Community Radio Stations: The Voice of Honduran Resistance

In Honduras, where sensationalizing and manipulating the truth is a common practice among journalists, community radio stations have emerged as a critical part of the anti-coup movement: they can project and expand the many voices of resistance while at the same time they are able to reach and educate listeners who may not have been in the streets in the days following the coup.

Controlling the media is a fundamental part of reproducing and holding on to power. Known as the “manufacture of consent”, it has been a crucial principle upon which the Nazi/fascist dictatorships of the past century were based—not unlike the current Honduran government, which by consolidating control over the media into its own hands has turned democracy into a farce. All of this is not lost on grassroots broadcasters, who have managed to create independent spaces for democracy and discussion, even in countries where such things have all but been extinguished.

In Honduras, where sensationalizing and manipulating the truth is a common practice among journalists, community radio stations have emerged as a critical part of the anti-coup movement: they can project and expand the many voices of resistance while at the same time they are able to reach and educate listeners who may not have been in the streets in the days following the coup.

Community radio is not just a social and political commitment to ‘give voice to the voiceless’—rather it is the shared property of a community, which articulates itself as a whole through the mics. And while there might be a coordinator or supervisor of some kind, all decisions are made collectively by volunteers. Brendaly Rivas, of Radio Durugubuty, San Juan Tela, explains that “as soon as you introduce money into the equation, you start to have problems: everyone wants to stick their hand in it, while on the other hand, when there’s no money involved, everyone works in a more relaxed environment.” Community radio is not-for-profit, supported only by solidarity efforts, profits from broadcasting advertisements from sister organizations, or from community-wide raffles.

In a country like Honduras, where the ruling oligarchy is constantly trying to stamp out indigenous and Afro-Latino culture, community radio becomes an indispensable instrument in anti-assimilationist cultural resistance: announcers are free to talk in the language of their people and denounce the pillaging of their ancestral lands. According to Salvador Zuñig of COPINH (the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras), “community radio programs have managed to become a thorn in the side of the oligarchy.”

Consequently—to prevent themselves from being ‘pricked’ too sharply—the Honduran oligarchy does its best to eliminate them in every way possible.

In January 2010, Radio Faluma Bimetu (Triunfo de la Cruz), which for 14 years has been denouncing the construction of mega-tourist attractions on the beautiful Caribbean coastline of Honduras, was burned down and their equipment was robbed.

On the pacific coast, where ADEPZA (Association for the Development of the Zacate Grande Peninsula) is fighting an ongoing battle against Miguel Facussé’s personal oligarchy—which is trying to appropriate over 5,000 acres of land from peasants—the situation is equally tense.

“A colleague and I came up with the idea of having a radio program to inform people about what was happening each day in Zacate Grande and other places when we went to the Hemispheric Forum Against the Militarization in La Esperanza [a municipality in western Honduras]. This way, we could let people know about our struggle, and open their eyes to what Miguel Facussé is doing,” Elba Yolibeth Rubio, a correspondent with La Voz de Zacate Grande, told me.

Elba and other youth from Zacate Grande, all around the same age as her, participated in COMMPA’s Popular Communication School: they learned how to write up news items, use equipment, and become confident as announcers. “At any rate, before creating radio personalities we created a kind of consciousness: you cannot communicate the people’s struggle if you haven’t been formed politically,” one of the youth from Zacate Grande told me.

On April 13, 2010, the night before the program’s inaugural broadcast, a hail of warning bullets thundered over the community. Rubio recounts that “the following day, after the inauguration was over, Miguel Facussé ordered one of his men to beat one of our colleagues. But we were ready for anything by then, and so we spread our denunciation of the attack across community radios and on the Internet. A month passed, and then suddenly over 300 police arrived (in a place with a population of about 50, mind you), placing cautionary tape around the station that said “crime scene, do not cross”—as if someone had been assassinated—and they told us that if we kept broadcasting, those of our colleagues with warrants already out for their arrest would be the ones who would have to answer for the rest of us. We remained steadfast and stayed on air, though. But now, our kids are traumatized; when they see a policeman they come running and crying, because they’re afraid of what they might do.”

On December 15, 2010, while they were working on coverage of a community being evicted, two correspondents from La Voz de Zacate Grande were detained and assaulted. On March 13, the President of La Voz de Zacate Grande’s Administrative Board was threatened and later beaten with a gun, injuring one of his legs. After the attack, the police called the desk asking to “not make a scandal” out of it.

COPINH, as well, has been the victim of intimidation tactics. Tomás Gómez Lembreño, a correspondent for Radio Guarajambala, alleges that “they have been systematically sending electrical shocks to our transmitters to damage our equipment. This is in addition to the fact that on January 5th, one of Arturo Corrales Álvarez’s companies, SEMEH [Electrical Surveying Service of Honduras], sent people from Tegucigalpa to cut off our lighting without the requisite eight days warning. They cut it off just like that, and then they threatened us saying that they never wanted to hear anything from us again, or they’d come back to cut the lights again, or take away our radio equipment. They said that we were instigators and ‘misinforming’ people.” Before leaving, Álvarez’s coup-sympathizing men tried to rough up some COPINH members that they came across outside of the building.

“In the face of increasingly repressive tactics meant to silence our voices, our alliance of radio stations and other media outlets has strengthened, coming out with unequivocal responses to these violations of our right to free expression,” reads the statement written by Honduran community radio stations following the birth of the Honduran Community Radio Network. On February 6, 2010, one month after the fire, Radio Faluma Bimetu went on air once more with even greater energy. Its re-opening was also used as an opportunity to host a forum called “The right to broadcast our voices”, in which various community radio stations came together and formed the network. Some of the common needs that led to the creation of the Honduran Community Radio Network included strategizing reactions to repressive measures (more and more frequent due to the coup), the possibility of sharing material and training, and the need to forge common legislative proposals addressing media laws.

The regime’s attacks on community radio stations has been taken up on this legislative front as well, which if anything demonstrates the significant role community stations have played in the struggle. With the excuse that the radio industry is overly saturated with operators, the National Commission of Telecommunications (CONATEL) is threatening to suspend the granting of permits and licenses for frequencies for low-power stations. In other words—community radio stations. In this respect, Tomas Gómez Lembreño comments, “This is a clear threat to free expression and the people’s media, alterantive media. They are trying to find a way to shut us down and restrict free expression, even though ILO’s Convention 169 guarantees the right for community radios to exist wherever vital information and news about our communities is being ignored, and the right to defend our natural resources. We believe that this measure is tantamount to annihilating media in our country, because it will affect not only Radio Guarajambala or La Voz Lenca, but all community radio stations. It is also a threat to indigenous movements—they are trying stop them from building a better Honduras.”