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Journalist dies of heart failure while covering press conference

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 22 April 2010, photojournalist Jorge Durán, who worked for the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Justice, died of heart failure while he was covering a press conference organized by the National Guard (GN) Anti-drug Command in a wooded area of the State of Zulia, western Venezuela.

Mario Villegas, vice-president of the National Journalists Association's Electoral Commission, said that the conditions in which the reporter's death occurred were unclear and that it could have been avoided.

Villegas explained to IPYS that Durán was covering the conference led by General Miguel Vivas Landino, chief of the GN, together with journalists from the Bolivarian News Agency, Reuters, state-owned TV station Venezolana de Televisión and private TV station Venevisión. The general was showing them illegal cocaine-processing laboratories.

Villegas also stated that the journalists had not been properly prepared to cover this story and had neither appropriate clothing nor enough to drink. Moreover, there were chemical residues in the sites visited that caused some of those present to faint, vomit or feel dizzy.

Once the press conference was over, the journalists were encouraged to leave the area quickly as it was getting dark and there are a lot of paramilitary and drug traffickers in the area. The reporters had to board two helicopters that would take them to a nearby village.

Durán, who was 55 years old, fell behind on the way back. Reuters camera operator Julio Uribarrí and a member of the GN also lagged behind to help Durán. The helicopter pilots decided to take off without waiting for them, even though the journalists who had made it to the helicopters on time insisted they should wait.

Durán died in that confusing situation.

On 29 April, representatives of the National Journalists Association, the National Press Workers Union, Venezuela's Photojournalists Association and the non-governmental organisation Espacio Público, went to the Attorney General's Office to request an investigation into the incident.

IPYS condemns the conditions in which this press conference was organized, as it was not adequately planned and the journalists' safety was not guaranteed. IPYS pledges to continue investigating what happened.

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