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Chiapas Part 2
August 6, 2003


Chiapas is a state in the southeast of Mexico, with a diverse population of indigenous ommunities

The EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional or National Zapatista Liberation Army) founded its struggle in the highlands of Chiapas. The EZLN trained members in combat and insurgency techniques, gradually building an armed revolutionary force. However, the EZLN has matured over many years, and the focus has shifted from armed insurrection to autonomous organizing of society.

In this program we conclude our review of some of those efforts at building a new society in the territories in rebellion with a look at media activism in the region.

The Media Landscape of Chiapas

Peter Laufer surveyed media in Chiapas in a major 2002 report on the Mexican media published by the Internews Network and funded by the Packard Foundation. He explains that there are a wide range of media in the region, but the access to communication is not evenly distributed and is primarily representative of a flow of information into the region from elsewhere.

Illiteracy, especially among the impoverished and richly multi-lingual indigenous communities runs very high. Perhaps 50 to 70 percent of the population is not proficient in Spanish. Plus, the primary form of communications and education in the region for vast stretches of history has been oral transmission. This makes radio the preferred and most widespread form of mass communications in the state

However, almost all of the electronic media are controlled by either the government or huge commercial broadcasting groups that are favored by Mexican telecommunications policies.

Zapatista radio

In Zapatista sympathetic communities, the EZLN has had an enduring interest in radio broadcasting, but has had difficulties using radio broadcasts ever since 1994 when the government jammed the frequencies of Radio Zapatista.

Now the Zapatista radio presence appears to be growing via a network of clandestine transmitters.

Radio insurgente, the self-proclaimed "Voice of the Voiceless" broadcasts on the FM band to towns in the mountains and communities further along the road from the cities.

Short-wave broadcasts of Radio Insurgente aimed at reaching from the Zapatista Autonomous communities to the rest of the planet will premiere on August 9.  The exact band and frequency are: band of 49 meters, at 5.8 megahertz, on short-wave.

Subcomandante Marcos advises, "Since it is to be expected that the supreme will interfere with the transmission, move the dial with the same swinging of hips like in a cumbia, and search until you find us."

Chiapas Independent Media Center

Marcos and his words are also already a presence on the global network of do-it-yourself journalists known as Indymedia.  This network of reporters and commentators is tied together with websites focused on particular cities and regions, that allow for rapid and uncensored publication of text, images, and audio.

To change the typical direction of information flow in Chiapas, and to serve a corrective function on the news offered by the state controlled and commercial media, a group has begun to adapt the Indymedia organizing model to the situation and the needs of the autonomous indigenous communities in Southern Mexico.

Indymedia-Chiapas provides a space for the indigenous communities of Chiapas to distribute worldwide their written, photographic, video and audio material.  More importantly, the Indymedia collective provides training in journalism and the technology that supports it to the communities.

Chiapas Media Project

Video is another medium in which the Zapatista communities hope to open up more democratic communications.

The Chiapas Media Project formed in response to autonomous Zapatista communities that expressed a desire to develop community controlled video and computer technology.

Working in all five ethnic and geographic regions of Chiapas, trainers from Mexico and together with locals teach all the introductory production and post production courses in the native languages of the region.  The Chiapas Media Project has sent dozens and dozens of cameras to the region, trained over 200 indigenous youth, and has set up an advanced media center in the town of San Cristobal de las Casas.

CIEPAC spreads news of the military

Unfortunately, the electronic media may for some time to come be a poor means of distributing news and communications across the regions of indigenous autonomy in Chaipas. In many regions there are no telephones and no electricity and sometimes no water.

The Mexican non-governmental organization CIEPAC is the Centro de Ivestigaciones Economoicas y Politicas de Accion Communitaria, or the center for the investigation of the economics and politics of community action.  They monitor the armed forces in the state, documenting the human rights abuses occurring under the low-intensity conflict aimed at the autonomous communities.

CIEPAC duplicates and hand delivers hundreds of copies of their weekly news bulletins via the twenty Catholic Church district administrations in Chiapas.  CIEPAC workers also organize efforts a transmitting and gathering local news orally.

Roughly once a month, day-long lectures on current and local events are delivered in the remote communities and these rural communicators also collect reports on village events and issues from those assembled for the meeting.

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and the
High Country Community Radio Coalition

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