Community media travels in Latin America

RTM note: the author is a member of the Portland-based Bolivarian Media Exchange, whose blog is hosted by Reclaim the Media.

by Patrik Angstrom Poore, Community Media Review

The Indian and the Gringo

The Indian and the Gringo had a plan: they would visit community radio stations all over so-called “Latin America.” They would produce a documentary for radio in Spanish with the help of local media outlets, simultaneously building relationships and gathering voices to tell a dozen different stories about communities in the global south, and the issues that affect them. Later, they would translate that documentary into English, and distribute it along the community radio network that they’d just created, and use that to inspire others to do the same thing.

These relationships would be the skeleton of an international media solidarity network, a web of relationships for moving information and resources. Maybe someday a decentralized international news agency, flying under the big media radar, amplifying voices at the grassroots level. To educate North Americans about other varieties of democracy available, and provide the tools to the creators of these democracies to do that educating with their own voices.

They raised some money. KBOO Radio in Portland, Oregon kicked in $2,500 of an unused travel fund from that year’s budget. They wrote a grant to Funding Exchange – the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media – for $5,000. The Gringo raised $1,000 in contributions from his colleagues at the Multnomah County Health Department. Pacifica, AMARC and the NFCB provided contacts throughout the Americas to help determine a rough itinerary. With a friendship spanning several years and phases, and experience working together on bilingual radio, they were as ready as they might be.

The discussions about privilege became more frequent. As they moved south from Tucson, crossing into Mexico on October 2, 2005, the discussions became disagreements lasting hours, and then became an almost daily occurrence. They questioned whether interviewing poor people, whatever the intentions, wasn’t merely using them for an abstract project.

They needed jobs, health care, water. They needed systemic change, release from the policies of the U.S. Government – policies which play a role in any suffering in Latinized America. Policies which play a role in the disproportionate luxury that 5 to 20 percent of each country’s population enjoys. They wondered whether truly balanced relationships could even develop in a context of such imbalanced privilege, or whether bringing fancy equipment and resources would only reinforce the script of North American superiority. They wondered whether networks between community media in the global North and the global South would just make it easier for other gringos to go on holiday and spread their influence in more remote corners. After all, it wasn’t getting any easier for people in the global South to get tourist visas to the U.S. Finally, they received word they got the grant. But, the Indian declined to participate on moral grounds. They split the money and the equipment in El Salvador, and the Gringo flew to Venezuela to teach English as an illegal immigrant. It was Thanksgiving in the U.S.

The Gringo goes to Venezuela

The Gringo’s Spanish skills were weak, and he wasn’t sure what to do. He wasn’t sure he should be trying to do media organizing in Latin America at all. Besides, there was no way he could accomplish the scope of the original project on his own. The Foundation might not even accept the news. He was teaching English to businessmen and employees of automobile companies who hated Chavez and dreamed of living in the U.S. It is possible that hell is simply whatever you do not want it to be.

In the homes of Venezuelans, the baby Jesus came and went. Frosty the Snowman, also, came and went, which was a bit strange since snow is rare in the jungle.

The World Social Forum comes to Caracas

The World Social Forum came to Caracas, bringing people with enough money to travel, including friends from Portland. Lots of North Americans came and some complained that they didn’t understand Spanish. Some brought LPFM equipment and built radios. Chavez called Bush “Mr. Danger,” and he called Cindy Sheehan “Mrs. Hope.”

Joining the radio movement

After more than a month sleeping in hotels that rent rooms by the hour, the Gringo made friends with one of these budding radio stations in the Caracas barrio of La Dolorita.

He also got a job in the translation department of the Central University of Venezuela. Funding Exchange agreed to the new budget proposal, and the family he was staying with agreed to help create the documentary. But now, it would be only about Venezuela.

He paid translators from UCV and his housemates to help arrange and conduct interviews.

He paid for them to travel around Venezuela – to the oil fields of the east, the plains in the south, the mountains in the west. The Gringo slept in the radio station, in a loft above his hosts’ house. He spent evenings downloading audio onto a computer purchased with the salary paid to his collaborators. Radio Perola, Radio Activa, Radio Sendero, Radio Pueblo Nuevo, Radio Negro Primero, Colectivo Radiofonica de Petare and more – presente! Radialistas met each other and worked together for the first time.

Moving On

On May 1, 2006, hundreds of thousands marched in the U.S. for immigration reform. On May 5th, the Gringo left Venezuela. A group had formed in Portland called the Bolivarian Media Exchange, intending to bring information and people from the global South to the global North, and to send media equipment back with them.

The Gringo’s Venezuelan documentary was aired in English in 5 parts, in August 2006. “Democracy Now!” began angling to air their Spanish language headlines on community radio stations throughout the Americas as a method of developing relationships between community radios. In Caracas, some of the radialistas with whom the Gringo had worked began to plan a training to produce news stories for FSRN. This is not the end, and whether it is happy is a matter of interpretation.

article originally published at .

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey