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Bolivia: A Conflict Online

Video taken by Estotaweno of the “Youth for Democracy” crowd that broke through the police line towards an eventual confrontation with coca farmers in Cochabamba.

January 11, 2007 is already being called “Black January” for the civil conflict that left 2 dead and hundreds injured in the city of Cochabamba. The blogger Carlos Gustavo Machiado Salas of Guccio’s [ES] asked in October of last year, “Which color for this October?” in reference to another civil conflict in the mining town of Huanuni, which left many more dead than what occurred in Cochabamba. The label “Black October” was already taken after the disturbances in October of 2003, which saw the resignation of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and another conflict in February 2003 is also considered “Black February”. What makes the “Black January 2007” different than the other months where Bolivians died in street violence is that it took place during the boom of citizen’s media and other participatory software. One of the few bloggers who was blogging the events of October 2003 was Miguel Centellas of Ciao!, who was spending some time on a Fulbright fellowship in La Paz. His day by day account as someone living through the blockades that made life difficult in La Paz was an important source of information during this time. Since then, very little coverage from non-journalist citizens ever made the light until now.

Fast forward to January 2007 and many more Bolivians utilized software such as Flickr and YouTube to upload their eyewitness accounts from their vantage points on that day.

Flickr user Miskifotitos was one of the first to upload his photos of the marches and assemblies. However, he found out the hard way that even with explicit Creative Commons classification, the photos still ended up on other blogs without due credit. Another photojournalist, Jimena Bautista, a Brasilian working with the local newspaper Los Tiempos also was onsite to record the aftermath, including a very graphic photo of one of the killed (warning: viewer discretion advised) and another photo of a crowd carrying the other's coffin through the city.

Very little was written by Cochabambinos on the ground, but the conflict was a large topic of discussion by Bolivians living elsewhere. One who was in Cochabamba at the time was Jim Schultz of the Democracy Center blog. His daily accounts drew a lot of criticism in the comments section, as many said that he was biased in his reporting.

Users like Estotaweno filmed from a high rise building safe from harm and Nenamade took three different videos from the same vantage point during various points during the day.

The blogger Morir Antes Esclavos Vivir [ES] uploaded two videos [1 of a Bolivian television news report, 2] that many bloggers like Andres Pucci and Hugo Miranda have found very interesting. It states that the 17-year-old boy, Cristian Urresti that was killed during the conflict was killed after being protected inside a house. The residents protected the young boy, but it was determined that he needed to be taken to a hospital. However, the protestors outside the house prohibited such an action and ended up killing the boy, much to the horror of the residents.

A witness in the story stated that the cocaleros (coca growers) had filmed the entire incident on a camera. That video could provide clues as to who was ultimately responsible for the brutal death, but it is very unlikely that video will ever find its way to sites like YouTube.

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