by Marianella Aguirre, International Fellow
“Un pueblo mal informado es un pueblo desarmado,” “A misinformed community is an unarmed community, “ David Rivas, Secretary of Communications
On Friday, May 3, 2013 I had the privilege of joining the communities of La Coordinadora of the Bajo Lempa and Bahía de Jiquilisco in celebrating the 20th Anniversary of World Press Freedom Day with the Relaunching of Mangrove Community Radio at La Coordinadora Headquarters in Ciudad Romero.
This year’s WPFD theme was Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in all Media. According to UNESCO a precondition for press freedom is a free, independent and pluralistic media environment, absent of media monopolies and inclusive of community media, where pluralism means providing maximum choice and participation in news and views.
On my way to Ciudad Romero I had a conversation with an elderly community member from La Limonera who recalled a time during his youth when owning a radio was a privilege of the wealthy. “Before, there was only one family who owned a radio—the wealthiest family in our community. Now, everyone has a radio, even TV’s, and what an honor it is to be celebrating, in my 80s, the inauguration of our own community radio station.”
The celebration began with a small orientation of 100 community members lead by the Mangrove Association Board of Directors in the inner hallway, followed by a welcome video recorded speech given by Nathan Weller, EcoViva’s Program and Policy Director, all the way from D.C., played in the outdoor patio where the rest of the 300 community members who attended the inauguration congregated.
Leonel Herrera, Executive Director of ARPAS Radio and David Rivas, Secretary of Communications, were among the attendees. “Un pueblo mal informado es un pueblo desarmado,” “A misinformed community is an unarmed community, “ said David Rivas who has played a huge role in helping Mangrove Community Radio obtain a new frequency. He and Leonel Herrera both joined Carmen Argueta and Amilcar Cruz of the Mangrove Association Board of Directors and Magda Lanuza, Kenoli Foundation Latin America Coordinator at the table of honor.
“Owning our very own frequency has been a battle that the communities of the Bajo Lempa have persevered in winning for over a decade,” said Amilcar Cruz in his opening speech. He shared that after Hurricane Mitch devastated the region in 1998, the communities saw the need for an early ALERT communication strategy. Thus, thanks to an agreement signed in 2001, Radio Mangle was born as a segment of Radio Maya Visión on 106.9.
Since the beginning, youth have played an important role in the development of Mangle Community Radio. Between 2001 and 2002, 35 youth began a volunteer-based radio management training process. Fifteen youth completed the training, five of which ran the radio station on a volunteer basis for the next 8 years it was on the air.
In 2010, however, the radio transmission equipment suffered irreparable damages that left Radio Mangle off the air. By the time equipment was recovered, Maya Visión had decided to cancel Radio Mangle’s segment on the frequency. When Radio Mangle attempted to obtain a new frequency through the General Superintendence of Electricity and Telecommunications (SIGET), they were notified that they would have to participate in a public auction with a minimum quota of $7,000.00, a price that was way out of reach.
In 2011 they tried to obtain a frequency through Jiquilisco’s Mayor’s Office, since municipalities don’t have to pay for frequencies. However, SIGET once again requested outrageous requirements, and Radio Mangle was left off the air.
It was not until December of 2012 that Radio Mangle was able to obtain its new frequency, 106.1, with the support of the Association of Participatory Radios of El Salvador (ARPAS), and the Secretary of Communications through an agreement made by both organizations.
“The re-launching of Mangrove Radio represents the re-birth of our community radio station and thus, the rebirth of the voice of our communities,” voiced Tulio Moya Maravilla, youth leader and radio announcer for Mangrove Community Radio.
Youth are still the driving force behind Mangrove Community Radio in this new chapter of the station. Mario Martinez, Radio Program Director, was among the founding team of youth that ran the station from 2002 until 2010.
“ Working in programming has been a great learning experience and opportunity to gain new skills and work with the community,” said Ada Ortíz Ventura, Mangrove Community Radio announcer.
David Rivas, Secretary of Communications said that he felt excited for the future of community radio stations throughout the entire country and stressed the need for an official law that protected community radio stations. He shared that he is currently working on a bill with President Mauricio Funes to take a small step toward this goal. After Rivas declared Mangrove radio officially inaugurated the celebration ended with the table of honor and members of the community taking a tour of the radio cabin.