Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Things change... Community reporting

Santa Eulalia, Huehuetango, is a city in the clouds, or very nearly so. It is perched on slopes of the Cuchumatanes and there is one highway that swirls through the town. I came here because I wanted to check in with my friends at the radio station here, Snuq' Jolom Konob', and check in on the situation in general in northern Huehuetenango, where there have been conflicts regarding the proposed hydroelectric project that was beginning to be constructed in Barillas, a few hours away. Today, January 14, is the day that the president gives his report on the second year of his presidency, and last week, my friend José Luis told me that some of the indigenous rights groups were planning peaceful demonstrations in several locations to demonstrate their "inconformidad" - their "not going along with" the president's program and pronouncements. One of the concentrations was to be near Sipakapa, a town in San Marcos, near San Miguel Ixtahuacán, where the mining company has threatened to start up a new operation -- also against the wishes of the community expressed in their community consultation some years back. The Sipakapenses had protested in late 2013, the government sent in police, and so this was to be in solidarity with Sipakapa. I had contacted my friends in Santa, because it seemed that they were going to do an action in solidarity -- I was trying to decide whether I would go to one of the other actions, but then I thought it would make sense to be with the folks from here. However, when I got here this morning, it turned out that they had met last night and decided that the Q'anjob'al people would be "on alert" but would not organize an action. So, I was a little disappointed -- I wouldn't get to be part of a massive protest, but at this point there was nothing to do. I came by bus instead of driving (there is one part of the road here where I have often had trouble and I tried to get a repair done on my car so that the acceleration would be better on the uphill in first gear, but the repair shop in Xela didn't have the part they needed, and so I decided to leave the car in Xela and travel by bus). So even if I had known last night that they weren't going to do anything here, there would have been no way that I could have gotten somewhere else. So, I did the next best thing -- helped the radio station here in Santa get an interview with some of the people who were at the rally in Chocoyos (a place in the municipality of Sipakapa, where the mining company has been granted a license for exploration and exploitation). As we were walking from his home to the radio station, my friend Lencho asked me if I had a way to contact anyone in the CPO -- the Council of Western Peoples (Consejo de Pueblos del Occidente), and I called José Luis, who got us a name and phone number of someone who was at the rally in Chocoyos. So, we got to the radio station, explained to the person broadcasting what we wanted to do, since it would mean interrupting his program. Lencho had explained to me that the broadcaster was someone who had worked at the radio station previously, had stopped for several years and recently returned to help out. He didn't seem as informed about or interested in the social movements as Lencho - but there are varying degrees of political engagement/involvement at any radio station.

So, Lencho did a short phone interview with the CPO representative, who then turned the phone over to one of the leaders of the Sipakapan resistance. The interview, of course, was in Spanish, as the lingua franca (Sipakapa has its own language, and here the language is Q'anjob'al), and then after it was over, Lencho did a summary translation into Q'anjob'al for the listeners who don't speak Spanish well, and then spent about half an hour writing up a summary for the radio station's Facebook page -- realizing, he told me, that he views social media as part of the work of the radio station, and so he wanted to take the time to make sure that the information went out.

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