Sebastián Moro’s suspicious death during the ouster of Evo Morales

An Argentine journalist’s final report denounced a coup; his beating later that night looks like murder

Sebastián Moro was a 40-year-old Argentine journalist working for Prensa Rural, a newspaper associated with the CSUTCB national peasants union that strongly supported the government of Evo Morales. On the morning of November 9, the Morales presidency was under siege, with a widespread police mutiny backing up nationwide protests of the October 20 election results. That morning, Sebastián Moro showed up to coordinate the next edition of Prensa Rural with his supervisor José Aramayo, who also coordinated the station Radio Comunidad out of the office of the CSUTCB in the Miraflores neighborhood of La Paz. By that night, angry civilian opponents of the Morales government had broken into the compound, beaten and tied up Aramayo and senior union leader Hugo López, and delivered them to a police station.

Portarit of Sebastián Moro by Cristina Perez. Text reads: "A Sebastián Moro, periodista Argentino fallecido por el golpe de estado en Bolivia, Noviembre 2019.
Photo: Jose Aramayo tied to a tree by anti-Morales protesters, November 9

From his apartment in the Sopocachi neighborhood, Moro filed a report for the Argentine newspaper Página12 titled “Un golpe de estado en marcha en Bolivia [A coup d’etat is underway in Bolivia].” article mentioned the attack on Aramayo as part of long list of attacks by the civic movement:

Because of the [police and military’s self-imposed] confinement to barracks, on Saturady there were acts of vandalism and aggression upon government functionaries, journalists, and MAS party members in different parts of the country. Among numerous acts, the governor of Oruro’s house was burned, state workers at Bolivia TV and Radio Patria Nueva denounced they were kidnapped and denied their right to work by fighting groups of the opposition who surrounded their building, and the La Paz headquarters of the Peasant’s Confederation (CSUTCB) was invaded and attacked.

Producto de los acuartelamientos, el sábado hubo actos vandálicos y agresiones a funcionarios, periodistas y militantes del MAS en distintos puntos del país. Entre varios hechos, el gobernador de Oruro sufrió el incendio de su vivienda, trabajadores estatales del canal Bolivia TV y de Radio Patria Nueva denunciaron que fueron secuestrados y privados de su derecho al trabajo por grupos de choque de la oposición que cercaron el edificio, y la sede paceña de la Confederación Campesina (CSUTCB) fue invadida y atacada

Moro, Sebastián. “Un Golpe de Estado En Marcha En Bolivia | El Escenario Desplegado Por Las Fuerzas Golpistas.” Página12, sec. El mundo. https://www.pagina12.com.ar/230124-un-golpe-de-estado-en-marcha-en-bolivia.

By the next morning, Sebastián Moro was brutally beaten and in urgent need of medical treatment. Medical and media reports described multiple “bruises, abrasions, and scratches.” At the Clínica Rengel, he was diagnosed with an ischemic stroke, a condition which can be induced by trauma. He died around midnight on the morning of November 16.

The newspaper Tiempo Argentino summarizes the questions surrounding his injuries:

But where and when was he attacked? Could it be in the street or in his residence? At first, everything appeared in order there, although he was missing a jacket that identified him as a journalist, his recorder and notebook; on the other hand, he still had his telephone, but with one exception: the audio files he had exchanged with Aramayo on the preceding days (which the latter confirmed) had been erased.

¿Pero dónde y cuándo fue atacado? ¿Acaso en la calle o en su vivienda? Por lo pronto, allí parecía estar todo en orden, aunque faltaba un chaleco que lo identificaba como periodista, el grabador y la libreta de apuntes; en cambio conservaba su teléfono, pero con un detalle: los audios que intercambió con Aramayo en los días precedentes (confirmados por este) habían sido borrados

Ragendorfer, Ricardo. “El periodista argentino muerto en Bolivia: ¿ACV o brutal agresión?.” Tiempo Argentino, December 8, 2019.

The night that Moro died, Bolivia was still in the midst of its deadliest wave of repression since 2003. Scores of coca growers had been shot the previous afternoon in Sacaba, nine of them fatally. Human rights observers and volunteers were gathering testimonies from the survivors overnight, and many of their interviewees commented on the near-total absence of conventional media. Later, multiple sources would verify the wave of self-censorship inhibiting full media coverage of these events.

In the absence of eyewitness testimony, it is not possible to confirm with certainty that Moro’s beating was part of this violent suppression of the press, but this is by far the most likely explanation. This month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, issued the office’s annual report which expressed extreme concern about Moro’s killing and insisted that the Áñez government is obliged to fully investigate the matter as a matter of urgency.

La CIDH y su Relatoría Especial ha recibido información sobre las circunstancias poco claras que rodean la muerte del periodista, entre ellas, el parte médico sobre politraumatismos en su cuerpo, sobre la falta de herramientas de trabajo en su domicilio, como ser la grabadora, el chaleco y una libreta de anotaciones. Asimismo, habrían llamados telefónicos borrados del celular y según denuncias presentadas por la familia, la clínica privada habría secuestrado los documentos médicos del periodista, secuestro que persistiría hace la fecha del cierre de este Informe Anual 2019.

La Relatoría Especial ha indicado en reiteradas oportunidades que el asesinato de periodistas constituye la forma más extrema de censura y los Estados tienen la obligación positiva de identificar y sancionar a los autores de estos crímenes.

Relatoría Especial, Informe Anual 2019, http://www.oas.org/es/cidh/expresion/informes/ESPIA2019.pdf.

As with other cases of killings by the anti-Morales movement, the Áñez government has taken few or no known steps to bring the attackers of Moro to justice.

Moro’s death has received scant media coverage inside Bolivia, but a substantial campaign by his family and supporters continues in Argentina and the case is beginning to be recognized by international human rights observers. The support group goes by a simple name: Sebastián Moro: Fue El Golpe / Sebastián Moro: It Was the Coup. It as at once his last public words, his epitaph, and an accusation for his untimely death.

Including Moro’s death brings the toll from Bolivia’s political 2019 crisis to at least 37 lives. It would be the second case in which a civilian beating led to a later death during the month of November. There have been several other instances of after-the-fact deaths from medical complications of severe beatings over the long term. Bolivia has seen at least four prior deadly attacks on the press in this century. have Journalist Juan Carlos Encinas and journalist’s guide Ramón Pérez were killed by armed civilians and security forces (respectively) in 2001. Journalist Carlos Quispe was beaten to death by a crowd in Pucarani in 2008 during a local governance dispute in the town. Unknown assailants killed journalist Niño de Guzmán with an explosive device in 2011. The Special Rapporteur’s annual report details numerous episodes of intimidation, violence, or censorship in Bolivia during 2019, both before and after Morales’ ouster.

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