Mexico’s oldest Native radio station wins UNESCO award

Rick Kearns, Today correspondent
4/9/10

VERACRUZ, Mexico – For more than 40 years, Mexico’s oldest indigenous radio station has helped its listeners through many hardships, including repression and years of official neglect, and recently, the station’s work has been recognized by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

La Voz de los Campesinos won an international communications award for its interactive programming, featuring community messages and shows on local arts, customs, education and human rights that are translated into three indigenous languages.

La Voz de los Campesinos, XHFCE 105.5 FM or The Peasants’ Voice radio station from the eastern state of Verzacruz, Mexico was one of two recipients in the world that won UNESCO’s Prize for Rural Communication. The other winner was Egyptian journalist Amr Mamdouh Ellissy.

The two laureates will share the $20,000 prize, which recognizes meritorious and innovative effort to improve communication for rural communities in developing countries. It is awarded every two years following a recommendation by the bureau of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication, which acts as jury.

The manager of the station, Alfredo Zepeda, and two staff members of Culture and Education Promotions, the non-governmental organization that helped develop the station, attended the awards ceremony in Paris March 24. CEP Project Coordinator Ilse Fajardo spoke on behalf of the station and CEP.

“This recognition is really for the indigenous and peasants of this region of our country. For the Nahuatl, Otomi and Tepehua people that have been building this radio service with their own voice.”

In her speech, Fajardo said the station began as a tiny shortwave radio project and that 45 years later The Peasants’ Voice was a fully licensed radio station that reached across the mountains of the Sierra Madre East and into the states of San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, Puebla and Veracruz. She also said the current station reaches 400 communities or approximately 100,000 people.

A mural on the radio station’s wall. La Voz de los Campesinos, or The Peasants’ Voice, was recently recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“This radio promotes the indigenous communities’ sense of dignity, the value of the peasants’ contribution to society, the unique importance of community life, the strengthening of languages, equality between men and women, the wealth of musical heritage and the development of decent subsistence. The radio accompanies the resistance of the people who see themselves not as a problem but as a solution to the current human crisis.”

For Fajardo the awards ceremony was “an enriching experience full of learning and great joy for this achievement that is so important for the indigenous communities of Sierra Norte de Veracruz.”

When asked about the communities and the challenges facing the station, Fajardo sent a copy of the application narrative that CEP had provided to UNESCO. According to CEP’s candidature document, the communities served by La Voz are among the poorest in Mexico. CEP said the station’s listeners live in communities “that have close to no communication with the outside since the area where they are located is extremely remote. … many communities don’t have any telephone service. Because of this, any radio communication is highly valued.”

For people living without telephone service, the station’s “Notices and Messages Show” is important; this service provides free air time for the announcing of messages and notices requested by individuals, communities, as well as by local, state and federal authorities. CEP said that due to the large numbers of people from the area who now work in the north, the station receives “an average of 70 calls a week from New York, from indigenous migrants wanting to relay messages to their families.”

The Peasants’ Voice also includes many other programs such as: “News of the Countryside;” “Tasks,” which is a news analysis show; “The Woman of the Countryside,” which features information on health, education and women’s perspective; “Kite,” which is for children; “Radio Soap Operas;” “Recordings” that feature local musicians performing their work and interviews; and “My People’s Rights,” a program about human rights.

According to CEP, the human rights of their listeners and the people themselves have been under attack for many years.

“The communities served by the station have had to live with the violence of the landowners, the impunity of the local bosses, and the total neglect of the state and federal authorities. There is a profound shortage of resources, technical assistance and training for sustainable, ecologically conscientious farming. Many years of the government’s policy of uncontrolled deforestation is having an increasingly detrimental effect on the natural environment of the area. … The relationship between the indigenous population and the rest of society is based on inequality, discrimination and social pressure to destroy their cultural identity.”

Staff and supporters of The Peasants’ Voice are dedicated to protecting those cultures, according to Fajardo. In the conclusion to her speech at the awards ceremony, she referred to an indigenous symbol that represents culture and an aspect of the indigenous role in the world community.

“In the thinking of the Nahuatl, Otomi and Tepehua communities involved in Huayacocotla’s radio, The Peasant’s Voice, culture is symbolized by the zenzontle. … the bird of four voices, and is distributed through jungles and ravines. Only with all the voices there is a complete world. With this recognition from UNESCO, our radio gets a new breath in their commitment to spread the cultural contribution that the indigenous communities of the Sierra Madre give as a gift to human kind.”

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