Project TUPA (Transmitters Uniting the Peoples of the Americas) Article About Community Radio Workshops in Mexico
Original article here
Community Radio Workshops in Oaxaca
by Diana Denham
October 1, 2006
Project TUPA, Transmitters Uniting the Peoples of the Americas, conducts radio workshops in Oaxaca. A project of Free Radio Berkeley.
A roomful of sweaty people hover over thin metal squares, squinting at the tiny numbers printed on the inductors, resistors and capacitors, comparing the paper diagram in front of them with their own soon to be radio transmitters. The sounds of drilling and fans spinning in vain fill the thick air at this radio camp in the istmeña city of Juchitán, Oaxaca. During the course of the four-day intensive workshop, participants learn how to build FM broadcast transmitters for their own community radios.
There are nearly twenty people participating in the workshop, representing eight community radios on the isthmus of Oaxaca. Members of the Network of Indigenous Community Radios of the Isthmus, they are Mixe, Huave, and Zapoteco young people who want to help educate, entertain and unite their communities through community radio. At the end of the workshop, participants will have successfully assembled a 40-watt transmitter and an antenna, necessary to create a community broadcast station capable of covering and area of up to 8-10 miles in radius.
This radio workshop is sponsored by Project TUPA- Transmitters Uniting the People of the Americas- which brought down enough materials to build twenty radio transmitters for community radios in Mexico. Project TUPA was created by Free Radio Berkeley to empower indigenous, campesino and barrio communities in the Americas with the tools, technology, knowledge and skills to build and maintain their own community broadcast stations. Given the extent of repression of freedom of expression in Oaxaca in recent months, their mission seems all the more pressing.
Stephen Dunifer, the workshop leader and designer of the transmitter that participants learn to build, has been at the forefront of the movement for liberating the airwaves. Recognizing that marginalized communities in Latin America frequently lack the resources to effectively counter the private media, Stephen´s hope for Project TUPA is to provide these communities with a means of communication that they can control, giving voice to a population otherwise excluded. He adds that while start-up costs are generally the major barrier to establishing media access for communities, the transmitter he designed is relatively low-cost. A complete FM broadcast station can be placed on the air for less than $2000, and for $10,000, a 4-5 day radio camp training session like the one in Juchitán can be conducted in any given country, leading to the establishment of ten entry level 40-watt radio stations at an average cost of $700 to $1000 per station.
One of the workshop participants, Cristofer, is a busy broadcaster for Radio Tikambaj (which means "el pueblo" in Huave). Community radio broadcasters don't receive any salary, but to describe his enthusiasm and the extent of his involvement, Cristofer smiles and says: "I am married to the radio, and she's a very jealous wife." As he carefully glues down a capacitor, he adds, "I came to the workshop because I wanted to get to know the other compañeros who are part of the Network, and to understand the internal functioning of the transmitter, so I'll be able to give it first aid when needed." Cristofer comes from San Mateo del Mar, a small town on the Pacific Ocean especially known for how much lightning strikes there, which Radio Tikambaj has found to be their primary technical challenge.
Project TUPA recognizes and supports the struggles of the peoples of the Americas for a decent standard of living, an end to environmental devastation and destruction, social justice, political autonomy, grassroots democracy, control of natural resources and the preservation of indigenous cultures.
Ucizoni, La Unión de Comunidades Indígenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo, shares the same vision. Freddy, a Mixe activist of Ucizoni says, “With Radio Ayuuk, we want to preserve our culture and our history. For example, we tell people about PROSEDE (the government entity working to privatize ejidal land), and they´re not accepting it. We want to help people keep their land.” Commenting on both his experience working for social justice within Ucizoni and his experience in community radio Freddy says: “Once you learn how to speak, you just don´t want to be quiet anymore.”
He sees that his responsibility as broadcaster is to talk about what´s relevant to the community. "If it's the annual festival, we talk about the festival, if there's public health problem, we talk about that." Freddy emphasizes that Radio Ayuuk is autonomous, one of the few radios that covered the Otra Campaña, and also one of the only ones keeping people informed about the teachers movement and the popular struggle in Oaxaca.
Diego is the only participant who is not from the isthmus, but he took the seven-hour bus ride from Oaxaca City to take part in the workshop. Diego is Zapoteco from the Sierra Norte, but studies in Oaxaca City and has been actively involved in the ongoing struggle in the city for the resignation of the governor Ulises and for increased transparency and accountablilty in public policy-making. An engineering student at the Instituto Tecnológico, he carefully constructed his transmitter and took note of all the formulas for antenna-making in order to bring back this information and the transmitter to Oaxaca City. Over the past few months, he has had up-close and personal experience with the ongoing battle for freedom of expression and control over the means of communication.
In Oaxaca City, on August 1st, two thousand women, members of the APPO, peacefully took over Channel 9, the previously state-run channel as well as Radio ARO, the state radio, in order to further the voice of the popular movement. This takeover was largely in response to the destruction, by men paid by the governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, of Radio Plantón (the teachers´ radio) on June 14, as well as persistent threats to Radio Universidad, another radio supporting the popular movement, including the shooting by masked men who forced entrance into broadcasting station on July 22.
Nearly a month after the attack on Radio Universidad, Diego was at Radio ARO on August 21st at 3:30am, when masked men entered with guns and proceeded to destroy all of the radio equipment. "It was terrifying. We were unarmed so all we could do was hit the floor to avoid being hit by the bullets," Diego says. The same night, there was a simultaneous attack on Channel 9, where all the television equipment was also destroyed.
"Our means of communicating with the people were gone. At 6am, 7am, as the people of Oaxaca turned their radio dials...nothing. But by 8am: ´Buenos dias, Oaxaca´ and we were back on the air." Between 3am and 7am, the APPO had peacefully taken all twelve commercial radio stations in Oaxaca as a response to the violence of the government. The next day they returned all but two, which they continue to transmit from today.
Diego is now broadcasting from Radio Oro. He acknowledges that on some of the radio programs, there has been a lot of "Ulises name-calling" but he hopes that the stations will continue to emphasize meaningful content, such as the popular movement´s educational programming, which, in addition to keeping people informed about the popular struggle, teaches people how to make organic compost and about how to prevent and treat illnesses, for example. One topic Diego has covered is how free trade agreements and Plan Puebla Panama affect the Oaxacan people.
"There's a constant threat to the stations we have," Diego acknowledges. In the weeks following the workshop, two of the three frequencies used by one of the movement´s broadcasting stations were blocked by the state. With the threat of another desalojo imminent, there is fear that radio stations will be the first thing attacked by the federal police, to prevent the movement from communicating with the people while the attack is underway.
Diego is still trying to find sufficient funds to complete the broadcasting station he started at the radio workshop. He is grateful to Project TUPA because he knows that the more transmitters, the more voice the people of Oaxaca have.
Stephen has referred to his effort to distribute as many community radios as possible as "coup-insurance". He has also led radio workshops in Haiti, which he uses as an example: “In Haiti, when there's a coup and the centralized communication centers are taken over, if there are enough community radios working, people can inform their communities about what's really happening."
In this series of radio workshops in Mexico, Stephen is assisted by Cydney, a woman from the U.S. who built her first radio transmitter several years ago in one of Stephen´s workshops, and since has covered festivals like Burning Man, and has been known to transmit from her bicycle. She asks Lucia, the only female participant in the workshop and a dedicated activist in Ucizoni, why there aren´t more women involved. Lucia responds that while women still tend to be less involved in the technical aspect, there are many women who are active as broadcasters.
On the last day of the workshop, the group visited a community radio on San Dionysio del Mar and Lucia´s assertion becomes clear. All the young broadcasters of Radio Umalalang came out to greet the Network, and most, notably, were young women.
The group celebrated the completion of the workshop by having lunch in the community- a feast of shrimp and eggs with crunchy corn totopos, the tortillas of the isthmus, and plenty of papaya for dessert. The community served lunch outside, overlooking Laguna Superior, lush green mountains all around. Like many communities on the isthmus, the economy of San Dionysio del Mar can be summed up with fishing, corn, and migration. The hope of the workshop participants from Radio Umalalang is to preserve traditions and natural resources of the community while creating new opportunities for the people who live there.
After leaving the isthmus of Oaxaca, Project TUPA continued on to Chiapas for another four-day intensive workshop there. Stephen hopes to come back to Oaxaca in the coming months to support people in their struggle for freedom of expression and against repressive government.