So I called my friends at the radio station in San Mateo, Doble Via, a radio station run by young people in the community (and with the support and guidance of Alberto Recinos, better known as Tino, who became a radio broadcaster while he was in the guerrilla forces during the armed struggle; he spent 9 years broadcasting for La Voz del Pueblo, a radio station that was set up on the slopes of the Tajumulco volcano), and arranged to meet up with them. So after waking up in Guatemala City on Monday morning of last week (my flight arrived Sunday night, and because of the delays I didn't arrive in Guatemala City until nearly 11 p.m.), I set off for Xela (San Mateo is just outside of Xela on the highway leading to San Marcos) and got there in the early afternoon.
|Rosendo Pablo speaking on|
behalf of community radio
It's always an inspiration to visit the community radio stations that are part of the community radio movement, and Doble Via is especially inspiring because of the energy of the young people who comprise the station's collective. While I was there, I had the chance to witness an 11-year old boy, Luis, who was taking his turn at the controls, and observe his poise and articulateness as he skillfully selected songs and took the microphone during his program, inviting listeners to call in and make requests. Alex, the young man who was one of the station's founders and who has played a leading role in its evolution over the past two years, and I lunched together and talked, and then I returned to the station and just hung out for a while, talking to various of the volunteers who were there.
I ran into Tino, and told him that I would be happy to help transport people and equipment the next day, as the public meeting was to be held in Totonicapán, about half an hour from Xela. He happily accepted my offer, and then there was some discussion about who would go and what time we would have to meet. We agreed upon 5:45 a.m. (with a 6 a.m. departure) so we could get to Toto before transit became too difficult. As I was about to head to my friends Humberto and Ana's home to eat and sleep, the young folks told me that there was a birthday party for one of the compañeras, and so I went off with them to eat some paches (filled tamales, except made with potatoes instead of cornmeal paste) made by the birthday girl's mother.
They were blocking the main entrance road to Toto and diverting traffic, but we were allowed through and were able to get our trucks very close to the entrance to the stadium and unload and get ourselves inside early and set up for broadcasting and also to videotape and photograph the event. I went up closer to the platform, together with the young women who were going to do the videotaping. They had two cameras and we found positions for both, one on either side of the platform, so that they could have multiple angles for shooting.
We didn't really have much contact with the folks who were doing the transmission as they were about a hundred yards behind us, although I ran back and forth a few times when we needed to communicate something.
|Compañeras from Doble Via|
Throughout the day (and I am not sure I will have the time or energy anytime soon to do justice to the actual event -- the presentations and issues raised) the master and mistress of ceremonies made reference to the community radio stations that were transmitting the event live, and it was gratifying (and even more so for the compañeros and compañeras who are engaged in this struggle daily) to have our presence acknowledged.
There were probably two or three thousand people present. The entrance to the area was flanked by traditional authorities from Totonicapán and the seating area was filled with people bearing the dark wooden staffs that are the symbol of the indigenous mayoralties. Throughout the day (the event started sometime after 9 a.m. and ended a bit after 1 p.m.), the MCs and other speakers asked for a show of the presence of traditional authorities ("ancestral authorities" is the direct translation of the Spanish term that is most often used: autoridades ancestrales), and it was thrilling to see, under the bright blue sky of a March morning in the highlands, so many staffs being proudly held aloft.
Also, the event was heavily mediatized. Digital media technologies are pretty widely available in Guatemala. Most people, or most households, have at least one cell phone, and many people now have phones that take photos, shoot video, and a fair number of my acquaintances, especially the younger ones and those with some professional training or who work for NGOs or "institutions", have some variant of a smartphone, so there was a veritable sea of people stationed close to the platform filming and photographing the event.
It's been a long time since we ethnographers and privileged foreigners were the only ones with cameras, which is probably a good thing as people in the communities where we work are no longer dependent upon us for the images and sounds. There was a lot of good natured camaraderie among those of us who were photographing the event: and here I would distinguish those who took a few photos, and those of us who were trying to document it more or less in its entirety (which included "professional" people with press tags, such as the young woman above, or the journalists from the mainstream media, and people like myself who came with one of the delegations).
Well, this wasn't where I intended to go with this blog entry, but here I am. So let me get back to the event, in brief. The authorities lined up and made a kind of gauntlet, and the official delegation including Navi Pillay entered and mounted the platform.
I recorded much of the proceeding as well, although I couldn't monitor the audio recording very well while I was moving around taking photographs.
It's hard to summarize, and perhaps even more difficult to draw some conclusions about the event and its significance. Much of what was said were things that those of us who have been paying attention to the plight of Maya and other indigenous communities in Guatemala are very familiar.
There was a person from the Valle de Polochic, where residents have been forcibly and violently displaced, and someone from San Miguel Ixtahuacán in San Marcos, where Canadian transnational Goldcorp runs the infamous Marlin Mine. Others spoke about hydroelectric projects, and the ravages caused by large scale biofuel initiatives (in Spanish, "agrocombustibles"). In many of these cases, the companies have forcibly displaced peasant farmers, activists have been killed, and the state has either done nothing or helped with the displacements and/or been responsible for some of the violence.
For those who attended, I think it was important to feel that someone from the international community was there listening to their concerns, and hopefully taking note, and perhaps would even DO something.
Then off to lunch with some of the folks from Doble Via, from Cultural Survival, from Radio Ixchel in Sumpango and Xobil Yol in Todos Santos. And then back to San Mateo to copy photographs, talk, regroup... and then set off the next morning for the community consultation on mining about which I've already written.