Early Reporting: The Pando Massacre, Bolivia (2008)

Posted by on Jul 4, 2013 in International, Work | No Comments

In 2008, as I was first learning how to professionally handle a video camera, I spent six months as a videographer and documentarian at a small agrarian college in the Yungas region of Bolivia in a little town called Carmen Pampa. At the time, an increasingly violent autonomy movement was raging on the other side of the country in the Media Luna, a region in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands characterized by large tracks of privately-owned landholdings, big export agriculture, and big business. At the time, many residents of the Media Luna began violently resisting the legitimacy of the presidency of Evo Morales, the nation’s first indigenous president. Their resistance was taken to the streets, as government offices, radio stations, and community centers were ransacked and occupied.

On September 11, 2008, these actions of right-wing civil organizations came to a boil as indigenous social movements marched to Cobija, the regional capital of the Pando Department, to protest anti-government actions. Along the way, in the town of El Proviner, the protesters were attacked by pro-Autonomy forces and youth groups. By some accounts, more than sixty indigenous protesters were killed.

Following the event, the Prefecto of the Pando, Leopoldo Fernández Ferreira, who called for action on the part of local security forces, was arrested and brought to La Paz to stand trial. Pressure coming from the Media Luna attempted to have Fernandez extradited back to the lowlands for a more favorable judicial outcome. As I quickly learned, the indigenous social movements across Bolivia would not stand for this.

At this time, I was teaching myself how to shoot in the varied and challenging conditions of the Global South. With my Panasonic DVX-100 and a little lavaliere microphone, a colleague and I walked the streets of La Paz to take on what would be my first breaking video news story. After spending two days filming protests and actions outside San Pedro Prison (where Fernández was being held) and the Justice Ministry (off Plaza Murillo), I edited this Spanish-language report for UBNoticias, a Bolivian news website, which was quickly picked up by Upside Down World, an international news and analysis website covering politics and activism in Latin America.

Translation of the video introduction:

“On September 22 and 23, thousands of cocaleros from the Yungas region of Bolivia, marched in La Paz to demand justice for the victims of the September 11 massacre in the department of Pando. They demanded that Leopoldo Fernandez, ex governor of the department, be tried and jailed in La Paz. They kept watch over San Pedro prison where the ex-prefect was detained to make sure he would not be transferred to Sucre. 

“The social movements also expressed their support for President Evo Morales and for the new constitution, which is slated to be voted on in a national referendum in December. The protesters were preparing to join the siege of the city of Santa Cruz, which has since been postponed until October 15th in the hopes that the government and opposition groups will come to an agreement.”