Garifuna community radio stations along the Caribbean coast of Honduras are facing harassment from National Telecommunications Commission officials. Garifuna organizers fear the radio stations may face closure.
Garifuna community radio stations in Honduras are once again under threat, facing harassment from government officials.
“We think they want to shut them down,” Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of OFRANEH, a Garifuna federation, told C-Libre, the Committee for Freedom of Expression in Honduras.
OFRANEH has been accompanying and supporting the growing Hamalali Garinagu Garifuna Community Radio Network. Nine radio stations air community affairs, news, public interest, music, and Garifuna language programming in Garifuna communities along the country’s Caribbean coast from Bajamar, in the department of Cortés, to Punta Piedra, in Colón.
“For the Garifuna, the transmission of traditional knowledge is essentially oral, so the radios have gradually become an instrument of cultural and political strengthening,” according to a March 3, 2015 OFRANEH communiqué regarding a meeting of the Garifuna community radio network the previous month.
The Garifuna community radio stations were alone in their refusal to sit down with the post-coup administration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa to obtain licenses from the State. New regulations in 2013 established further restrictions on community radios under legislation that largely benefited NGOs, churches and other institutions rather than grassroots community radio stations.
“As Garifuna, we have every right to establish our own systems of communication and information, as is set out in ILO Convention 169, so we don’t have any reason to subject ourselves and wait to be given frequencies,” Miranda told C-Libre.
Honduras ratified the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries 20 years ago. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) also establishes Indigenous rights to communication. Article 16 sets out that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.”
Representatives from the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) have been showing up recently at Garifuna community radio stations to harass personnel, asking about their licences, frequencies, and other matters, Miranda denounced.
CONATEL’s actions aren’t without precedent. In the past two years, CONATEL has at least twice served OFRANEH, as the legal representative of the two autonomous Garifuna community radio stations in question, with summons to appear regarding alleged violations of telecommunications legislation for operating a radio station without CONATEL authorization.
In 2013, Radio Warumuga in Trujillo, Colón was the subject of a writ of summons. Garifuna communities in the region were facing displacement to make way for Canadian-owned tourism projects. In 2014, it was Radio Sugua, set up in Sambo Creek, Atlántida in the months following the June 28, 2009 coup d’état. In both cases, OFRANEH was given 10 business days to refute the alleged “grave infraction.” Failure to do so would constitute a tacit relinquishment of the right to a defense, according to the documents.
The summons followed years of intimidation, equipment theft, and attacks against the first few Garifuna community radio stations. Radio Faluma Bimetu (Sweet Coconut, in Garifuna) was the first. It aired for the first time in Triunfo de la Cruz in 1997, the year three land defenders from the community were murdered and another was jailed for seven years.
On January 6, 2010, Radio Faluma Bimetu was the target of an arson attack. Equipment was destroyed and the installations were badly damaged. Like the murders of Garifuna land defenders from the community, the case remains in impunity.
Garifuna community radio stations are operating in a risky national context. After the 2009 coup, Honduras surged to the top of the list of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the first quarter of 2010, according to Reporters Without Borders. A 2013 UNESCO report concluded that Honduras had the highest number of journalists assassinated per capita, ahead of Syria and Mexico. The country has since dropped down in the rankings, but Honduran journalists continue to be murdered.
Honduras is also now the most dangerous country for environmental defenders, according to How Many More?, an April 2015 report by Global Witness documenting 116 murders of environmental activists in 2014. “A shocking 40 percent of victims were indigenous, with most people dying amid disputes over hydropower, mining and agri-business. Nearly three-quarters of the deaths we found information on were in Central and South America,” according to the organization.
Garifuna communities all along the coast are besieged by African palm plantations, tourism and real estate development projects, proposed hydro-electric dams, and mining and hydrocarbon exploration activities. Community radio stations are a crucial communication tool for Garifuna communities to find out about, discuss, and organize around local issues of concern. That key role, rather than operating licenses, is very likely why Garifuna community radio stations are currently under scrutiny from the Honduran government.