Bolivia: Chronology of an Authentic Netwar

Memo to Copublishers and Readers: This is to thank each of you who participated, who reported, who commented, who “distributed widely,” and who responded to my appeal of last week, “Help Protect Your Journalists at an Hour of Moral Crisis.”

You made possible what happened in Bolivia – and on these pages – this week. Together we showed what a dedicated network of Authentic Journalists and supporters can do, in tandem with social movements, when we pool our talents, resources, and keypads together.

In case you blinked – because it all happened so fast – I’ve prepared this summary of the action-packed series of breaking news reports from Luis Gómez and our entire team in Bolivia, and the considerable helping hand lent them from diverse points in our América and around the world.

As during previous hours of crisis, the lies got swatted down, the truths were shone bright, new advances were made in how to wage a popular Netwar, and Authentic Journalists drove, in recent days, the coverage of most Commercial Media organizations to be more truthful than ever before when reporting events in Latin America… An Authentic Chronology

Monday, June 6: Narco News Predicts a Resignation

Acting Publisher Luis Gómez reported at 3:37 p.m. that Bolivian President Carlos Mesa was close to resigning. Managing Editor Dan Feder swiftly translated his report to English, too. Gómez reported that “according to a source within the Catholic Church who asked to remain anonymous, Carlos Mesa has a resignation letter ready and could present it, at latest, tomorrow night.”

At 9:45 p.m. Mesa began his resignation speech. It was up on Narco News – and on hundreds of other newspaper and newswire pages - 11 minutes later. But if you had read Narco News earlier in the day (as so many other reporters tipped off to what was in the works by our report were now paying attention), then you already knew it was likely to occur.

Tuesday, June 7: The Tumult That Would Not Be Silenced

Gómez reported on Tuesday that Mesa’s resignation had not silenced nor stopped the blockades and protests that were still shaking the country, demanding a new constitution and the nationalization of the country’s gas supplies: With phrases like “The miners numbered several thousand today, and arrived heavily armed with dynamite,” it was clear that a resignation aimed at quieting a restless land only succeeded in agitating it more.

Jean Friedsky, via The Narcosphere, explained, from La Paz, how the protests were so very different than demonstrations she had witnessed in the United States:

“Here, ‘the revolution’ is anything but a party.  Dancing hippies, drum circles and four-story high puppets are notably absent from the recent mass mobilizations that have rocked Bolivia for the past two weeks. There are no breaks for concerts, no hemp clothing for sale. You are not an individual, but a part of your contingent, and from them you do not stray. In stark contrast to the large-scale demonstrations in the US that have characterized the burgeoning anti-globalization movement, marches here in Bolivia are supreme examples of discipline and seriousness.  Rigidity replaces fluidity; unity replaces individualism; rash actions are rare.  The marchers have anger and determination in their hearts but reign that in for the sake of the long-term struggle. Their intensity is in their expressions, chants and willpower - not in violent behavior. Sure, some bring their whips, dynamite is abundant, and I saw one man yesterday wielding a cactus. But most of the time these are symbols of strength, rather than weapons for destruction.”

As Gómez and Friedsky and our other collaborators on the ground in Bolivia were reporting from the front, I watched – across the Caribbean to the Organization of American States assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida – as the US Ambassador to that organization, Roger Noriega, threw a tantrum over what was happening in Bolivia, blaming the events in the Andes on Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, and, we took on Noriega and his specious arguments in public.

The Christian Science Monitor linked to that report. So did The Economist of London. So did, New Zealand’s daily Scoop, The Smirking Chimp blog, Norway’s Internasjonal Reporter, the international Indymedia front page (and countless other regional Indymedias), among many others.

Narco News’ axiom, “please distribute widely” is not just a slogan on our alerts: it is an active principle of a functioning network and a weapon in Netwar. News was spreading fast and wide. It alerted all to pay attention to Bolivia. Whatever dark plans were being made in the control rooms of power and money for this Andean country, it was already clear that they would not go down quietly.

International media scrutiny, after all, is what keeps our reporters – and the people whose movements we cover – safer, sometimes even alive: sunlight as a defense weapon.

Wednesday, June 8: The Narco News Swarm

By Wednesday, Narco News was breaking major developments to the English-speaking world: That the US Embassy in Bolivia, was being evacuated, and that Bolivian Congressman Evo Morales had called for a blockade of the city of Sucre where Congress had been moved by the Senate President who wanted to be made president, Hormando Vaca Diez: a story first published in Spanish by the French Press Agency, but it was translated immediately into English by Narco News.

Bolivian Authentic Journalists Gissel Gonzales of Cochabamba, and Irene Roca Cruz of Santa Cruz weighed in with reports and analysis. Uruguayan Authentic Journalist Manuela Aldabe – picking up the telephone from Rome, Italy – tracked down Bolivian Authentic Journalist Alex Contreras in the city of Sucre.

The authentic news was exploding now like popcorn from La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Sucre and elsewhere. Charlie Hardy, our own Cowboy in Caracas, posted historical perspective based on his own travels in Bolivia. Teo Ballve, the Argentine Journalist in New York who keeps an eye on the hemisphere posted some analyses. Gómez, Friedsky, Gonzales, Roca Cruz, Feder, Aldabe, Contreras, Hardy… Experienced Narco News readers recognize these names as alumni and professors of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism... Avengers Assemble! The Narco News “swarm” buzzed toward a crescendo.

Thursday, June 9: Twenty-one Hours That Shook the World

At 2 a.m. on Thursday, the tireless Luis Gómez (who dressed himself in glory all week showing that my Tuesday comparisons of Gomez to John Reed, Charles Horman and Mario Menendez as a history-making reporter of revolution in Latin America were not exaggerations), before he could try to rest on the tense night before the showdown, filed a report, Thursday Brings a New Assault on Power in Bolivia:

“The great majority of the miners who faced the police with dynamite downtown yesterday have already departed towards Sucre. And thousands more head there as well. Among them, hundreds of rural Aymaras, who decided to go as well this morning to surround the National Congress and stop its president, Senator Hormando Vaca Díez, from taking the office of president of the republic…

“Tomorrow, we will try to learn whether this conflict will deepen, who decided its end, or if there is a possibility of calling early elections, as Mesa proposed last night…

“Kind readers, renew your strength tonight and wait for tomorrow…”

Meanwhile, here from the site of the future permanent campus of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, at 11:30 p.m., the dogs up and down this dirt road began to howl.

Down the hill, a sound emanated from the ocean.

It was the long, high-pitched wail of… it was… yes… a whale!

The oceanic alarm, it seemed to move, like the news itself, from South to North… a creature that, like Authentic Journalism, faces extinction but that keeps sounding its siren alarm. I was jostled out of bed, worried for our journalists in Bolivia… tossed and turned, tried to sleep... by 2:30 a.m., the neighborhood dogs were barking again, sending the local roosters into chorales of crowing. With so many of our journalists on the battlefield on a dangerous day to come, and sleep an option no more, your correspondent surrendered to the story, put coffee on the stove for the long day’s battle ahead, and penned Zero Hour in Bolivia: What to Watch for Today, to set the tone of the coming day’s coverage at the beginning of the day’s news cycle.

Our reporters on the ground in Bolivia would dependably chronicle as it was happening.

Via the Internet, Narco News tuned to Bolivia’s national public Radio Erbol and began translating their reports from Sucre into English, moments after each was broadcast. (See also Ben Melançon’s analysis, In this Relentless Bolivian Revolution, Media Matters.)

Narco News reported (the first to do so in English) that the Bolivian Congress had not succeeded in convening at 10:30 a.m. as planned.

Before lunch hour, Luis Gómez predicted that Congress may not be able to meet at all in order to coronate Vaca Diez as president:

“Copublisher Jean Friedsky and this reporter doubt that they will pull off a session today. There was a general pre-agreement to begin work by 6 p.m., but it is far from certain whether that will happen.”

Gómez and Friedsky turned out to be, again, prophetic.

At 3:49 p.m. Gómez broke a major story: that disgraced and exiled Bolivian president Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada’s son-in-law had arrived in Sucre riding on the same airplane as aspiring dictator Vaca Diez, and traced the facts showing that Goni and the US Embassy were collaborating in the attempt to impose Vaca Diez upon the throne.

Sixteen minutes later, at 4:04 p.m. Gomez informed the world that the day’s conflicts had brought the first martyr: Juan Coro, a Bolivian mineworker, who had been shot by police while he sat on a bus on his way to the protests in Sucre.

Rumors quickly spread throughout the World Wide Web that Bolivian Military soldiers had assassinated him. If true, it would have been even graver, for all prior indications (including in Narco News reports) were that the Armed Forces were refusing to act violently against the Bolivian people in this conflict. It was a moment when we all got a collective lump in our throats, and worried intensely while also mourning a fallen American.

At 5:08 p.m., Gómez came in with an earthshaking report that changed the course of history: “BOLIVIA’S ARMED FORCES DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN THE REPRESSION,” Gomez shouted in capital letters.

The assassination had been committed by police who had, according to Gomez’s famously accurate sources, been ordered by aspiring president Hormando Vaca Diez to stop the mineworkers from reaching the Congressional meeting in Sucre:

“Vaca Diez ordered the Commander in Chief of the National Police, David Aramayo, to block the passage of all demonstrators who were marching toward the capital to surround the session of Congress.

“It was members of the special forces group known as ‘The Dalmatians,’ known for their brutal participation in the Water War of 2000 in Cochabamba, who repressed the mineworker’s march. Now, with this information confirmed, we can correct (the facts), for the peace of mind of all the world…”

Apparently Vaca Diez (also in constant contact with his advisors utilizing many of the same cell phone-to-Internet communications systems that are part of the new landscape for newsmakers as well as news reporters) was one person to whom this news did not cause “peace of mind.” He immediately fled from the Congressional session – claiming he was going to meet with a police officer – and ran directly to the military base in Sucre seeking protection from angry mineworkers who were also learning, at this moment, of his role in the true facts about the death of their fallen comrade. Vaca Diez was, factually speaking, a hunted man.

In his report for the next morning's daily La Jornada in Mexico, Gómez added some interesting context that showed just how responsibly the Bolivian Armed Forces had acted. And given the dark history of how that institution was used and abused by Power to repress its own people throughout history, this was an especially comforting report:

"The Bolivian military, that on this day had deployed troops in various cities of the country, especially in Santa Cruz, evaluated the situation of Senator Vaca Diez. 'Seeing that the country was in a delicate situation,' one high ranking military officer told La Jornada, 'and that it was impossible to get him out of there discreetly without causing confrontations, we made a call to him.' Vaca Diez listened, via his cell phone, to the firm voice that explained everything to him. At the time the position of the Armed Forces of Bolivia was made clear to him: 'Avoid a confrontation between brothers at all costs.'

"'It was about nothing more or less than an 'invitation' to consider that the Armed Forces were not going to resort to bullets, in contrary to what he and others believed,' the high ranking military official continued. 'And he was also reminded that we had said that Congress should listen to the voice of the people, to the popular demands.' That made the difference. And Vaca Diez, a capable politician, opted to return to the Congressional meeting in Sucre three hours later.

But at that same hour, on Thursday afternoon, many news organizations, including activist sites, had jumped on the news of the death of mineworker Juan Coro, and pointed the finger at the Bolivian military. Narco News alone corrected the story and brought the true facts up for air.

To give you an idea, kind reader, of what goes on behind the screen, between our newsrooms and reporters in the field at hours of crisis like this: Narco News has established lightning-fast communications systems, utilizing cell phones, Internet, online text messaging to cell phones, Instant Messenger service with various backup systems, emergency Internet “safe houses” to go to in case our communications systems suddenly went down… We set up “buddy systems” for reporters to keep track of each other and of our best sources to alert us of any problem or threat to security.

At the moment that bulletin came in from Gómez, I had been chatting on IM with various collaborators, including Teo Ballve in New York. “What’s happening?” he typed.

“It’s over for Vaca Diez,” I replied. “He can’t survive this latest revelation.” I turned to Gómez and asked, "can we publish that as a fact yet?" Gómez said we needed to do more investigating, and we all went back to work contacting sources.

The sources spoke, the facts rolled in, the news updates came flooding via the Narcosphere: At 5:50 p.m. Gómez confirmed that Vaca Diez had suspended the Congressional session – forty-two minutes after Narco News had reported the information about his role in the death of the mineworker. By 9:31 Gómez and other news agencies widely reported that Vaca Diez had withdrawn his bid to become president. Then at 11:17, the world knew: Bolivia Has a New President, Eduardo Rodríguez, whose first act was to call for new elections.

In twenty-one hours, a likely wave of terror was transformed into another hopeful step toward authentic democracy.

The feared wave of repression promised by Vaca Diez and his “Doctrine of Authoritarian Government” had been stopped in less than a day by the social movements of Bolivia. Authentic Journalists inside the country and around the world lent a significant assist and back-up to their heroism, and particularly acted as a counterweight to the distorting abilities of the Commercial Media and the power brokers in Washington and Wall Street.

This is what Narco News and the Narcosphere was set up to do: to harness the energy and creativity of truth-tellers and Authentic Journalists to smack down the lies and bring sunlight upon the dark recesses of media simulation, especially at those hours of crisis when the professional simulators have for so long gotten their way.

I am certain, kind reader, that this story would have ended up differently had your journalists not been in the battle on June 9, 2005, and in the weeks prior to the shift.

Study how this story was reported, and how the way it was reported, so differently from the formulas of the Commercial Media affected the outcome of the story.

From the point of view of strategy, tactics and journalistic technique, these recent days represent an advance for the Narco News “swarm coverage” form of Authentic Journalism. Just as in previous major news torments – the Mexican presidential elections of 2000, the Zapatista caravan of 2001, the rise of the Bolivian coca growers of that same year, the Venezuela coup attempts of 2002, the staggering electoral changes from Bolivia to Brazil to Ecuador to Argentina during these same years, Venezuela’s presidential recall referendum of 2004, the defeat of the Mexican “desafuero” plot in 2005, and now this week’s events in Bolivia… Speed and accuracy, when combined in reporting, are global weapons now.

These are weapons in your hands. Here, although we meet professional codes and standards, we don’t just leave it up to the so-called professionals. For us, "professional" has nothing to do with whether someone gets paid or not. We involve you, the readers and the sources, and our humongous and growing international network of Authentic Journalists together as we cover immediate history like it has never been reported before.

There will be more battles to come, more truths to be told, more lies to be smacked down, and an authentic democracy to be won. If you were part of this week’s events with us – as a reporter, as a copublisher, as one of the readers who donated to let this all happen this week – I know you feel pretty damn good right now.

You know what you did, what we did, together. It’s exciting. It’s a new day. It’s a new way of fighting, and a new way of winning.

If you were not part of it but you find yourself reflecting that this is the kind of participation in your world and your hemisphere that gets results and therefore is worth your time, please join in this Authentic Journalism crusade. We need all hands on deck for the stories and battles to come.

We – the journalists, the copublishers, the donors – all give what we can, in labor and in resources – in order to make reports like this available free of charge to everybody in the world.

Primarily, though, it is the real people of Bolivia who risked their lives to save their country from an evil return to the past of dictatorship and repression: Authentic Journalism plays an auxiliary role, but one that is absolutely necessary to the people’s voice being heard – and not being distorted or simulated - across borders.

So, if you were involved, thank you.

And if you are not yet involved, or have been busy with other things, I’ll tell you this: We, the journalists, do this work on vapors. This week of course required more resources than normal weeks. And you can still be part of it by making a donation to our fiscal sponsor, The Fund for Authentic Journalism.

After all, what else have any of us done this week or weekend that is more worthwhile than changing the course of history for the better? Whatever you are spending your hard-earned money on these days, please consider that alimentation with information is just as important as food, drink, shelter or entertainment, in many cases more so, to our living in a civilized and informed world.

What we don’t know can hurt us.

What we do know can save us.

Help make sure we keep knowing and reporting the big truths and facts. Make a donation, online, right now via The Fund for Authentic Journalism website:

Or if you don’t have a credit card, you can make out a check to “The Fund for Authentic Journalism” and mail it to:

The Fund for Authentic Journalism
 P.O. Box 241
 Natick, MA 01760

Alrighty, it was a good week in hell.

Keep your powder dry and let’s see what the coming weeks bring. Authentic news tends to beget more authentic news, after all. And you know where it will be reported first and most accurately.

From somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano
Narco News

p.s. Oh, and... please distribute widely!

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.