Police Raids Continue on Community Radio Stations in Guatemala

On February 27, 2014 at 10 am, Radio San José, a community radio station in San Marcos, Guatemala was raided by police. One youth radio volunteer was detained as a result of the raid and all of the radio’s equipment has been seized. This raid demonstrates the continued criminalization of Indigenous people’s voices in Guatemala. The government supports the interests of commercial radios that hold a monopoly in the country, prosecuting communities who fight to have their voices heard on community radio stations.

“Radio San José, Our Community Radio”, was founded in 2001 by a group of community leaders from the town San José Caben, of San Pedro, San Marcos. The radio emerged out of a dream of a different way of doing radio, which would promote social action and social consciousness. The station is non-profit, and represents the community with programming focused on community issues. 

The station’s daily programming includes programs on socioeconomic development, gender equality, community organization, information regarding the Peace Accords and the environment, to name a few. As well as their regular community volunteer programs, they open their doors to different social, religious and political groups, allowing and providing a space for differing opinions and ideas.

The success of this radio over the last 12 years has been a result of the role it has played daily in community life in San José, the radio’s community involvement, its efficient administrative structure and its transparency. At the scene of the raid, the community showed their solidarity by banding together after word of the raid had spread, blocking the road and attempting to keep police from leaving.

History of Police Raids

On July 7, 2006 Radio Ixchel, a Kaqchikel Maya non-profit radio intended for community education and run by volunteers, was raided by the Ministerio Publico’s Fiscalía de Delitos Contra Sindicalistas y Periodistas. Broadcast equipment was seized and confiscated. The townspeople held a fundraising party to purchase new equipment to get the radio station back on the air. On August 20, 2007, Ancelmo Xunic, volunteer coordinator for Radio Ixchel, appeared in court to answer charges. The judge found that the case lacked merit.

On May 8th, 2012 in the village of San Miguel Chicaj in Baja Verapaz, the Achi-Mayan community radio station, Uqul Tinamit “The Voice of the People,” was raided by national police forces and the Ministerio Publico. The radio station’s transmitter, computer, and sound mixer were seized. A radio volunteer was arrested. Since the raid, various sectors of the community have spoken out in defense of their station, which had to shut down. Noe Ismalej, a radio volunteer, explained: “Since its beginnings, Uqul Tinamit’s primary goal has been to communicate about topics relevant to the Achi Mayan people; its programming was developed with a focus on education and raising people’s awareness on how our people’s rights have been denied across years.” Gregorio Garcia, the Catholic priest of a local parish, indicated that with the closing of this radio, the voice of an entire community is being silenced: “…We are very dismayed, very, very hurt …. We are without a voice....”

In response to this incident, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression denounced the raid and reiterated that Articles 13, 15, and 16 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples establish the right to freedom of expression, transmission of culture, and to their own forms of media.

On October 11, 2012, Radio Doble Vía of San Mateo, Quetzaltenango, was raided by the Ministerio Publico’s Fiscalía de Delitos Contra Sindicalistas y Periodistas and by the Guatemalan National Civil Police. No arrests were made, but the police confiscated a total of $1,400.00 (US) in equipment.

On November 15, 2012, Radio Damasco of San Pablo, San Marcos, was raided by police. The station was closed at the time, but police agents broke into the station and confiscated the station’s transmitter, computer, two microphones, and one console, for a total of about $6,300 (US) in equipment.

Victor Angel, Station Director

The same station was raided again for a second time on November 21, 2013. A team of police brought in from the country’s capital raided the station, accompanied by three members of the Ministerio Publico. The director of the station, Don Victor Angel, was taken into custody after he made an announcement on the air that the police had arrived. Looking for an excuse to arrest him, they interpreted his comment as “incitement to violence” and put him in handcuffs. He spent five nights in jail following the raid. The police also seized and confiscated expensive equipment. Angel, whose program’s content includes children’s music, parenting tips, and a focus on education,  is concerned for the future of Radio Damasco: “We don’t know if we will be able to reinstall the radio station again, since this is the second time we have been raided in a period of 53 weeks. It might be the case that our community does not have the ability to support us with new transmission equipment,” he said.

See more at: http://www.culturalsurvival.org/take-action/guatemala-save-indigenous-radio/more-info-guatemala-save-indigenous-radio#sthash.9ZIVyvdv.dpuf

12:38am, 4-19-2018
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