Two Bolivian journalists threatened after reporting on police scandals

By Mariana Muñoz

Two Bolivian TV journalists received threats after investigating police corruption in central Cochabamba state, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The threats were notes attached to the apartment doors of José Miguel Manzaneda and Escarley Pacheco, reporters for La Red ATB, one of Bolivia's largest TV stations.

On March 14, Manzaneda received the first threat when the door to his apartment was stained with a blood-like substance and an accompanying note read, “Be careful, J.M.”

Manzaneda had been covering incidents in which several policemen had allegedly been visiting city brothels in uniform. He had also gathered footage of another police officer socializing with a man suspected of child trafficking.

Some days later, on March 23, Pacheco received the second threat when a note and a bullet were attached to the door of her home in Cochabamba. The paper was apparently stained with blood and the note read: “This bullet has your name on it. You should never have stuck your noses into the lives of others... what a pity that you will never investigate anything else in your life.”

Pacheco had been reporting on the arrests of three police officers allegedly involved in drug trafficking. Former Cochabamba Police Commander, Colonel Alberto Suárez, previously threatened her after she reported that the official had been accused of physical aggression by his ex-wife. Suárez later apologized for threatening Pacheco and stepped down from his position.

Pacheco and Manzaneda have been covering police scandals for ATB, an independent station that has been the target of threats on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Both journalists reported the threats they received to the police department and the general attorney's office, but no arrests have been made. They will continue to report on police corruption, ATB spokeswoman Angélica Lazarte told CPJ.

Threats or attacks against journalists in Bolivia are not generally known to the public. But in 2012, one event did generate a lot of media attention: a Bolivian radio journalist was set on fire during an interview program in which he and his guests were discussing contraband items crossing the border.

Fernando Vidal, owner of FM station Radio Popular, suffered second-degree burns to his face, arms, legs and torso when four masked men burst into the station, poured gasoline on him, and set him on fire using a lighter. Vidal, a former politician, had often criticized local politicians on his show and had received constant threats by telephone and in person from public officials.

Three suspects were arrested in connection with the incident, and all of them had police records. Esteban Farfán Romero, Radio Popular journalist and Vidal’s son-in-law, said that he believes two  government officials from the Tarija department took part in planning the attack.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.