Popular Communication in Honduras

       Cramped inside a small concrete studio, a gaggle of teenagers stand around the mixing board and prepare for the broadcast. One boy rewinds a fresh interview with a local elder, another fiddles with the sound levels while a third reads community notices and greetings into the microphone, selecting among the dozens that have been dropped off at the station over the course of the day. Out of the doors of nearby houses comes the sound of the broadcast; it mingles with the politics of the street. Here in Concepción, Honduras, community radio does in fact make waves. Its intangible vapor materializes in very physical ways: in community assemblies, in protest marches and in petitions to local government representatives. For a pueblo that has in the last twenty years been battered by United States military troops and flooded with refugees from the neighboring civil war in El Salvador, this is the first tentative step towards reclaiming what is rightfully theirs.

       On November 15th of this year, Concepción’s Radio Guarajambala raised its towering eighteen-meter antenna. This event crowned both the completion of a new community radio station and a 6-day Encuentro (Gathering) of popular communicators from Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. More than 200 people were in attendance; many of the invitees were from indigenous communities, and all were part of grassroots efforts struggling against the encroachment of transnational corporations and mass culture into their way of life. Each group understood that mediums of popular communication—community radio, murals, grassroots publications, independent film documentaries—are the great mobilizers of resistance efforts and powerful tools for preserving local languages, environment and culture.
       Participants journeyed to the 2ndo Encuentro Regional de Comunicación Popular (2nd Regional Gathering on Popular Communications) to learn and exercise their rights as communicators, to acquire technical media skills, and to share their experiences with others involved in similar resistance efforts. It was an ambitious endeavour organized by COMPPA, (the Coalition of Popular Communicators for Autonomy), alongside the local resistance organization COPINH, (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras). COMPPA is a Mexico-based media collective that allies itself with grassroots autonomous organizations, ones such as COPINH, in order to provide workshops (talleres) on popular communications and media equipment training. On occasion, it also organizes tapiscas—a Spanish word for a collective reaping of the harvest—to launch low power FM radio stations for affiliated organizations and communities.

COMPPA considers it essential that indigenous people define their own politics from the roots up. To develop sustainable and ethical political movements, locals should catalyze their own development, they should have access to clear and unbiased information, and they should participate in the process of self-representation within community and mass media. So when COMPPA began planning this year´s Encuentro, it turned to COPINH to identify a member community with a burgeoning political consciousness, one that had the interest and capacity to host a several-day conference. Concepción. To complement the Encuentro, a community radio station would be simultaneously launched, and members of Concepción and its surrounding pueblos would be trained as broadcasters and journalists. COMPPA would swallow the costs of the radio equipment (including a 300 watt FM transmitter, antenna, mixing board and recording devices), and the costs of transportation and food for all of the participants, deriving funding from non-governmental international solidarity organizations.
       From this careful process, Radio Guarajambala was born. As a fledgling station, it is equipped with some of the used technology of a nearby COPINH community station, La Voz Lenca. Within the system promoted by COMPPA, radio equipment passes between the organizations like hand-me-downs through large families; as they grow, the older stations receive upgraded tools—a bigger mixing board, or a higher-watt transmitter—and the younger stations take charge of the remains. Not only does this strengthen the fraternal ties between the community radio stations, it creates a bank of shared technical knowledge between them. For COMPPA, it`s crucial that the organizations all work with similar equipment so that they can provide technical support to one another when the inevitable problems arise.
       Radio Guarajambala comes with only the fiat that it not be used to support commericial interests or become a tool for party politics. To learn its purpose, one needs to look no farther than the mural boldly painted on the cabin´s outside wall; it depicts a man and a woman draped in traditional indigenous attire, standing beside a husk of corn in a microphone stand. Below them, in thick black cursive, reads the text, “Coshechando la voz del pueblo” (Harvesting the voice of the people).

       But the books will show that the resistance began long before the gathering in Concepción, Honduras. Among those present were representatives from La Alianza por La Vida y La Paz of Guatemala, the CPR-Sierra (Population of Communities in Resistance from the Highlands) of Guatemala, UCIZONI (Union of Indigenous and Campesino Communities from the Tehuantepec Isthmus) in Mexico, OFRANEH (the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), and Accion Universitaria of El Salvador. Many of these organizations have decades-long histories of struggle and bitter memories of repression. COPINH, for example, is the resident resistance movement in Concepción, Honduras and the surrounding area, and it has been active since 1993, with a robust membership of more than 28,000 families. Its efforts have successfully opened health centers and schools in indigenous Lenca regions, reclaimed land titles for Lenca communities, and expelled natural resource privitization projects, though it has come at a heavy cost. For COPINH as with other organizations, there are many accounts of companions imprisoned and assassinated, of months taking refuge in neighbor`s homes and in unforgiving mountains…these are only a few of the hidden back-stories that lend a powerful gravity to their work.

       The arduous journey to the Encuentro was not only a historical one. For some members of COPINH from bordering communities, it was a hardy 8 hour trek under a tropical sun to get to the Concepción schoolhouse where the Encuentro was held. For the young CPR’s from the Quiché Mountains in Guatemala, it was a full day-long hike just to get to the nearest town, from which they could hitch a ride to Guatemala City and join a caravan of Mexicans and other Guatemalans to Concepción. In total, nearly three bleary days on the road. But out from the foggy night of November 9th, the first buses finally began to rumble down from the mountains, and after a rousing welcome by Concepción’s ranchero band, some much-needed rest. Over the next six evenings the participants would share the tin roof of a primary school, sleeping until a chorus of roosters signaled the dawn. A group activity and discussion would consecrate the day, often on the topics of “water and privitization” and “water and dams”, about which most organizations had a lot to share. Other mornings were devoted to cultural activities—a treasure hunt, a local Lenca ritual at a nearby waterfall—that gave the visitors from afar a deeper appreciation of the community of which they were temporarily a part.

       The focus of the Encuentro was the talleres (workshops), which were held daily and worked to develop particular communication skills. There were nine talleres in all, appropriate for a wide range of interests and experiences in popular communication, from ¨Introduction to the Press¨ (on international and local laws regarding the rights of the press) to¨Mural Painting¨ and “Theatre of the Oppressed”, to ¨Introduction to Electronics”, “Digital Audio Editing” and “Digital Video Editing”. Most participants could choose only one topic to focus on for the duration of the Encuentro, but each organization dispersed their members among different talleres in order to take advantage of the diversity. To maintain a common current between the experiences of all the participants, the facilitators of each taller integrated the main themes of the Encuentro (the privitization of water, water and dams, and popular communications) into their discussions and subsequent productions. Throughout the afternoon, participants could be seen ambling around the school and cobblestone streets with video cameras and audio recorders; for many, it was the first media production of their lives.

       In the evenings, the citizens of one country would each in turn be responsible for entertaining the crowd. A Concepción farmer would draw a guitar from his back and serenade everyone with a folk song, two young Mexican teenagers would coyly perform a Oaxacan courtship dance, or the Guatemalans would put on a makeshift play about their struggles which always ended with the transnationals cowering in fear. But nothing would compare to the tremulous voices of the CPRs– three young women with dark braids and vibrant woven dresses– singing the CPR resistance hymn:

Campesinos pobres, vamos ir alla
Porque los soldados ya se acercan ya

La montana hermana nos protegera Nuestra vigilancia dice la verdad

Somos CPRs, queremos decir
Que los militares se vayan de aqui

Son 500 anos de marginacion
Ya no callaremos ante la opresión

Vamos todos juntos para conseguir
Una nueva vida en nuestro pais

Por los que murieron y los que vendran Sabemos porque vamos a luchar
Sabemos porque vamos a luchar.

Poor farmers, let us leave here      
Because the soldiers are already surrounding us

The sister mountain will protect us
Our vigilance tells us the truth

We are CPRs and we want to tell
The military to leave here

It has been 500 years of marginalization
We will not be silent under this oppression

Let´s all go together to find
A new life in our country

For the ones who have died, and the ones who will come,
We know why we´re going to fight
We know why we´re going to fight.

       For the grand culmination of the Encuentro, all the residents of Concepción were invited to a presentation of the work that had been generated in the talleres. It was a stunning example of how much can be produced in a very short period of time: colorful posters detailing the rights and responsibilities of popular communicators, a full-length three-part radionovela, numerous short audio and video documentaries. A political-satire play was treated to a standing ovation, though orchestrated in only one day of rehearsal. That night, the schoolhouse was full to bursting, with children crouching in the corners to listen. It was exhilerating, it was stirring; from the crowd surged cries of “Zapata vive vive, la lucha sigue sigue!”, “Viva Lempira!” and “Si las mujeres no están, la democracia no va!” How far was this event from any conference of grey-suited reporters in a Chicago hotel drinking coffee, how much more did it emblematize the ideals of media and popular communication.

       Nor was it the first encuentro of its kind; admist the hubbub of activity before the 2003 WTO protest in Cancun, COMPPA brought together Latin American, European and US resistance organizations to share experiences, to hold informal talleres over media, and to organize ways of documenting the protest. In 2004, the first Encuentro of Popular Communicators in MesoAmerica was held in the Petén, Guatemala; in those 10 days, the responsibility of organizing and selecting an ideal site for a community radio station was taken on by the APVP. Little by little, Encuentros such as these are tightening networks between grassroots resistance efforts in MesoAmerica. As globalization forces its one-size-fits-all policy into the smallest, most-impoverished nooks of the world, the battles waged in resistance look increasingly similar across national lines. In this way, a goal that would seem paradoxical—to unify autonomous resistance movements—begins to make a great deal of sense. These organizations are widening the space outside of traditional politics for popular participation, and sharing the means of doing so; their unique cultures and resources have been staked on political and economic roulette wheels, and they can’t afford to wait for the dealer to win again.
       Everyday the broadcast comes through more clearly. The message is in Mixe, in Lenca, in Quiché; the message is both the language and its content. Here, the antenna of the radio station is one that has been tuned to listen, listen deeply, and only then does it begin to speak. 

Photos courtesy of COMPPA

For more information consult www.comppa.org or contact COMPPA directly to find out how to support or get involved with grassroots popular media initiatives in MesoAmerica at [email protected].

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