Mariel Gruszko ’10 is a Jane’s Travel Grant for Latin American Research recipient conducting anthropological research on community radio programs in Guatemala. You can follow her own project blog at http://www.mediatingideology.wordpress.com. Feeds from her blog are also available on the right side-bar of this page.
Thanks to a Jane’s Travel Grant, I am spending the summer in Guatemala working with community radio stations and conducting field research. My research centers on the indigenous community radio (radio comunitaria) movement, which blossomed after the cessation of hostilities in the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996. There are about 200 radios comunitarias in Guatemala, and they serve a population of five million indigenous people, or about half of Guatemala’s total population. The radios comunitarias broadcast music, political debates, and educational programming in indigenous languages about everything from coffee cultivation to human rights. Because many indigenous people are illiterate or cannot speak fluent Spanish, the radios comunitarias provide a vital link to national life.
The radios comunitarias cannot afford to buy broadcast permits, so they broadcast on pirated frequencies. The right to indigenous media is protected by the 1996 Peace Accords, and the Guatemalan Constitution holds that radios comunitarias can only be held liable in civil suits.
Yet police departments all over the country have overstepped their bounds by carrying out criminal prosecutions against the radios comunitarias. Policemen raid the radios comunitarias, confiscating their equipment and imprisoning their volunteers. After a radio comunitaria is raided, it has to raise funds to purchase new equipment and fend off legal challenges. Often, a year or more can pass before the radio station is able to broadcast again. The radios comunitarias have decided to fight back against this discriminatory treatment by lobbying for a bill that would de-criminalize the radios comunitarias.
Because I strongly believe that anthropologists should give back to the communities that they study, I am working with the radios comunitarias on their lobbying campaign and providing technical training to volunteers at radios comunitarias. The radios comunitarias grant access to and representation in mass media to a group of people who have historically been excluded from both media and systems of democratic government in Guatemala. My research examines the democratic action and self-representation made possible by the radios comunitarias, particularly as exhibited in the radio legalization struggle currently taking place in indigenous communities. I have decided to take a multi-sited approach to my research. I spent my first two and a half weeks in Sumpango, a village about an hour outside of Antigua. I am currently in Patzun, a village outside of Chimaltenango. In another week, I will travel to the highlands, to a village outside of Quetzaltenango.
So far, I have taught workshops on investigative journalism and voice acting, designed a series of programs about human rights, and attended a few lobbying sessions. I have also been taking copious field notes and conducting interviews with volunteers at radios comunitarias. I look forward to sharing some of what I have learned with you in future posts.