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Bolivian mayor caught on video groping journalist

By Gloria Carrasco and Rafael Romo, CNN
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Santa Cruz mayor has been seen making similar advances on video before
  • Percy Fernandez, 75, apologized to journalist he's seen groping
  • A lawmaker has filed a sexual harassment claim against the mayor

(CNN) -- The mayor of Bolivia's largest city is in trouble for groping a journalist at a public event last week.

In a video that's gone viral, Santa Cruz Mayor Percy Fernandez is seen placing his hand on the thigh of journalist Mercedes Guzman April 30.

The UNO network journalist is first seen on the video greeting the mayor in the traditional Latin-American style, with a kiss on the cheek. When she sits down in her assigned seat next to him, Fernandez, 75, puts his hand on her leg. For a brief moment, there's a bit of a struggle as the journalist tries to get the mayor's hand off her thigh. The video was aired by Gigavision, a Bolivian TV network.

It's not the first time Fernandez's advances have been seen on video. In 2012 he was caught on camera -- also at a public event -- touching city council President Desireé Bravo's bottom twice.

Lupe Cajías, president of the La Paz Association of Journalists, denounced the latest incident and strongly criticized the mayor.

"On one hand, I think it reflects the arrogance of power; and on the other hand, a lack of control of (the mayor's) own actions. The two things are probably related. If you think there's no boundaries because you're above good and evil, then you can grab a journalist's leg or talk with double-meaning in front of the camera without shame," Cajías said.

In March 2012, the mayor of Bolivia was twice caught on camera touching the bottom of the city council\'s president.
In March 2012, the mayor of Bolivia was twice caught on camera touching the bottom of the city council's president.

After a public outcry and complaints by Guzman's family, the mayor's office sent a video to Santa Cruz media in which Fernandez apologizes for the incident.

"I'm worried that I might've disrespected you while you were performing your duties. I apologize again to you and your dignified family," Fernandez says on the video.

Mario Espíndola, the journalist's husband, accepted the apology but said Fernandez's behavior is going well beyond just unpleasant and embarrassing moments. "We all obviously want Percy Fernandez to stop doing that because ultimately him, as mayor, is the one who loses the most," Espíndola said.

But some say the apology was not enough, that it was forced and insincere.

Opposition lawmaker Marcela Revollo filed a complaint accusing Fernandez of sexual harassment, sexual violence and discrimination.

"We consider this an expression of violence against all Bolivian women, considering that the mayor's actions have happened before," Revollo said after filing the complaint.

It's not yet known if prosecutors will call Fernandez to answer to the charges.

Fernandez is one of the country's most popular mayors. First elected in 2010 to represent the city of 1.5 million people, he's expected to run for another five-year term in 2015.

Pagina Siete, a Bolivian newspaper, published a survey Monday showing that the Santa Cruz leader is at the top of a list of popular mayors in Bolivia.

In February, President Evo Morales called Fernandez "the best mayor in Bolivia" and appeared with him at a public event.

There has been no reaction from the president's office regarding the latest incident and no indication of whether the president still endorses the embattled mayor.

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