In Honduras, campesinos are working with grassroots solidarity organizations to take the media into their own hands. Radio Realidad is one of a growing number of small FM stations that are popping up throughout Latin America to address communities’ needs for information.
“What motivates youth to abandon the countryside and their homes, for the city or other countries?” asks Samuel, sitting in a small radio studio in a misty, mountain town in Honduras.
“The economy, youth have no opportunities,” answers Carlos, a young man dressed in denim, into the mic. “They end up on the road to other countries, looking for work, but they face many abuses” – including robbery, violence and horrific accidents while trying to hop freight trains. “Kids are coming back without arms, without legs, sick, it’s a disaster.”
Then “Gregorio” – his radio name — takes the mic, describing how mining companies have been granted concessions to a nearby mountain which holds hundreds of springs providing water for numerous communities. If mining starts, local farmers fear, their water will dry up or be contaminated.
“We’re in an area with very rich resources, but these resources are being sold off,” he said. “We are dying of malnutrition in an area that is so rich with resources. We need these resources to give a future to our children, but we need to fight every day for them.”
Outside, a spindly three-pronged antenna rises above coffee growing intertwined with palms, broadcasting this information via a 20-watt transmitter to the small farms and villages within a roughly 15 mile radius. This is Radio Realidad: La Voz Popular (Reality Radio: The People’s Voice); an independent low-power FM station set up in October by the Chicago-based groups La Voz de Los de Abajo and Radios Populares.
Gregorio has a lot to say, but there are many other topics to be addressed on the program. Albaluz talks about the situation of women in campesino communities. Juan Cruz talks about local development projects. (Last names are omitted to protect the station’s security).
Other guests talk about land struggles – at least one person has been killed this year in campaigns to reclaim unused land for landless campesinos, a right guaranteed in the Honduran constitution. And about the effects of CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which is increasingly being implemented across the region.
Radios Populares (RaPo) is a small grassroots organization which trains communities in low-power FM radio and sets up radio stations in Latin America, including stations installed in Mulukuku, Nicaragua; Juchitan, Mexico; and Salasaca, Ecuador. They also do technical support, collaboration, consulting and station “barn-raisings” with communities throughout Latin America and the U.S.
La Voz de Los de Abajo is a small Chicago solidarity group which works closely with the Honduran national campesino organization Central Nacional de Trabajadores del Campo (CNTC).
The radio personalities on this chilly fall day in Honduras are members of the CNTC from different empresas, essentially community co-ops, around the country. In a nation with a long history of repressive governments, subservience to the U.S., extreme poverty, underdevelopment, corruption and exploitation by multinational companies, the radio will be a tool in campaigns for land rights and food sovereignty and against resource exploitation and repression. With erratic and limited phone access, little or no internet access and a dearth of independent media, low power radio can be a powerful tool for communication and organizing in Honduras as in many parts of Latin America.
(Portable low power radio transmitters – often carried in a backpack – were crucial parts of popular leftist movements including the FSLN (Sandinistas) in Nicaragua and the FMLN in El Salvador in the 1980s.)
“Radio is still the most accessible and affordable medium in Latin America and a majority of the world,” said Allan Gomez of Radios Populares, which is in the early stages of launching a radio project in Bolivia. “There is an abundance of radio receivers in even the poorest of communities, making it ideal for local organizing. It also does not introduce a new technology that has further exclusionary elements or causes further dependence on commercial or governmental entities, as the internet does. One of the things that can best be felt from being on the airwaves is that the power to broadcast stems from the broadcaster and not a series of satellites or cell phone towers. Struggling communities will probably never own a satellite, but they can own a radio transmitter.”
Though Honduras’s current government is known as a leftist regime supportive of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Bolivian president Evo Morales, the CNTC and various indigenous and campesino groups say there is still much corruption and repression, especially over land struggles. CNTC leaders say the government of President Manuel Zelaya is hostile to the land reclamations their group carries out, usually reclaiming land from large owners including foreign companies like Dole or wealthy absentee families. The campesinos will live on and farm the land in order to establish a claim to it; but frequently the owners will send in security guards or police to evict them, often violently.
Zelaya has also been supportive of CAFTA and increasing free trade in Honduras, a position the CNTC says will mean more displacement and poverty for campesinos whose crops can never compete with cheap U.S. imports. In fact the community center in Comayagua which housed the predecessor of Radio Realidad, launched five years ago by RaPo and La Voz but stalled because of equipment theft and other problems, has been destroyed to make way for a wider highway, part of the “dry canal” being built to serve CAFTA-driven international trade and industrial development.
The “dry canal” and developments like maquiladoras, industrial shrimp farms, palm plantations and other large-scale projects facilitated by free trade provisions mean loss of land and displacement for campesino and indigenous communities. Honduran campesinos are also highly concerned about genetically modified corn imported from the U.S. breeding with their local crops, reducing local corn biodiversity and possibly causing them problems with agribusiness companies, which are known to sue small farmers who are found to have unauthorized trademarked GMO corn in their fields.
“Honduras is always subservient and obedient to the orders of others, mainly foreign countries,” said CNTC member Samuel. “Zelaya said he would address poverty, but the campesino reality is each day that passes means more and more extreme poverty.”
The Garifuna, an African-descended indigenous group which has survived for centuries fishing and harvesting palm products in Honduras’s beautiful coastal areas, have seen their land being snatched up by private resorts and tourist outfits; even though indigenous rights laws theoretically prohibit it. The Garifuna operate a low-power radio station in Triunfo de la Cruz, an idyllic beach community where foreign speculators and wealthy Hondurans have been trying to buy up land.
There is also a low-power radio station in El CREM, a CNTC-affiliated community located on the site of a former U.S. military base and now host to various community economic projects, including a sewing workshop, cheese-making operation and general store. And at least one indigenous Lenca community has established a low-power radio station in Honduras.
The still-evolving schedule of Radio Realidad includes programs on land struggles, youth, women’s rights and water rights, among other things. The DJs play music along with interviews, news segments, call-in shows and action alerts. Their repertoire includes everything from traditional Honduran music to rock en espanol to cumbia to nueva troba – but there is a ban on reggeton.
To conclude the station’s premier program, members of the CNTC gather around the mic and chant their group slogan, fists pumping in the air:
“Por la tierra, por la tierra, estamos en pie de guerra!
Adelante, adelante, la lucha es constante
Unidad y Tierra!”
(“For the land, for the land, we are fighting this war!
Onward, onward, the struggle is constant
Unity and Land!”)
Outside, the antenna is silhouetted against a full moon shining over the soft curves and lush vegetation of the land they hope the radio station will help them protect.
La Voz de Los de Abajo is providing a monthly stipend to support Radio Realidad; and Radios Populares is raising funds for a station in Bolivia; donations for these projects are greatly appreciated.
The author of this story is a frequent contributor to Upsidedown World, and traveled to Honduras with La Voz de Los de Abajo.