AGSTAR Photojournalism

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Since my last entry as I foretold things got really bad for us in the streets.

Our friends Miguel Alvarez from AFP was hit with a rock on the head as he arrived to Leon to cover the opposition march on November 15. Oswaldo Rivas of REUTERS was hit by a black gunpowder home made mortar. It hit in the ankle and took him out for a week.

Both Miguel and Oswaldo are ok.

Ivan Olivares of CONFIDENCIAL was hit with the flat side of a machete and then these thugs tried to stab him in the chest. He managed to move out of the way just in time. He recieved a superficial cut in the chest as the bayonet sliced by.

Our Photojournalist German Miranda of LA PRENSA was detained illegaly by a large group. Five vehicles blocked our truck as it drove by and they dragged him out of the truck. They held him and the driver for an hour. Interogated him and them took pictures of him and his id papers. Then they made him erase his cards. Then they told him that if any images where published they now knew his name and where he lived and that they would come looking for him.

We recovered the images but at his request did not publish the images out of fear for his life. German Miranda is one of the bravest photojournalist that I have ever met. He is also the most respected photojournalist in Nicaragua, renouned for his integrity and sense of justice. He has been in combat, hurricanes, earthquakes and has never shied away form getting the image. This is a first for him. A first for all of us.

Also a car carrying a crew for TV Channel 2 was attacked. Tha car was destroyed as police watched close by.

Our Photojournalist Julissa Morales of LA PRENSA was also threatened with bodily harm as she took pictures during the march. She was escorted along with an independent cameraman and then they tried, first to steal her camera and then they wanted her cards. Julissa told them in no uncertain terms that if they wanted her gear they would to come and get it themselves, or at least try. They backed off. The Cameraman was forced to surrender his tape to these thugs.

Oswaldo Rivas of Reuters is hit by a home made mortar shell. He recieved a nastry cut in the ankle and was concussed by the explosion. Photo HOY/Oscar Navarrete - Copyright DIARIO HOY

Oswaldo Rivas of Reuters is hit by a home made mortar shell. He recieved a nastry cut in the ankle and was concussed. He is helped by Esteban Felix of AP (wearing the helmet and several others who tried to get his wallet and his gear.) Photo DIARIO HOY/Oscar Navarrete - Copyright DIARIO HOY

Miguel Alvarez of AFP nurses his head after being by a rock in the head in the city of Leon. Photo LA PRENSA German Miranda - Copyright LA PRENSA

A TV cameraman is forced to surrender his tape as LA PRENSA photojournalist Julissa Morales holds her ground against party thugs sent to intimidate the press. Photo DIARIO HOY Nelson Marenco - Copyright Diario HOY

A TV Channel 2 vehicle is destroyed in plain sight of police. Photo LA PRENSA Bismarck Picado - Copyright LA PRENSA

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It has beeen three days since we had our regional elections in Nicaragua. It has been almost three months since the pressure has been steadily building up.

The Sandinista Party under the leadership of Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, is no believer in the democratic system and in the wisdom of the marketplace of ideas. Actually he does not believe in any market.

All of our staff has been hassled, one way or another by the party faithful. So far none of us have been attacked although its getting to the point when something´s got to give.

The Sandinista Party has commited an election fraud on such a massive scale that we are aghast in disbelief. When we all arrived from the shooting in the field on election Sunday we all came to the same conclusion. They are committing a massive election fraud. Our shooters were barred from entering many polling stations. We were chased out of others and had serious discussions with election officials about freedom of the press to no avail. They did not want any witnesses. But the scale was so large that it was impossible to hide.

People have been hurt. Threats are the order of the day for all independent media. Party thugs roam city intersections with clubs and machetes and are willing to do harm to anybody identified as an independent journalist not affiliated with the Sandinista Party run newspapers, radios, or TV stations.

Our shooters are doing wonders. Each day they come back with amazing images and avoid any serious injuries. They have been spat on, pushed and shoved and chased a couple of times. Government flunkies take pictures of our staff working in the streets. We take pictures of them, and publish them just in case. Today our shooters had to deny that they worked for our paper. ”No No I work for an international agency” said one of my top photojournalist to party thugs today, when asked if he worked for LA PRENSA. And proceeded to give a bogus identity to get acces to the intersection where the party supportes where vandalizing private property.

He fooled them and got some amazing images for our front page and stories inside. It's not easy to get good images when you see a taxi full of thugs with machetes loocking for journalists to beat up. And yet he managed to get this great image.

Today a pro Sandinista radio journalist was attacked by masked men. He was shook up pretty bad. Cuts and bruises and really scared.

As soon as the news broke of his attack we became fair game. The Nicaraguan police sent a squad of riot police in riot gear to protect our buiding since the word out in the street was that the party thug squads where coming to LA PRENSA to burn it down. As well as other opposition entities such as Etica y Transparencia an election watch dog organization, and the party headquarters of the the opposition party of Eduardo Montealegre, the Liberal Party candidate running for mayor of Managua, who is challenging the legality and transparency of these elections.

Needless to say security has stiffened at the paper, since we have already been bombed several times in the history of paper. During my first week at the paper six years ago the newsroom was taken hostage by a heavely armed crazed drunken madman with me and most of my photo staff bearing the brunt of that event. I was the first one he took at gunpoint to gain acces to the newsroom. So security was beefed up today. Gates where locked. Extra security guards where called in and access has been restricted.

At Etica y Transparencia the offices, documents, computers and personnel where evacuated immediately. At the Montealegre party headquarters people got ready to repel an attack by building barricades. Police mobilized to all of these places as well, but no attack has materialized so far.

Riot police squads where all around the city but the real action happened in downtown Managua where the thugs attacked anybody going through the Metrocentro roundabout, One on Managua’s main intersections. The place is just a couple of blocks from the Nicaraguan police national headquarters but the police did nothing as these people ran amuck destroying property and beating people up. The Sandinista Party has coopted the police too.

As I write this I have one half of our photo staff on standby tonight as we wait for something big to happen. What is it, we do not know. But we are all tired and weary of the future in this country.

I have nothing but contempt for politicians who are willing to send stooges to die for them in the streets. It means that they believe life to be worthless. People like this will not hesitate to have somebody killed, as has already happened here several times. The editor of LA PRENSA was gunned down killed by the previous dictatorship in the late 1970's.

This wonderful country, full of friendly people and beautiful scenery is cursed by its political class who have always shown to be callous and willing to shed somebody elses blood in their quest for power.

Woe to any nation that celebrates its Warrior Poets. Violence and passion bode nothing but grief. Give me countries that enshrine teachers and peasants. The values of education and hard work. Nicaragua loves its poets and its political class adores its warriors and warlords of its recent past.

I would vote for any president that has worked for a living, sometime in his life. They know the value of work and how difficult it is to make a living. They will be careful on how the spend your tax money and will always look out for the interest of the nation and its people. Just look at Lula in Brasil. A metal shop operator most of his life. Look at Walesa in Poland, and electrician. It should be required that you have at least ten years experience working in the real world before you are allowed to enter politics.

But anyway, these are difficult times to be a photojournalist for LA PRENSA. We are menaced where ever we go and are denied access to all government functions or activities. We manage to cover our assignments through our experience and our wits. But my guess is that sooner rather than later our good fortune will run out and somebody is going to get hurt.

This post was written a day a go and nothing has happened so far. Things calmed down this Thursday, but the air is still heavy with expectation.