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Prometheus International in Guatemala
The workshop was a training in independent journalism and communications for activists from all over Central America who were working in movements against Dams, Plan Puebla Panama, and for human rights and the environment.
We assembled an exciter, a limiter, and a 40 watt amplifier from scratch, and built two antennas. We also fabricated the boxes from flat sheet metal, and used heat sinks scavenged from stereo parts. At the same time, a studio was built, a mural was painted depicting the history of the community that hosted us, and numerous workshops were given in video, audio, and print journalism skills.
We were pretty remote from Guatemala City, where the only real electronics shops were. Replacement parts were scavenged from the only city near the community, Santa Elena, from shops that repaired old boomboxes. Some of the hardest things to find were copper tubing and fittings, decent thicknesses of PVC pipe, butane for the soldering iron, a torch to solder the pipes together.
Paco, from Chiapas Media Project, taught us how to solder pipes together using a cooking hearth (see photos).
For many in the workshop, it was their first time soldering. And one of the kits was damaged so badly by a few misplaced parts (those darn tiny numbers all look the same after a while) that it had to be brought back to the states. But all of the other components worked like a charm, with very little troubleshooting.
Our hosts were an amazing, resilient group. Many of them had fled from their villages in the early 80s, as the troops of the military dictatorship burned their homes and their fields. These indigenous communities hid under the triple canopy of the mountain rainforest, with no buildings or permanent settlements, for about ten years. When the peace accords were signed in 1996 and the system of military repression started to be slowly dismantled, they signed an agreement with the government allowing them to go re-integrate into civil society, and giving a new patch of land where they could live. The government also agreed to allow them a radio license, so that they would have a means of political expression.
Of course, the promised radio license was the first pledge that the government broke. So after 8 years, the community has taken matters into its own hands and established "Radio Libertad". The name was chosen after a several week process of everyone in the community suggesting names, culminating with a cultural night where everyone made a short speech about why their name was right for the station. Other recommended names were "Radio Resistencia", the "Voice of the Mayan Jungle", "Radio Light and Hope", and "The Voice of the Howling Monkey" (after an extremely loud species of monkeys that often hangs out near the community- they make a sound somewhere between a roaring lion and snoring donkey, and can be heard up to a kilometer away).
A second transmitter, from Steven Dunifer, was prepared for use by a second indigenous community on the other side of Guatemala, in cdonjuction with IMADR, a Japanese NGO working to support indigenous Mayan communities.
After 5 days of work, we only got everything working a half hour before we had to leave. As we drove away, we tuned in to hear everyone saying "Adios Companeros! Muchas Gracias! Escuchas a Radio Libertad! Tomorrow, we are shutting down the higways to protest the planned dam which will evict dozens of Mayan Communities from their land. Join us!" There is nothing more exciting than hearing a new station you've worked on on the air for the first time, and knowing that it is in good hands that will use it well.
I also stayed with H.I.J.O.S., the children of the disappeared. They are all in their 20s now and are phenomenal organizers, trying to uncover the truth of what happened to the thousands assassinated and disappeared by the government, and rooting out some of the officers responsible who are still in the military.
Much thanks goes out from Prometheus to everyone who helped with translating and finding materials and organizing this event. Your names are withheld for privacy, but you know who you are!