary forces seized the newspaper’s headquarters and continued to occupy them until July 20 when they were returned. The paper, which is published by the Archbishopric of La Paz, resumed publication on Wednesday, the 23rd of that month. Since that date, this newspaper, which has broad national circulation, has been subjected to pressures, from various quarters, which impinge upon and restrict the guarantees that are necessary to its normal functioning. Several of its journalists are detained; others were forced into exile or to go underground. The Ministry of the Interior exerts for the government to cut advertising and publicity in an attempt to destabilize it economically.

In December 1980, the Ministry of the Interior ordered “Presencia” to suspend operations for one week, charging that it had published an article, which according to Minister Arce Gómez, offended the dignity of Bolivian women. The National Committee for the Democracy (Comité Nacional de Defensa de la Democracia – “CONADE”) recounts in its bulletin of January 15, 1981, the outrages suffered by this newspaper in the following terms:

“Police officers entered the offices and printing section of the newspaper by force, and damaged the printing presses and other equipment, forcing the staff to leave the premises. A child was hurt by a bullet.

Subsequently, they proceeded to detain the correspondent from united Press International, Alberto Zuazo Nattes, because he had maintained that the entry to ‘Presencia’ had occurred in a violent manner and that there had been gunshots.

Following this episode, The Bolivian Episcopal Conference published a document stating that relations between the Church and the State ‘are increasingly deteriorating.’ The bishops noted that armed individuals had unlawfully entered the building in the morning, ordered the editors to raise their hands and stand against the wall, and had then proceeded to ill treat them by word and deed, and that this conduct was meted to journalists, administrative staff and pressmen. They further indicated that the Minister of information, Fernando Palacios, demanded that the Editor of Presencia Huáscar Cajías, reveal the name of the reporter who obtained a list of military personnel promoted to the ranks of General and Major General, published in that newspaper and that Cajías had refused to do so.

It also deplored the excesses committed by a crowd in Santa Cruz that had destroyed the ‘Presencia’ agency and burnt its Sunday edition.

Among the persons physically assaulted in La Paz was Bishop Genaro Pratta, Chairman of the Board of the newspaper.

The bishops warned that to try the close the ‘Presencia’ signified wishing to muzzle the voice of the Church, and they maintained that the attitude of the Minister of the Interior, Luis Arce Gómez was designed to bring about a break in relations between the Church and the State. The document was signed by Cardinal Maurer and several bishops.

Following this unfortunate incident, the Chairman of the Commission for Freedom of the Press of the Inter-American Press Association, Raúl Kraiselburd, denounced the closing of ‘Presencia,’ stating in a news release that ‘to penalize a news medium for something published on its pages meant exactly the same as sentencing an automobile to prison for participation in an accident.’ He added that ‘the repeated adoption or restrictive measures against journalists and newspapers in Bolivia is a cause for concern to newsmen in the hemisphere’ and ‘that the arguments used to justify the closing of the newspaper ‘Presencia’ are not acceptable because, as is common knowledge, offences are not committed BY the press, but rather THROUGH the press.’ He further stated that ‘the gravity of the situation and the illegitimate nature of the measure adopted are also clear since the sanction was imposed by the administration without any possibilities for defence in court, which must precede any penalty.” He added that that Commission was obliged to sat that ‘unfortunately, the measure taken confirms the existence of a tendency to violate the people’s right to diversified information.”

5. Other reports indicate that weeklies such as “Aquí,” “Golpe,” “Apertura,” and “Clarín Internacional” were obliged to discontinue operations because of lack of guarantees. The same occurred with international news agencies for days following July 17 when news abroad was limited, and several of their correspondents who had been detained were subject to intimidation and threat. Noted is the fact that teletypes from France Press received extensive damage from security officers.3

6. It is estimated that a total of approximately 40 journalists have been detained and/or deported from the country, not counting those who were put out of work because the news media with which they worked were closed down.

7. The communications media–with the exception of the miners’ radio stations–are now operating, and there are no formal or legal limitations on free expression. Despite this, the atmosphere of intimidation surrounding the media has, in the Commission’s opinion, created a high level of self-censure which is restricting the full enjoyment of these rights.

8. The Commission learned in August 1981 of the detention and subsequent release of Mariano Baptista and Jaime Ríos, editors of the evening newspapers “Ultima Hora” and “Jornada.” As a result of this occurrence and the events surrounding General García Meza’s resignation, the Minister of the Interior confirmed that the measures imposed on July 17, 1980 continued in effect, and that all the media should consult the Ministry of the Interior about any news that might be published.


1. American Convention on Human Rights: Article 13. Freedom of Thought and Expression: 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice. 2. The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject o subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure: a. respect for the rights and reputations of others; or b. the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals. 3. The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions. 4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 above, public entertainments may be subject by law to prior censorship for the sole purpose of regulating access to them for the moral protection of childhood and adolescence. 5. Any propaganda for war and any advocacy for national, racial, or religious hatred that constitute incitements to lawless violence or to any other similar illegal action against any person or group of persons on any grounds including those of race, color, religion, language, or national origin shall be considered as offenses punishable by law.

2. On the afternoon of July 19, Radio Anima in the mining district in the south of Potosí went off the air as a result of the military occupation following serious clashes. The day after the attack on the Huanuni mining camp, Radio Nacional in Huanuni was destroyed. Radio Vanguardia in Calguisi was bombed by an Air Force plane and silenced. By the beginning of the week, the only three stations in the mining district of Catavi that were in operation were the 21 de deiciembre, Voz de Minero, and the Pío XII. In the face of the persistent military siege of the region, they decided to cease broadcasting on Wednesday July 23. The trade union broadcasting station Continental is also closed.

3. Among the journalists subjected to some form of persecution or other, we cite the following by way of example: Daniel Acebez, detained at the headquarters of the COB; Eduardo Pérez, S.J., General manager of Radio Fides; José Marco, Manager of Radio Fides; Vicente Beneyte, S.J., Superior of the Jesuit Community. All those of Radio Fides were robbed and mistreated, and accused of being communist priests. José Marco was taken prisoner, Harole Almos of Associated Press was deported, Eduarde Pérez Irabarne, Agence France Press, was deported following several days of detention, Mary Hiller Spooner of The Financial Times was deported, René Bascopé, editor of Aquí was detained, Felix Godoy, promotion Manager of Radio Pío XII, was detained, Oscar Peña, President of the Confederation of Bolivian Journalists, former Press Secretary with the Administration under President Lidia Gueiler, was detained, Fernando Salazar Paredes, journalist, the former Minister of Regional Affairs in the previous Administration was detained; Mario Maldonado Vizcarra, Editor of La Presencia, a national of Argentina was detained, and Jaime Vergara, director of the Research Center (CIDOB).


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