The Word of the Water flows in music, solidarity ties and new proposals.
Last December 20, Radio Ñomndaa, the Word of the Water, celebrated its fifth birthday. It’s the first community radio in the state of Guerrero and the only one in the Ñomndaa language. It has thousands of listeners in the Amuzga communities, and for many of them it’s the first time in their life they’ve been able to listen to music and news in their own language. Ever since it got started, Radio Ñomndaa has been under attack from the federal, state, and especially the local government of a powerful cacique. These attacks include beatings, arrests, and the entry of the AFI militarized police into the radio station. The varied programming is oriented towards strengthening the community to allow it to take part in the construction of a new society.
“We hope to see you in Suljaa'”, says the invitation sent out by Radio Ñomndaa, la Palabra del Agua (Word of Water), to celebrate “5 years of our free voice on the air.” Reason enough for dozens of students, musicians, communicators from community radios and other independent media, human rights defenders, video filmmakers, representatives of the community police, literacy workers, and social activists to travel to Costa Chica of Guerrero to participate in the activities planned for December 19, 20 and 21. We came from different regions of Guerrero, from Oaxaca, State of Mexico, Mexico City, and Morelos, and also from other parts of the world, including Greece, Colombia, England, Galicia, Italy and the United States.
Some people were already acquainted with the small cabin on the Cerro de las Flores in Suljaa’ (Xochistlahuaca), where the Word of the Water is spoken, broadcasted, and defended. Others were not. Some had been doing a good job of organizing beforehand. But all of us had a sense of the tremendous accomplishment represented by the five years of life of this community radio. Faced with increasingly harsh repression, Radio Ñomndaa continues to be a fount of rebellious energy, with its music, clarity, and more and more people to count on.
For three days, the comrades welcomed us with immense hospitality into their homes and spaces, like the house of the women artisans, to sleep, talk, drink coffee and enjoy a delicious bowl of pozole cooked in an enormous pot over a wood fire.
The steep streets of the town are filled with trees bearing flowers, bananas, mamey, oranges and mangos, alongside small plots where corn is grown. A comrade explained that the Amuzgo people of Suljaa’ aren’t ranchers, but farmers. They grow corn, beans and squash for their own use, and sell sesame seeds, jamaica flowers, watermelon, and chili. They reject government support, including fertilizer, agrochemicals and herbicides.
We swam in the rivers, which are the town’s main source of natural wealth, but are also plundered by the big construction companies, a crime that would be serious in any part of the world, but which seems even worse in a culture where the identification of the people with the water is total.
At night we were lucky enough to stare up at a clear, black sky full of stars.
On Saturday, December 19, the festivities officially began outside the Wats’iaan Ndaatyuaa Suljaa’ (Municipal Headquarters of Suljaa’), taken over by the townspeople on November 20, 2002. To the sound of coronets, trumpets and drums, six children presented the Mexican flag just before singing the national anthem in Amuzgo.
The ceremony began with a welcome and several other messages of support, kicking off the program that consisted of three Tables ––Defense of the Territory and Resources, Communications Media, and Repression; a plenary session; a presentation of the book Otras geografías: Experiencias de autonomías indígenas en México (Other Geographies: Experiences of Indigenous Autonomies in Mexico); a screening of Corazón del Tiempo (Heart of Time) a cultural event with traditional music and dancing; and a big dance as the closing event on December 21. All the events would have simultaneous translation between Amuzgo and Spanish.
What led up to Radio Ñomndaa
“The people here speak Amuzgo”, said Julio, one of Radio Ñomndaa’s representatives at the Table on Repression [attended by this reporter]. “Some people speak Spanish, too, but most speak Amuzgo. Their identity is highly visible. They wear traditional clothing. They speak their own language. Now, some are writing it, too… All this is part of the identity of a highly visible culture, and the government has tried with all its machinery to destroy the identity of the people in this area.” He went on to say that at the end of ’99, a criminal cacique, or local power boss, Aceadeth Rocha Ramírez became the municipal President and began to install PRI party authorities in the communities with no respect for the traditional customs of the Amuzgo people. She set up a corrupt government and began to divide the communities, the strong teachers’ union, the artisans, the ranchers, and the farmers. Aceadeth gained a tremendous amount of political and economic power thanks to the money she stole from the people.
In 2001, the people of Xochistlahuaca got organized, and on January 9, at 1:00 in the morning, a group of farmers and teachers took over the municipal government building to demand an explanation from the President of her financial activities. At 6:00 in the morning, a gang of thugs from the nearby Guadalupe Victoria area who were drunk and high on drugs came in to move people out, beating them so brutally that some had broken bones and one comrade, Silverio, lost his vision. This incident led to the formation of the Xochistlahuaca Civic Front for the defense of the townspeople. There was widespread discontent and people began to take over government buildings in surrounding towns, like Guadalupe Victoria. There, the eviction was so violent that the building itself was destroyed.
On March 16, 2001, more than 500 people took over the municipal government building in Xochistlahuaca again and withdrew all recognition of the President because they weren’t willing to put up with her politics, her theft and misappropriation of public funds, attacks, and persecution of her opponents.
On November 20, 2002, people of Xochistlahuaca, after seeing so much injustice, began to organize and established the autonomous municipal government of Suljaa’ to be goverened by traditional authorities. One of the projects would be the community radio. Other areas of work included reforestation, education, the library, artisans, agriculture, justice, and social events.
What the radio represents
A comrade named Romelia says that “Radio Ñomndaa was formed on December 20, 2004, in the context of a autonomous municipality with no cacique, with the idea of broadcasting what was going on and exposing the deeds of the bad government.” It was the first community radio in the state of Guerrero and the only one broadcasting in the Ñomndaa language. It has a listening audience of thousands of people in the Amuzga communities of Xochistlahuaca, Tlacoachistlahuaca, and Ometepec, and for many of them, this is the first time in their life they’ve been able to listen to music and news in their own language. The radio also fosters communication between the Amuzgos, Afro-mestizos, mestizos, and all the campesinos, indigenous people, and poor people of the Costa Chica of Guerrero and Oaxaca.
Radio Ñomndaa’s programming is extremely varied and includes issues of health, women’s rights, art, music, education, and migration. The announcers invite people to come to the cabin to talk about the problems they’re facing and their activities. It’s a way of communicating, recovering, and strengthening the culture, and of generating community organization processes.
The radio also gives people in other lands a chance for communication. As of 2008, the programs can be heard on the internet anywhere in the world, and many people who have emigrated to the North stay in communication with their families through the radio.
“They don’t lie,” said one young girl. “That’s what I like best. And besides, I learn interesting things on the programs.”
What Radio Ñomndaa does not broadcast is very explicit on their web page. The radio doesn’t promote any political party or religious belief, nor does it broadcast the lies of the bad governments, politicians, and corrupt local bosses. It doesn’t promote the consumption of drugs that are harmful to the health and to social well-being, and doesn’t advertise the products of big foreign or transnational companies.
Timoteo explains that the radio functions with the participation of the Suljaa’ Collective in Rebellion and with a Leadership Committee that makes decisions about the operation and defense of the project. There are also Support Committees in several different communities that participate in decision-making. There are certain people who are responsible for the content of different programs, operators responsible for the equipment, and collaborators who help with a number of tasks.
Julio says that Radio Ñomndaa is a loudspeaker, an instrument. “The radio should foster community development, but not from a capitalist point of view. We’re not talking about building more highways. People have the right to consume what they produce, but what we’re interested in is helping people become producers….Let the public speak. We want education for life, not to promote State power”.
In his remarks at the book presentation of Otras geografías, David Valtierra of Radio Ñomndaa said that “the radio represents the defense of our word, our right as peoples to think and converse with peoples far away, the right to make ourselves heard, to build another society. Our achievements are few, but you’re here….Despite the local boss, despite the AFI (Federal Investigative Agency), we’re still defending our word.” He spoke about the goals of the people “to organize ourselves to live the way we want to, to build another society, to live in peace with the land and the water.”
Listen to the Chilena de la radio, by Timoteo Valtierra and Rene Hubert.
The context of indigenous rights
It should be noted that the creation, as well as the criminalization, of Radio Ñomndaa takes place in the broader context of the struggle for indigenous rights.
In December, 1994, before the first anniversary of their uprising, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) announced the creation of 32 autonomous municipalities in Chiapas.
In January of 1996, the San Andrés negotiations began in order to achieve the Constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples and communities as subjects of law instead of objects of public interest, as well as the recognition of their collective rights, including “the right of indigenous peoples to their own news media,” such as radio broadcasting.
At the beginning of March, 2001, the Zapatista Color de la Tierra (Color of the Earth) march passed through Guerrero en route to Mexico City to demand constitutional recognition of the Indigenous Rights and Culture postulated in the San Andrés Accords.
On April 28, 2001, all the political parties of Mexico betrayed the San Andrés Accords, but many indigenous peoples continued to develop their own forms of organization.
On October 14, 2007, the indigenous peoples of America, gathered in Yaqui territory of the Vicam community in Sonora, affirmed the following: “With the support of our culture and vision of the world, we hereby reinforce and re-create our own educational institutions, rejecting the educational models imposed by the national states to exterminate our cultures. We propose to build and strengthen news media that consolidate our struggles and alliances with other brother and sister peoples of the world.”
On June 14, 2009, the delegates of the National Indigenous Congress, gathered in the Nahua community of Santa María Ostula, proclaimed the right to indigenous self-defense: “Our peoples, tribes and nations have the inalienable right….to organize themselves and act in defense of their life, security, freedoms, and fundamental rights of their culture and territories.”
The criminalization of the radio
No sooner than Radio Ñomndaa began broadcasting, the criminalization and persecution of the collaborators also began. Government agents, including AFI authorities, arrived at the radio station to inquire about the permit, which Ñomndaa doesn’t have because community radios aren’t contemplated in the laws. Even so, the agents accused them of being criminals for not being “legal.” Telephone threats began, as did aircraft flights very near the antenna on the Cerro de las Flores. There was also telephone surveillance on the phones of the collaborators, the radio support committees, and the phone at the main radio cabin.
On January 18, 2007, broadcasts began at a new radio station, La Voz Indígena (The Indigenous Voice) started by the cacique Aceadeth, with a stronger signal than that of Radio Ñomndaa, which has caused interference. Romelia commented: “They call us criminals for not having a permit, but she doesn’t have a permit either.” The authorities offered to give Radio Ñomndaa a permit, asking “In whose name?” A consultation was held with people in the radio support committees in different communities, and they decided they didn’t want a permit, that the laws had to change fundamentally.
On August 10, 2007, a total of 13 arrest warrants were issued for traditional authorities, ejidal land commissioners, and other people including David Valtierra of Radio Ñomndaa on charges of the illegal deprivation of liberty of Narciso García in 2005, after several community people spoke with him to try to convince him not to invade or sell ejidal lands. David was arrested, jailed, and later released on bond.
On June 10, 2008, 40 agents of the AFI, the Department of Communications and Transportation (SCT) , and the ministerial police arrived at Radio Ñomndaa with the intention of dismantling the radio and confiscating all the broadcasting equipment. The agents acted on the basis of a decree by Mexican President Calderón, ordering them to dismantle all the community radio stations in the country. They came “with the violence that only they have,” which is to say, heavily armed. They caused a transmitter to burn up, and the radio station was unable to broadcast for a week. Nevertheless, hundreds of community people protested outside the cabin, obliging the agents to withdraw. The community rejection of the eviction can be seen in this video:
On July 26, 2008, the comrades at Radio Ñomndaa learned of the cruel murder of anthropologist Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, a radio supporter who was finishing a work project in the community. The corresponding authorities have not complied with their obligation to clear up the crime or to punish the guilty parties.
On November 2, 2009 one of the most recent examples of repression occurred when arrest warrants were issued for 31 opponents of the cacique Aceadeth, including David Valtierra and several comrades from the radio, as well as several leaders of the different political parties. They were all accused of the illegal deprivation of liberty of the cacique’s brother, Ariosto Rocha Ramírez, after some people confronted him with regards to buying votes in an electoral fraud. Many of those accused, including David Valtierra, were not even present at the time of the confrontation.
On November 16, 2009, more than a thousand Amuzgos marched in the town of Ometepec to demand that charges be dropped against the accused people. 30 of them were exonerated, while David Valtierra was the only one who received a prison sentence. He is now out on bail.
Besides these examples of criminalizing the radio, there are many other cases of harassment, as well. José Valtierra, for example, has received phone calls threatening to kidnap him. Also, on December 16, 2009, a communicator of Radio Ñomndaa, Obed Valtierra of the Libertarian Colective Canjan Chom, was badly beaten by Aníbal Castañeda García, the nephew of Aceadeth Rocha, who shouted at him: “You worthless donkey, you don’t know who you’re messing with… Nobody messes with my aunt, you bastard…”
According to Julio, “The repression is daily. The confrontation is directly between the cacique and us….The repression we’re experiencing is not only from the federal government, but also from the state government and the municipal government. We’ve had more problems with the Zeferino, a perredista who carries the yellow flag, and his mercenaries…than with the federal government itself….Now the cacique is a legislator, too. She has a lot of money and many construction companies here. She’s in charge of all the construction works. She received funds to build a shelter for the elderly, but there’s not a single elderly person there….She has her ranch….She has lands in Ometepec. She has houses everywhere. She has a house in Acapulco. She has a construction company in Acapulco. She’s made a lot of money…. That’s where the harassment comes from that we’re dealing with on a daily basis. Anybody who opposes her politics knows what’s going to happen to him. When they issued the 31 arrest warrants, the judicial police went after people like they were fish bait. There were rewards ranging from $3,000 to $8,000 pesos, depending on the person…. The comrades had to hide while they were hunting them in the streets.”
At the Table on Repression, the following participants spoke of the problems they face in other places:
–– The comrades from San Isidro are experiencing persecution for defending the Santa Catarina River from exploitation by construction companies that are taking out water, gravel, and sand, which is also the case with the Quetzala and other rivers;
––The comrades from the educational community radio Uan Milauak Tlajtoli at High School 26 Chilapa are dealing with problems of extreme poverty, drug trafficking, social decomposition, the total intimidation of the population, the exploitation of entire migrant families by coyotes, and the cultivation of genetically modified corn;
––The comrades of the Frente Estudiantil Revolucionario (Revolutionary Student Front) of Chilpancingo denounced the recent search of the Francisco Villa Student House by the Mexican Army under the pretext of looking for drug traffickers, the taking of profile photos, and the robbery of identification cards; they also reported solidarity actions such as the takeover of a highway tollbooth along with comrades from Ayotzinapa;
––A comrade from the Federación Local Libertaria (Local Libertarian Federation) denounced the criminalization and a series of detentions of young anarchists in Mexico City; and
––A comrade from Ke Huelga Radio denounced harassment against the radio.
What is Radio Ñomndaa doing to deal with the repression?
On November 4, 2009, Radio Ñomndaa participated in the formation of the Xochistlahuaca Community Front along with several different political parties to deal with the power of the cacique Aceadeth Rocha. According to Julio, it’s very hard to build unity with these groups. “The radio’s not useful to them in getting votes, but it’s useful for striking against the enemy and making space for people to struggle. We’re trying to achieve unity among the political parties. It’s complicated. It’s not at all easy. But there’s no other way to solve our problems. We have powerful enemies who have a whole lot of money. If we don’t join forces with other people, who knows what’s going to happen.”
As was to be expected, some people stressed the dangers of working with political parties. Julio reiterated that Radio Ñomndaa has a position against affiliating itself with any political party because they all have “a different mentality.” He explained that many candidates have come around during the last three years offering large sums of money, but says that “if you go along with a political party, you lose your moral authority to call for an assembly of all the people. You lose your political power, your organizing power.” But he says that now it’s necessary to reach a level of unity with them. “As of the issuing of the 31 arrest warrants, the cacique is everyone’s enemy.”
Radio Ñomndaa is also reinforcing its solidarity ties with other groups in the struggle. Recent meetings have been held with the Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) of San Salvador Atenco on their 12 States, 12 Prisoners tour; with Las Abejas of Acteal, Chiapas; and with the Nahuas of Santa María Ostula en Michoacán, who recovered more than 700 hectares of their lands last July and established a new town ––Xayakalan.
What are the proposals?
In general, the proposals from the different Work Tables focused on strengthening assemblies and structures of autonomy, creating more community radios, and broadcasting more information, documenting cases of repression, coordinating efforts, and developing strategies against the destruction of resources.
With a sense of urgency in the face of the current situation, Radio Ñomndaa presented two specific proposals:
––Creating a community police as an institution of the people to look out for the interests of the people. It was said that the people must organize and that “if we don’t adopt security measures now, in 2011 and 2012 there’s going be total destruction, constant persecution, many deaths. It’s a must to create a security system so that the people themselves can look out for themselves, so that the people themselves can defend their own resources.” A little later, Valentín Hernández stated that a community police is a way to see that “they respect us as a people, that they let us live as a people so that we can struggle to change the situation.”
––Creating a network for the defense of the territory and the resources. It was said that spreading information through the independent media is necessary, but not sufficient in the face of the maneuvers of institutions such as PROCEDE, a mechanism to make sure that the lands of farmers and indigenous people become private property. Neither is spreading information sufficient to deal with situations like the looting of the Santa Catarina River, something that affects the entire region. It was stressed that radio broadcasting must be oriented towards generating action, building, coordinating, and to organizging in order to defend ourselves and keep on struggling.
The struggle continues and the music does, too
On Sunday, we were all enthusiastic about attending the cultural event in the main plaza, where there was traditional music and dancing, son jarocho;, romantic music, corridos;, hip hop and ballads, which continued the next day in the space outside the radio cabin before the big dance. One of the most appreciated performances was the dance of an elderly couple to the sound of regional music played on a violin and rhythm box. There was no lack of corridos; to Lucio Cabañas, Genaro Vázquez, and Comandante Ramiro, the latter sung by Grupo Balam.
Other favorites were the son jarocho; “Mariposa Negra” and a song composed by Los Románticos del Sur in homage to the women artisans of the town, El Huipil de Xochistlahuaca, interpreted by El Trío Andariego.
The good rhythm of Los Condenados was contagious, while the “Son de Chiepetlan” and “Palomo de Azoyu” by Erick de Jesús got some people dancing. This is a video of “A Tlapa y Sus Caminos”, recorded on December 2 of last year in Chilapa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzimGnA4pP8 .
The hip hop sounds of Lengua Alerta and Falsa Paz, with a guest performance by Raschie Kukulkan, had the children singing the choruses of the songs, and a lot of people danced and sang along to the lines, “Somos un ejército de soñadores y, por eso, somos invencibles. ” (We’re an army of dreamers, that’s why we’re invincible), a song inspired by the words of Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
The Fifth Anniversary of Radio Ñomndaa closed with the music of well-known bands like El Donny y sus Juniors, and La Furia Oaxaqueña, in a big dance that started off with shouts of joy around 9 o’clock the night of December 21 and lasted until 6 o’clock the next morning.