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Radio Voz Popular - Guatemalan Clandestine Broadcaster


The following is from a Spring1992 newsletter issued by US-based representatives of URNG, the Guatemalan guerilla front.

Warm greetings to all on behalf of the people of Guatemala and the URNG, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity. This evening I am here as a part of the team of Radio Voz Popular which, as you know, is the URNG's clandestine radio station. The URNG is the union of four revolutionary organizations in Guatemala: the FAI (Rebel Armed Forces), EGP (Guerrilla Army of the Poor), ORPA (Organization of the People in Arms), and PG (Guatemalan Workers Party). These four organization came together to form the URNG on February 7, 1982, so our Unity is now ten years old.

Working Towards Unity Of course, unity is not simply a mathematical question of combining four into one. Rather it is a goal we have been working towards over these ten years. I think that at the level of the General Command, at the top, the degree of unity is now strong and quite consistent. I also think that at the combat level, the level of unity is very good Where sometimes there are problems is at the intermediate levels; I can say this because this is where I am.

Each of the organizations carries out combat operation in its primary fronts [ORPA to the west and south of the capital, EGP in the north, FAR in the Peten; the PGT does not have combat forces - Ed.]. However, they are conducting the war as a unit; that is, there is direction and coordination at the command level. So when one unit goes into action on one front, there is another unit that will be carry ing out operations at the same time on another front. And now, in one zone of the country, there is actually a unifid guerrilla front, with combatants from all thre, organizations.

Defending the Radio Station A number of years ago we decided to create our own radio station, to inform people about the political situation and the progress of the struggle, of the popular war, from a revolutionary point of view. We began to recruit and train companeros to start up and carry out the radio project. I have been part of the radio almost since beginning, two years before it first went on the air on May 22, 1987. I work on the production team, which prepares the broadcast programs. We do everything from gathering the information to writing the scripts and preparing the cassette used for the broadcasts.

When the radio went on the air, it came as a big surprise to the army. They said that we had to be transmitting from Cuba or Nicaragua, but we didn't even need to correct them on that because they soon found out with their own equipment that the signal was coming from the Tajumulco volcano in San Marcos, in western Guatemala.

Some have asked us why we say publicly where we are. It's because the army already knows where we are and if they know, you might as well know too. The Tajumulco volcano is a large, mountainous zone; its base is 35 kilometers in diameter. We move around in a large area within a guerrilla front, and the fact is that after five years we're still alive and on the air. Many people think that because we are in a fixed place, the army, in its omnipotence, could just reach in and get us. But it's not like that because the Tajumulco volcano has many ravines and hills and it's very difficult to penetrate. There are few natural entrances, and we keep these controlled.

When the army found out that the radio was on the volcano, they placed several military detachments around the base of it, and one above, just below the volcano's crater. So they had us surrounded. But of course we don't wait for them to come to us. Our forces go out and attack those detachments, and the army has had to withdraw several of them. Since we started broadcasting, the army has launched three major military land offensives against us. In the third offensive, they used almost 4000 men. But these offensives have always failed to achieve their objective - to eliminate the radio. They have always suffered too many casualties and had to retreat. Of course it has cost the lives of some of our combatants. But we have never had to take off running with the equipment. And in fact, in the last two years we have not had to move.

It seems that the army realizes now, after five years of trying, that they're not going to accomplish much by land, by infantry. Of course, by air, with helicopters and planes, they've bombed the zone quite a bit, but it isn't easy to hit the exact place. That's why we transmit at 8:00 at night and 5:15 in the afternoon when the volcano is covered with fog. The bombs fall, but far away.

So now, instead of trying to get rid of us with their guns, the army has increased their interference of our signal, using their stronger transmitter and better equipment to jam our signal with noise. So then it becomes a game of cat and mouse. They start with the noise and our companero who is controlling the transmission shifts the frequency slightly, and then we can broadcast there for three or four minutes. Then, when they find that new frequency, we have to jump back, and so on. That's why the stories we write can't be very long. We have told our listeners about this problem, so they know to move the dial a little to the left or the right, so they can keep listening.

We are taking other measures to make it easier for the people to hear our programs. For example, the URNG is planning to install several small FM, rather than short wave, transmitters in specific zones. FM has a smaller range but it's clearer and can cover a whole zone. An FM transmission system is small enough to be carried very easily in a small back-pack. The goal is to locate these transmitters in four or five parts of the country, on different fronts, so our signal can be heard clearly in places where it is sometimes hard to pick up now because of the volcanoes and mountains.

We transmit two days a week, Tuesday and Friday, at 5:15 in the evening, for an hour and a half, and 8:00 at night, for an hour. In the evening we are on the 40 meter band, at 7000 kilohertz, and at night at 3500 kilohertz. In almost five years of operation, we have never missed a broadcast.

Programming at Voz Popular As far as programming, our first priority is to transmit. the perspectives of the URNG, which we do with the regular feature "Revolutionary Reflection," which is like an editorial. We generally focus on a particular subject; for example, one day we will examine convictions for human rights violations, then the next time focus on the negotiation, and so on. We work directly with someone from the General Command to determine which subjects to cover and what the perspective will be on them.

Another important part of our program is information on the war, from all the war fronts. All the guerrilla fronts have access to an open internal circuit where they communicate the actions that have taken place each day. We are also connected to this circuit, so we can record all the reports that the companeros make each day from the Peten, Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango, Quiche and so on. Then we put that information in order and run it in the next edition.

Another regular section of each broadcast is the important news of the week. We receive the country's major newspapers every three or four days at the front and each day our team tapes the major radio newscasts - Guatemala Flash, El Independiente - as well as the television newscasts - Teleprensa, Channel 11, and Channel 7. Hard as it is to believe, on the fronts we have televisions and videorecorders, as well as small computers to process this information. After we record the information it is processed and filed on computers (we use Toshiba T1600 portables), because each month we make a summary of the war and other important national news.

Another regular section of our broadcast is called "The People in Struggle," which covers the popular response to the national crisis. In that section, for example, we covered the protests that took place in January at the Matamoros barracks in the capital, with women and young people protesting against forced recruitment. From the TV coverage, we taped the women speaking at the protest, and then put them out on the radio. It had already been broadcast on the TV, but most of our people in the countryside don't have TV, or even electricity, so they don't get this news. But Radio Voz Popular picks it up and broadcasts it out there for them to hear.

There are other features that appear every few weeks, such as "The Physician's Advice," where a guerrilla doctor gives advice on treating simple but common medical problems such as diarrhea. We also broadcast "Women's Page" and "Christian Page." Besides these regular feat tures, there are "cunas," short calls to different sectors - to students, to campesinos, to workers - on important issues.

Fighting for Peace One cuna that we've used almost since the beginning to end each broadcast is "By waging war, we fight for peace." We use it because it sums up the perspective of the revolutionary struggle: We struggle because they have left us no other route. If we fight with arms, it's not to fight all our lives but to achieve peace; the armed struggle has already lasted 30 years, and that is long enough.

Earlier in the tour, a radio show host asked us, "Why do you continue to fight with arms since things have changed in the world?" I answered that, unfortunately, things in Guatemala have not changed. Of course events in the world have some degree of influence on our country. But if the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have fallen apart, Nicaragua has changed, and Cuba is fighting simply to survive, and yet our war continues stronger than ever, well, that means that we were telling the truth when we said that we didn't depend on those other countries. In fact, our forces have always fought with M-16 rifles, which come from here, the United States, not from the Soviet Union. The causes of the war are inside Guatemala and they are stronger and sharper than ever. So how can we lay down our arms? But we aren't militarists either. If there is some other solution, well, that's great. And, as you know, another approach to a solution -negotiations - began last year, in April (1991).

It was hoped that some accord could be signed by now, but the process has stalled on the need to come to a complete accord on human rights. The government has not yet adopted a serious attitude towards the negotiations; after a year of talking, the repression has only increased, they continue the practice of forced recruitment, they continue with the civil patrols - they really haven't moved a finger to change anything, It gives the impression that they're at the negotiating table trying to concede as little as possible. All they are interested in is freeing themselves of the URNG, but they don't know how to do it.

But, in my opinion, there is still reason to be optimistic. We think that, given what has happened in El Salvador, the eyes of the world are now focused more on Guatemala, so from now on there will be more pressure to resolve Guatemala's problems. We think that the combination of international pressure and our continuing internal military pressure, along with the demands of the organized popular sector for concrete Progress, will be able to put the army and the government into a corner. They must understand that we are not the troglodytes who insist on armed struggle, They are the ones outside the march of history.


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Association of North American Radio Clubs
DXer of the Year for 1995

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