Santa Cruz TV Reporters Shot at by Bolivian Special Forces

(Santa Cruz, Bolivia)

This is a translation of a Saturday 28 November 2009 article on the shooting of two TV reporters and their driver in Santa Cruz on Wednesday, November 25, 2009. The original article can be found in Spanish here:

The United Nations demands the authors be sanctioned

A high caliber shot to the right leg of driver Ismael Jesús Montero (57), an impact on the windshield, several to the front tires of the vehicle, and the violent manner in which two reporters were kicked and thrown to the floor, are evidence of actions taken by Delta police officers against a PAT TV news team on Wednesday night as they kept vigil in the Alto Olivo neighborhood after Erick A.T. (a 13-year old) was kidnapped.

The incident took place at 11:35 p.m. outside the victim's home because allegedly the reporters' vehicle was confused with that of the subjects who kidnapped the child the previous day near a plaza in the Las Misiones neighborhood as he was walking with his older sister.

"It was a mistake. The reporters followed us everywhere and we were nervous. That night at the house we were awaiting news of my son and we saw a black vehicle parked up front. My daughter, who witnessed her brother's kidnapping, yelled "Mom! Dad! That's the vehicle that took my brother!" so we called a relative who works with the Delta force and they arrived minutes later. It's true, they started shooting but it was because we thought they were delinquents," stated Modesto Acosta, the child's father.

Shirley Flores Hano and Karen Paola Rueda Salas, from the Hola País magazine-styled TV show, pressed charges yesterday at the Felcc for attempted homicide, serious and light injuries, and abuse of authority. They affirm that despite identifying themselves as reporters, the police physically and verbally attacked them and shot the driver as he was getting out of the vehicle. They thought the police agents were thugs because they never identified themselves as police and the vehicle in which they arrived had no police identification or flashing lights.

“We yelled that we were reporters, and told them to look at our vehicle which had the TV channel’s logo on it and we showed them our credentials, but they were hooded and didn’t hear us, they just hit and insulted us; at no time did they say they were authorities,” says Shirley Flores, as she added that they were detained for three hours. Then the police supposedly took their damaged vehicle to their traffic division but the head of that unit said they didn’t have it.

The driver who had been shot was taken to the San Juan de Dios hospital and then interned at the Niño Jesús clinic. Johnny Vargas, local police commander, indicated that the Felcc is carrying out a criminal investigation of the case and that the police Professional Responsibility Director’s Office would investigate disciplinary actions to be taken against the authors, if there was any excess of force.

The Government Minister, Alfredo Rada, sent police sub-commander Wilge Obleas to Santa Cruz yesterday to report on the case but indicated he was not satisfied with the report. “These are confusing circumstances and this has to be confirmed. I’m not satisfied with the preliminary information and I want a complete report of everything that happened and based on that I will make a statement, and if necessary, make some decisions,” he sustained.

Víctor Hugo Escobar, general police commander, stated he assumes the Delta confused the reporters with the alleged child kidnappers.

That evening vice president Alvaro García Linera acknowlded there was an excess of force by the police and announced possible sanctions. Reporters protested in Sucre yesterday against the aggression…

…the driver begged for his life.

Mónica Salvatierra, press director of PAT TV commented to the ANF news agency that the Hola País program production team lived moments of terror and were persecuted by the Delta police force which arrived without license plates and with tinted windows.

After the hooded men held them at gunpoint in the vehicle, the reporters told the driver to escape and he was pursued until the police caused him to lose control of the vehicle and he stopped. The two young women were able to get out of the car and take refuge behind a fast food restaurant but the driver, a 57-year old man, wasn’t as lucky and was shot at. He was wounded in the leg and begged for his life, said Salvatierra.

The kidnapped child arrived at his home on foot. At about 4:00 p.m. yesterday, Erick A.T. (13) arrived unharmed, ending his family's desperation. He arrived after having been held for several hours by unknown subjects, according to his version.

The child commented that three individuals threw him into a dark-colored van and put a bag over his head. He calculates that after about a half hour they transferred him to a Toyota Runner and later took him to a room that had a television and a mattress on the floor. The delinquents asked him for his father’s telephone number but he couldn’t remember it.

Upon finding out that one of the Delta officers was the boy’s uncle, the delinquents discussed among themselves, then took him out of the room and abandoned him near his school.

This is the second time in three months that reporters have been shot at by members of police special forces in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

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