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Friday, 14 December 2012

Bolivian journalist wounded in arson attack returns home after treatment

IPI urges Bolivian government to prioritise investigation 

By: Scott Griffen, Press Freedom Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean

Bolivian radio journalist Fernando Vidal, is pictured at an ambulance hours after being set alight while on air, in Yacuiba in southern Bolivia on October 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Estaban FARFAN

VIENNA, Dec. 14, 2012 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed news that Bolivian journalist Fernando Vidal was released from an Argentine hospital where he had been treated for third-degree burns suffered during an arson attack in October.

Vidal’s son-in-law, Esteban Farfán Romero, informed IPI that the journalist arrived in his hometown of Yacuiba, Bolivia, late at night on Wednesday after having spent nearly a month in the burn center at Hospital San Bernardo in Salta, Argentina. 

Farfán told local media that his father-in-law would now focus on resting and contuining to recover.  "He is now walking, although obviously with limitations.  The most delicate moment has passed."

As IPI previously reported, Vidal had been conducting a live radio broadcast when four masked men stormed his station and set the journalist on fire using gasoline canisters they had brought with them.  A station technician, Karen Anze Delgado, was also wounded in the incident, which also caused serious damage to the station’s equipment.

Vidal received preliminary treatment in hospitals in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, but later required transfer to Salta for more specialised care.  A medical report from the hospital concluded that Vidal had suffered severe second- and third-degree burns on 35% of his body, in addition to having inhaled toxic materials from the smoke. 

Donations from radio listeners helped to offset Vidal’s medical costs in Santa Cruz—nearly €10,000.  IPI and other international organisations have contributed funds to help Vidal’s family pay for treatment in Argentina, which totaled nearly €8,000.

“We offer our thoughts and best wishes to Fernando Vidal as he continues his recovery from home in Yacuiba,” IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said.  “International attention now must shift to ensuring that the masterminds behind this terrible crime do not escape justice.  IPI will continue to monitor the investigation and calls on the Bolivian government to give this case utmost priority.”

News reports this week indicated that Vidal planned to protest the attack and the lack of progress in the investigation before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organisation of American States, and the UN High Commission for Human Rights.  Police have yet to comment on a possible motive for the attack, which is nevertheless thought to be related to Vidal’s reports on local corruption and contraband activity in the Bolivia-Argentina border region.

Vidal, for his part, declared in an interview with Salta’s El Tribuno newspaper his refusal to remain silent.   “They [the assassins and masterminds] failed in their intention and, for that reason, the corrupt officials will have to protect themselves well so as not to be linked to what happened to me.”

He added: “I never feared coming back [to Yacuiba] despite the fact that they tried to assassinate me and silence my radio [FM Popular].”

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