Interview with Bertha Elena Muñoz, “La Doctora”, Principal broadcaster for Radio Universidad
November 30th, 2006 – Listener writes: In honor of the memory of Radio Universidad, we re-publish this interview with “La Doctora” or Doctor Bertha. She came to be the voice of the movement for many of us, inside and outside of Oaxaca. She gave us the information and explained why it was important. Most of all, she gave us a way to understand what is happening in Oaxaca. This is critical, now that the station is off the air and a virtual genocide is taking place of the people who democratically expressed their opposition to oppression.
Interview with Bertha Elena Muñoz, “La Doctora”, Principal broadcaster for Radio Universidad
November 27, 2006
The radio has played a crucial role throughout the Oaxacan conflict. The predominant broadcaster for Radio Universidad is that of “La Doctora”, whose strong, deep voice calls for reinforcement for barricades under attack, reminds the people of their strength and courage and the justice of their demands, and serves to calm her listeners.
On November 7th we are sitting in the first aid station of the university, in front of the university radio. She is a 58 year old doctor and a mother of three. La Doctora is an extremely thin woman, whose face reveals her exhaustion. She has been known to broadcast for up to 20 hours a day on the tensest days. The struggle for social justice is nothing new to to her- la doctora was a first year medical student in Mexico City during the 1968 student massacre there.
ARK: How did you get involved with the radio and why?
La Doctora: We’ve had the first aid station here for a few months, practically since July. When they succeeded in getting the radio up and running again- it’s been twenty days since we got Radio Universidad back on the air- there wasn’t anyone to run it. So that’s when I began and ended up staying. I’ve been here [at the radio] for twenty days.
ARK: And before that you were here with the first aid station?
La Doctora: Yes, to help with emergency medical attention.
ARK: Why are you involved in the movement?
La Doctora: Because the situation in Oaxaca has become unsustainable. The last administrations- actually, I believe all of them- but the last few have been the worst: thieves, repressors, and the like. The breaking point was this current governor. He took office and there were political assassinations, political prisoners, and unmistakable robbery- practically in front of our faces. They channeled resources meant for social programs into their own pockets and for Madrazo’s presidential campaign. The destruction of the historic center of the capital city, the zócalo, the fountain of the seven regions, Llano Park- he’s destroyed many things.
The breaking point was when he violently displaced the protesting teachers from the zócalo. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
ARK: In your opinion, what is the importance of the radio for the movement?
La Doctora: The radio has served as a point of union among the different actors in the movement. Besides that, it has served as the voice of the people, because people talk and they denounce [what’s happening]. For the first time there is a space where we can denounce what’s wrong, where the people can say what they feel, and where they have the freedom to speak. The radio broadcasts the agreements of the APPO and serves as a space to analyze the problematic of Oaxaca from various points of view: from the indigenous perspective, cultural perspectives, from the perspective of healthcare- there are many messages to broadcast.
Now the problem has intensified since the arrival of the Federal Preventive Police, the PFP, or a few days before when the journalist [Brad Will] was assassinated. We are trying to return to our established programming, but we’re inundated with these incidents. We’ll see if we will be able to broadcast the normal programming tomorrow. But every day there are denunciations, every day there are attacks. We are overwhelmed by these events- everyone is. The truth is that we are very tired, but we all keep going.
ARK: How do you keep going? What gives you the strength?
La Doctora: We know that we are right. And we know that if we don’t see things through to the end, then things will get worse. And if we don’t remain strong right now, Oaxaca won’t be able to lift up its head for the next fifty years. So we have to remain strong. You can see me and tell that I am very tired. But if you see the rest of the compañeros in the barricades or wherever you go, [you can see that] we’re all the same. If you saw our march, the one last Sunday, you saw loads of people. So many people attended that march. The people are determined. I don’t know if you were able to see the battle on Day of the Dead. It wasn’t even a battle. If they had used their guns, they would have massacred us.
But if you were here, you saw the amount of people who came out. So, where do we get the strength? There is an expression in Spanish that the source of strength is weakness. And truly, I am finding that my strength comes from weakness. Who knows where it comes from? But the people are enduring, they remain standing. And the proof is the enormous march that happened on Sunday. And today the women marched- there were many of them. I don’t know if you saw the march of the priistas today. They say that there were 100,000 people. But they brought people even from outside the state. And there were no revision points for them. With us, ever since the PFP arrived, even a day before, they put up revision points and these revision points prevented many people from different regions from entering the city. [The PFP] was blocking the road, impeding their entrance. On the other hand, with [the PRI supporters], that wasn’t the case. They were brought in from Veracruz, from Puebla, and there were people that were obligated to attend, people who were intimidated, threatened, and paid. So, where is it that we are finding the strength to sustain ourselves? Who knows?
ARK: How does the radio function? Who are the people who help?
La Doctora: They are all university students. They’re not even Communication majors, but rather, law students, architecture students, students of fine arts, medical students, etc, who didn’t know anything about the radio until they took it over, and then they learned.
ARK: And what happened with Radio Ley? The movement took it over and then lost it?
La Doctora: Originally, when the teachers movement began, they had a radio, Radio Plantón. The day of the violent displacement, Radio Plantón was destroyed. So a group of university students took over Radio Universidad and Radio Universidad began to broadcast on behalf of the movement.
Subsequently, on the first of August, a group of women marchers arrived at the zócalo and it occurred to them to take over Channel 9, so they did. So besides University Radio, the Radio of Channel 9 and the television channel begin to function, with all of the problems that one would expect of a television station run by people who didn’t know anything about running a television station. But, in the little time that it was under their control, [the Priistas] attacked the antennas. They destroyed the transmitters and they cut the broadcasting from Channel 9.
The people who arrived then decided to take over the radios. So they went, and they took over all of the radios of Oaxaca. At 5am, 13 radios were taken over by the people, spontaneously. No one ordered them to do it. Everyone went to the radio that was the closest or the one they liked the least, who knows, but off they went. They returned almost all of them- the only ones they kept were Radio Ley and the Radio Oro chain. Radio Oro didn’t work very well. Radio Ley was the strong one. In that period we didn’t have Radio Universidad, because a group of people who were paid [by the state government] who had infiltrated by earning the trust of the people here had thrown acid on the transmitters.
ARK: Those people were students also, right?
La Doctora: Yes. We were without Radio Universidad for quite awhile. But we still had Radio Ley. Radio Ley transmitted and served its function.
They began to interfere, to block the signal. No one believed that University Radio would be able to go back on the air, but the students worked hard and they were able to get it to work again. We got it back on the air about five days before we lost Radio Ley.
In that period, we had had radio. During all of this time, we hadn’t been without it until right now- right now the signal is blocked. Three or four days ago they created interference, and now it’s almost impossible to hear, you can only hear Radio University in a few places.
ARK: For you, in the radio, what have been the most difficult moments?
La Doctora: Definitely the second [of November]. Because the tanks were right at the corner and they were going to enter. That was the most difficult moment.
ARK: How did you feel at that moment?
La Doctora: At that moment I didn’t think about what I felt, but rather about the necessity of keeping up the morale among the compañeros. I thought about how they felt, they were the ones who were confronting the attacks. At the time, I wasn’t worried about my personal safety. And yes, they were told that we would be there until the very end.
ARK: How do you always manage to remain so calm on the radio?
La Doctora: Because I believe that that’s my role. In my personal life, I’m not a calm person. But in the personal realm, it’s my life that I’m playing with, no one else’s, so I can do whatever I please, I can be explosive. But on the radio, I’m responsible for other people. I’m a mother. When my children were small, if there was an earthquake, a disaster, I couldn’t just run away. You have to calm the children down, tell them that everything will be all right. This is the same thing.
It’s the fact that we are responsible for so many people. That’s the reality for those who are speaking on the radio- most of all, in moments like these. Those of us who are speaking, we have that responsibility. We have to be calm. The truth is I wanted to be present in the confrontation. If it were up to me, I would have taken part in the confrontation. I would have been there, even if just as a doctor, taking care of the wounded. Because there were many who were hurt and wounded.
And I couldn’t even be there tending to the wounded, until afterwards. I had to be at the radio. I left for a moment, running to see how everyone was, passing through the teargas. But the concern was for the compañeros. [The PFP] had almost entered. There was a tank right here at that corner. Nevertheless, one had to stay calm. We continue to remain calm. We are tired, but calm.
ARK: What do you think is going to happen?
La Doctora: I don’t really want to think about it. There are many possibilities, many possible scenarios. It depends on many factors. Because it’s unlikely that they’ll let us win. That’s the reality. Because we would be a bad example for the rest of the country.
ARK: And the rest of the world?
La Doctora: Yes. That’s why I don´t know what will happen. It depends. On one hand, the Fox administration and Carabina de Ambrosio are the same thing. On the other hand, the entering government of Felipe Calderón, which is the extreme right, will be the end of us. The situation is very, very difficult.
International support is very, very important here. Because that’s what will prevent them from massacring us. Obviously, we don’t say that on the radio, it’s not said openly. Right now a number of things are being requested that are a little strange, and one is left to wonder where the blow will come from. Because just like they infiltrated here, they have infiltrated everywhere. Among the leaders, there are people who have sold themselves. Not just in Section 22 of the Teachers Union, but also, I believe, within the Assembly. To a certain degree the people will remain unprotected.
And without the radio to orient them. Because the radio served as a convergence point. The radio said- compañeros, come here to the barricade because they’re attacking us, compañeros, stay calm. It gave certain direction that allowed this unity. And now there is no radio. People are infiltrating, causing rumors to fly, separating this nucleus that was united and that was very important. I don´t know what is going to happen. Maybe I am pessimistic because I’m very tired. Maybe that’s all it is, because I’m almost at the physical limits of resistance. Maybe we won, and it will be all right. Maybe it’s only pessimism stemming from exhaust. Who knows? But regardless, we need a lot of international support, mobilization, pressure towards the consulates and embassies. I believe that that’s what could protect us.