Stories of Participatory Communication for Social Change
TITLE: Radio Huayacocotla
FOCUS: Community organisation, education
PLACE: Huayacocotla, Chicontepec(State of Veracruz)
BENEFICIARIES: Peasants, rural population
PARTNERS: Asociación Lationamericana de Escuelas Radiofónicas (ALER), World Association of Community Media Broadcasters (AMARC), INI, UNESCO, Radio Educación
FUNDING: Catholic Church
The cocks are singing, it's 6 a.m. The sun is already up but it is still cold outside. Juan and Ana live in a small wooden house near Huayacocotla; they have six children. Ana was up at 5 a.m., silently, she put on the fire, avoiding waking the others. She boiled water for coffee, cleaned the nixtamal, and grinded maize. She prepared the salsa, strong and spicy, and the tortillas for Juan to take to work.
Just as she awoke she turned on the old and dusty radio hanging in a kitchen corner. At first sight it may look impossible for such a radio to provide any sound, but it works. At 6 o'clock she turns the needle in search of Radio Huaya. Mexican music and a soft voice announcing the hour: Radio Huayacocotla, The voice of peasants is on-the-air. The sound of huapangos music from Veracruz, invades Ana's soul. She is almost compelled to follow the rhythm with her feet.
At 6:30 a.m., when the news starts, Ana wakes up Juan who washes, dresses and sits to take his coffee while listening to the local news: the group of potato producers didn't get the financial support that was offered by the Rural Credit Bank, the meeting of delegates from the Unidad de Producción reached the following agreements. . . . The national and international news follow. Juan leaves for work.
Ana keeps the radio on while preparing breakfast so her children won't go to school with an empty stomach. By 7 a.m., the announcer dedicates Las Mañanitas (birthday song) and reads the list of saint's days: "Today we celebrate Saint... and we congratulate those that bear that name". He reads letters of congratulations sent by relatives from nearby communities.
At 7:15 a.m. starts On the Mountain Paths. The programme is devoted to local festivities; Ana participated, so she is very attentive. She wants to hear what she said, how her voice sounds on the radio. She chuckles happily. By 8 a.m., the children's programme starts: songs, tales and the voice of the announcer saluting and counselling children. At 9 a.m. Radio Huayacocotla ends its morning transmission and Ana walks down to the river carrying a bucket of soiled clothes and a bag of soap for the washing.
Excerpts from Radio Huaya, Cada Día by Aurora Velasco.
Radio Huayacocotla started airing in October 1965 with a 500-watt transmitter, on the 239 kHz frequency. It was the first radio-school of México, and aimed to provide basic education to zones of difficult access. From the beginning Radio Huayacocotla transmitted in short-wave, which ensured its coverage of the rural population of Veracruz and other Mexican states such as Querétaro, Hidalgo and Puebla, where other radio-schools were eventually set up.
The story of Radio Huayacocotla is made of several phases. The first includes its swift expansion which culminates in 1969 with 126 established radio-schools in the network. During this period a consistent methodology was developed, including training, materials production, and coordinating activities.
A second phase was prompted by an internal institutional crisis, which practically resulted in the crumbling of the project by 1973, the number of radio-schools being reduced to six. The Servicio de Escuelas (SER) of México intervened and placed the project under the responsibility of Fomento Cultural Educativo, a non-governmental association founded in 1970. The new orientation promoted community participation and education as a process for holistic development.
This transition phase included an ambitious research plan; the results were instrumental for designing the new programme and activities. In 1975 it was decided that the station would concentrate its coverage on two nearby municipalities, Huayacocotla and Zacualpa.The geographic proximity enabled a better knowledge of local social phenomena and increased interaction with the rural population.
A third phase started in 1977, with restructured, diversified and participative programmes, further integrated into the community daily life:
Music programmes: Various entertainment segments alternating songs and brief messages. Preference was given to Mexican music(ranchera huasteca and norteña), though additional slots were established to promote Latin American songs and local music, often with live participation.
Training programmes: Aiming to recover traditional knowledge from the rural folks, for the benefit of the local community. The segment included information on farming techniques and forestry, legislation on the Agrarian Reform, education and culture, and the recuperation of oral history and local traditions.
News programmes: Included the already famous Noticiero del campo (News from the Field ) and a segment analysing recent events.
Children's programmes: The early morning Open Doors and Windows included songs, tales and advice on health, hygiene and ethics. Entering the World of Children was a live segment aired in collaboration with teachers assigned to the local schools.
Other than the above the station aired soap operas with social and educational contents produced by Radio Educación as well as mini-series, promotional spots, comunicados of interest for the community, programmes produced by social-service students and by community groups.
The fourth phase in Radio Huayacocotlas development started in the 1990s, when the station was increasingly involved in defending the peasantry against the abuses of local landlords and political bosses. This increasingly committed stand brought to the station threats of censorship and suspension.
Huayacocotla is a small town of Chicontepec, a region in the State of Veracruz, which includes several municipalities of predominantly indigenous population (Nahuatl and Otomi). The word "huaya-cocotl" means "place of high ocotes" in Nahuatl. Ocote is a variety of resinous pines preferred to make fire. The surrounding landscape, made of high woods, rivers and hills is rich in kaolin and precious woods that have been irrationally exploited during the past decades. The timber companies that invaded the region in the 1970s left nothing in place for the community, except poverty and shaved hills.
During decades, this region that appears in the maps like an island between the States of Hidalgo and Puebla, has lived in seclusion and isolation. A swift process of migration towards the Mexican capital took place in the 1960s and 1970s, because the farming would only occupy the rural population for five months every year. Telephone and electricity was atypical and no local television or radio stations existed at all. The only option for the local population was listening to the stations from neighbouring states.
This situation of isolation and poor available services motivated the creation of Radio Huayacocotla in 1965, as a radio-school. This happened to be an initiative developed by Hector Samperio,the priest of Huayacocotla parish, who in turn received support from the Universidad Iberoamericana in helping to clear legal matters with government institutions. Based on the model of Radio Sutatenzawhich had proved enormously successful in Colombia, RadioHuayacocotla promoted the idea that underdevelopment, poverty and injustice were mainly a result of lack of education.
Radio Huayacocotla has grown to be very popular among rural folks. The station is extremely influential in the process of informing, forming opinions and training. Its programmes make the effort of recovering the culture, the music and the philosophy of peasantry in the region. The messages in Otomi, Nahua or Tepehua on lost live-stock, of solidarity with a poor family that has no means to take a suffering patient out of the community, and the complaints against the abuses of local bosses, are part of its daily programming.
Radio Huayacocotla has helped to re-evaluate the local culture by spreading the news about achievements and struggles, making the microphones available to the voice of the native communities. Although the participation of rural people took much time and effort to be achieved, by the mid-80s. groups of peasants were already familiarised with the use of microphones, recorders and even studio hardware.
The presence of Radio Huayacocotla in the regional communication landscape resulted in the weakening of the hegemonic position of commercial and government media. Moreover, it provided to large sectors of the peasantry and the indigenous population the possibility to access a communication environment linked to their interests, problems and needs.
From its original objective of supporting literacy programmes, the station evolved to supporting communities in their struggle against the stripping of their natural resources, towards a model of sustainable and self-managed development. The systematic denunciation of repression and violence contributed to generating a collective consciousness on human rights, according to Carlos Cortez Ruiz's paper La Información y la Comunicación en la Democratización de la Sociedad Rural: Posibilidades y Limitaciones which was presented at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA)XIX International Congress, September 28 30,1995 in Washington, D.C.,U.S.
As a station devoted to support the concept and practice of radio-schools, Radio Huayacocotla had developed not only specially designed methods to meet its educational objectives, but also counted on trained staff, materials and infrastructure adapted to the need of each of the member radio-schools for follow-up. Every six months coordinating meetings are held with instructors, who regularly receive supplies, textbooks and brochures on literacy, grammar, arithmetic, health, improving housing conditions, etc.
Its content and format define the nature of the station. The format enables the most deprived people to express their points of view, in particular rural workers and the indigenous population. Through the content of its programming Radio Huayacocotla strives to analyse local issues and regional processes, positioning them in the larger context of their relationship with the national social reality. Thus, the content is characterised by a continuous and open questioning of local and regional power structures, and by its support of social organisation activities seeking to accomplish the social, cultural and political objectives. (Cortez Ruiz)
The fact that Radio Huayacocotla transmits in short wave makes it difficult for some regions to get the signal. The most common radio sets available in the local markets lack short-wave capability.
The identity of the station as one in favour of peasants and indigenous people of the region has provoked reactions by the local political bosses too used to manipulating the surrounding villages.In the Huayacocotla mountain range, the power in the local municipalities has been passed down for decades from generation to generation in the same families and has always been employed to control the indigenous people.
In March 1995, inspectors from the Secretariat for Communications and Transport (SCT)of Mexico abruptly suspended the transmission of Radio Huayacocotla arguing "technical deficiencies". The station was accused of transmitting "coded messages" promoting violence in support of the Zapatista struggle in Chiapas. It turned out that the "coded messages" consisted of community messages in the indigenous languages of the campesinos Nahua, Otomie and Tepehua. Eventually the station was authorised to operate again within a month.
During many years Radio Huayacocotla has been fighting to obtain an AM frequency,which would allow the station to be heard on normal radio sets. However, the Mexican government, under pressure from local landlords, has repeatedly denied the license to the station.
México: Radio Huayacocotla , una Emisora Campesina by Aurora Velasco. Cuadernosde Comunicación Alternativa N º3,CIMCA 1985,La Paz (Bolivia).
La Información y la Comunicación en la Democratización de la Sociedad Rural: Posibilidades y Limitaciones by Carlos Cortez Ruiz.Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco. Latin American Studies Association (LASA)XIX International Congress, September 28-30,1995. Washington, D.C., U.S.