Category Archives: Press Monitoring

Media Myth #2: Bolivia’s National Press Law

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Impasse: Freedom of Speech, Journalistic Ethics and Bolivia’s National Press Law

 August 12, 2016

Bolivia’s National Press Law has become a heated topic of debate. On July 27th, journalist Humberto Vacaflor received a summons for comments in which he unfoundedly accused President Evo Morales of ordering the death of two people in 2002. On a Catholic television program he said: “once I found out that Morales ordered the assassination of the Andrade couple, I wouldn’t even shake his hand.” Vacaflor and Bolivia’s National Press Association have rejected the legitimacy of the summons stating that the country’s press law protects journalists from criminal prosecution. Yet, both the 1925 National Press Law and the country’s Criminal Code, under certain circumstances, permit criminal action against slander, defamation and libel in the press. Members of the Morales administration have indicated an interest in updating the 90-year-old National Press Law, but prominent Bolivian journalists and the National Press Association, reject modifying the law they uphold as a guarantee for journalistic freedom of speech, despite its more problematic stipulations. This dispute highlights longstanding concerns in a contentious government-media relationship including: 1) the need to update Bolivia’s antiquated use of criminal proceedings for libel and slander; and a disconcerting growth in 2) the lack of accountability, veracity and ethics in a significant portion of Bolivia’s political journalism.

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U.S. Media Myths About Bolivia: The Second Referendum

cropped-AIN-logo-for-stamp.jpg                      U.S. Media Myths About Morales’ Bolivia:                                                                 Part 1

 “Evo Morales is intent on running for a fourth term in 2019.”

 This remains to be seen, although mainstream U.S. media sources suggest the contrary. For example, The Washington Post affirmed on July 24th that Evo Morales “appears intent on hanging on to power when his current mandate ends in 2020”—that he will disregard the results of the February referendum (which by a two percent margin determined that the Morales government could not amend the constitution to run for a fourth term). The jury is still out on the issue, as Morales is known for making brash public and sometimes contradictory statements. However, Morales never announced a plan to hold a second referendum or run again. After the Bolivian electoral court confirmed his defeat, Morales stated that he would respect the results and that: “the MAS party and social movements are very respectful of the results of any electoral process and democratic act.”

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Brazil Border Piece Gives Bolivia a Bum Rap

The recent Washington Post article, “Brazil tries to fight cocaine trafficking at huge, porous borders,” misrepresents Bolivia’s active collaboration with Brazil on drug control.  Juan Forero reports that, along with Peru, Bolivia’s “coca production increased dramatically in recent years.”  In fact, Bolivia’s coca crop is shrinking–13 % in 2011, according the US, while coca production in both Peru and Colombia far surpass that.

Forero highlights Bolivia’s contribution to Brazil’s cocaine crisis, but omits that is has signed multiple multilateral and bilateral agreements with Brazil to address these issues.  He highlights US intelligence sharing with Brazil, but overlooks a trilateral coca monitoring agreement that also includes Bolivia in shared intelligence–something President Obama called, “the kind of collaboration we need.”

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Wall Street Journal Warps Impact of American’s Arrest in Bolivia

The Wall Street Journal’s recent article from August 1st, “Jailed American’s Drug Case Stokes Tension With Bolivia,” fails to acknowledge the many discrepancies in the Ostreicher case, dramatically exaggerates the effect the case has had on Bolivian-US relations, and contrives false connections between Ostreicher’s case and other drug-related cases.  Prolonged pretrial detention and harsh conditions take a dramatic toll on prisoners and their families.  However, the fact that Ostreicher is imprisoned under a law that the US pressured Bolivia to pass is noticeably absent in the article’s extensive discussion of US-Bolivian relations and the drug war.  (Please see the AIN report, “Ostreicher Case: US-Imposed Legislation Still Dictates Drug Prosecutions.”)

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COHA “Spotlight” on Bolivian Coca Out of Focus

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs’ (COHA) April 25 “Spotlight on Bolivia: The “Coca Diplomacy” of Evo Morales,” generalizes and speculates about Bolivian drug policy and relations with the United States. While the general conclusion that U.S. policymakers should do more to cooperate with Bolivia’s vision of coca is valid, inaccuracies presented weaken its arguments. The following clarifications on coca and cocaine data and policy would help improve COHA’s message.

1.“At last month’s meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Bolivian President Evo Morales made headlines by dramatically brandishing a coca leaf he had apparently smuggled into the Austrian city between the pages of a book.”

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Insight Crime Misrepresents Bolivian Dilemma by Projecting “Prison Gang” Dangers

Insight Crime’s “Massive Overcrowding Allows Bolivia’s Prison Gangs to Flourish accurately highlights some of the endemic problems faced by Bolivia’s prisons. Yet, the crisis is not new; it began soon after the passage of drug control Law 1008, when the prison population swelled with prisoners detained on low-level drug charges. At the peak of the drug war, over 90 percent of all inmates were prosecuted by Law 1008 and this number still hovers around 85%, in spite of legal reforms.

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McDonald’s Left Bolivia in 2002; Fast Food Still Abundant on City Streets

According to the blogosphere, the biggest news out of Bolivia in the end of 2011 is that Bolivians have rejected McDonald’s. Headlines such as “McDonald’s goes belly up in Bolivia”[i] and “Fast Food fails to deliver in Bolivia”[ii] have topped Google alerts for weeks. Most all of the articles on the subject offer the same quote from news-site Hispanically Speaking News: “Bolivians consider a good meal to be prepared with love, dedication, certain hygiene standards and a proper cook time.”[iii] Everyone from nutritionists to anti-corporate activists would like to hail this victory for Bolivia. But the inconvenient truth is that it’s no better to devour unvetted news than it is to gobble fast food.

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Response to the Bolivian Ex-President’s Defense Team’s Press Release

On August 30, immediately following the “Black October” verdict, convicting five military officials and two ex-ministers for 68 killings in October 2003, the defense team of ex-president Sánchez de Lozada, disseminated a press release claiming the  trial was politicized and the verdict invalid.  Sánchez de Lozada, along with three former ministers who are also defendants in the case, have avoided prosecuting by living in the United States.  The U.S. government has not responded to an extradition request filed by the Bolivian government almost three years ago.  AIN responds to inaccurate assertions in the press release[i] (in italics) below.

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Bolivian Quinoa Questions: Production and Food Security

In January and March 2011, several English-language press outlets ran stories on quinoa production in Bolivia. National Public Radio and the Associated Press reported on quinoa as a development project, hailing its benefits to farmers in the altiplano region of Bolivia.  The New York Times article focused on quinoa’s rising popularity abroad making it less affordable for low income Bolivians. Both AP’s “Quinoa’s Popularity a Boon to Bolivians,”[i] and the Times’Quinoa’s Global Success Creates Quandary at Home” highlight the complex relationship between food security and economic development in Bolivia, although with differing perspectives.

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Is Bolivia Ready to Export Lithium?

On October 11, Bolivia’s Mining Minister Jose Pimentel stated that Bolivia plans to start production of lithium carbonate and potassium chloride for export this month, and expects a finalized product by January or February.[i]However, it is unlikely that Bolivia’s lithium carbonate will be available on the international market in the near future.

At an isolated pilot plant, Bolivian and international scientists have been working to develop a process to separate lithium from other minerals present in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats.  The unique climatic conditions and mineral concentration of the Salar present special challenges, and it is unclear whether the extraction process has been perfected.  Between October and March the region receives significant rainfall, which could negatively affect evaporation and separation.  This separation process can take up to 18 months, even without foreseeable rainy season delays.[ii] Furthermore, a successful trial run at the pilot plant would represent the first time lithium carbonate has been produced outside a laboratory in Bolivia.

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