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DXing the 'Almost Countries'

by Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the May, 1992 issue of The Journal of the North American Shortwave Association in the Latin Destinations column.


Hola amigos! Thank you to those who have expressed concern over the flood. I'm fortunate that both my home and my workplace are on the bluffs high and dry above the flood plain. Well, maybe I shouldn't say dry with all the rain we've had, but at least we are away from the flood. On another note, don't forget the hoped-for Radio Guatapuri, 4818v, broadcast at the end of the month as mentioned in my May column. I haven't heard anything so don't know if it will happen again this time, but maybe. Anyway, on to this month's topic.

Compared to other regions of the world such as Africa and Asia, Latin America doesn't offer that many target countries for DXers to hear. On the other hand, Latin America is home to more shortwave stations than other areas. In fact, it's probably because of my Latin American bias that I find station-counting more interesting than country-counting. If we look back in history, there could have been a lot fewer countries in Latin America. Central America was briefly part of Mexico and then one united country for nearly two decades before breaking up. Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador were united for several years, as were Bolivia and Peru. Paraguay could very easily have become an Argentine province and Uruguay came very close to being either part of Argentina or a Brazilian state. With a slightly different roll of the historical dice, there might have been as few as five Spanish-speaking countries on the mainland of Latin America instead of sixteen.

But, that didn't happen. And, if certain events had gone in a totally different direction there could be ten or more additional countries in Latin America. These historical "almost countries" have always intrigued me, so let's take a look at them with a DX perspective this month and see how many "almost countries" you have logged. I just hope the NASWA country list committee doesn't mind my edging in on their territory a little, hi! After reading this column, country-counters might want to suggest that the committee change that September 1, 1945 cutoff date to, say, January 1, 1800!

North to south seems a good way to do this, so we start out in the deserts of Sonora state and Baja California in northern Mexico. In the prelude to the U.S. Civil War, many radical pro-slavery advocates looked south of the border for possible new slave states to add to the U.S. In 1853 a group under the leadership of William Walker invaded this region and captured several cities, declaring a new slave-holding republic. Their aim was eventual annexation by the U.S, as happened with Texas. But, with so many troubles at home, the U.S. government wasn't ready for another war with Mexico, and aided the Mexican government in expelling Walker's band. (Walker later took over Nicaragua for a few months and was executed in Honduras in 1860 in an attempt to conquer that country.) The SW voice of this "almost country" is Radio Universidad de Sonora on 6115 kHz. This is most often logged in the southwestern U.S., but was heard frequently in the east and Midwest a few years ago.

A genuinely home-grown "almost country" is the Yucatan peninsula in southern Mexico. The Yucatan has its own unique heritage and even today Yucateco cuisine is totally different from the standard Mexican food we are familiar with. Historically, the Yucatan was never very close to the rest of Mexico, so after disagreements with the central government in the mid 1840s, it declared its independence. A local army was raised, mostly of Mayan Indian peasants, and Mexican government troops were quickly pushed out of the new nation. History might well have left us with an independent Yucatan at that point but for a strange twist of fate.

Aroused by their victories over Mexican government troops, the Mayan Indians who formed most of the Yucatan army, rose up against their local white rulers. In a few short weeks the Indians savagely paid the colonial elite back for centuries of abusive misrule. The Mayans overran the peninsula, killing and raping any white that fell into their hands. The Yucatecos appealed to Great Britain, Spain, and the United States, offering their territory in return for help. The onslaught continued until the whites were pushed back to the cities of Merida and Campeche and the neighboring coastline. As the Mayans surged forward they captured huge quantities of arms and munitions, which encouraged more peasants to join their cause. By now the whites were vastly outmatched both in terms of manpower and equipment. The inevitable fall of Merida and Campeche and the final push of the Europeans into the sea was just a few days away. Then, as every year, the winged ants reappeared. Every Mayan peasant knew that the reappearance of the winged ants was the sign from their gods that it was now time to plant corn. The Mayan army dissolved as each man returned to his village to plant his fields.

As unreal as the situation was, the Yucatecos realized that it was only a brief reprieve; the Mayans would return unless the Yucatecos counterattacked first. However, none of the three foreign powers had offered to help and the Yucatecos were not strong enough themselves to go after the Mayans. There was only one course of action left; the humiliated Yucatecos turned to the Mexican government, promising their subserviance once again. Thousands of troops were dispatched to fight the Mayans, who were soon pushed back to the jungles of Quintana Roo in the eastern Yucatan, where a stalemate developed. The government troops couldn't defeat the Indians in the jungle, and the Indians weren't strong enough to face the army on open land. Combining elements of Catholicism with their traditional religion, the Mayans established a military-religious state with social organization based on military companies and supported themselves through farming and trade with British merchants in Belize. This small quasi-nation survived until 1901 when Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, furious that a small group of Indians wouldn't acknowledge his rule, sent in a large modern army equipped with repeater rifles, machine-guns, and artillery. (For more on this fascinating story see The Caste War of Yucatan by Nelson Reed, Stanford University Press, 1964.)

Today, the short-lived Yucatan Republic is home to one shortwave station, La Pantera on 6105 kHz. This station is very irregular, but when active is a not-too-difficult catch in the morning in North America. I don't believe there has ever been any SW activity from Quintana Roo (although there is a maritime utility station in Chetumal).

Another country that might have been is the present day state of Chiapas on Mexico's Guatemalan border. Chiapas has a strong Mayan heritage and under Spanish colonial rule was part of Central America. Mexico's first rulers promptly annexed Central America after kicking out the Spanish in 1821, but a new Mexican government allowed Central America to go its own way two years later. Chiapas, however, decided to remain a part of Mexico. Had it stayed in Central America, Chiapas would likely have become a separate country. Of course there are no SW stations in Chiapas, but who knows. If it had taken the road to independence, it might be as saturated with shortwave as Guatemala is.

The years 1823-1838 were turbulent ones in Central America, and when the Central American Union finally broke up into the countries we know today, there was almost one more. In the highlands of western Guatemala conservative priests and the creole elite tried to form a strict church-state called Los Altos until the movement was quashed by the government in Guatemala City. Present-day Guatemalan stations on 2360/3325, 4800, 4825, 3360, and 2390 kHz are all within what could have been Los Altos.

Another interesting "almost country" is the Mosquitia region which includes all Nicaragua's Caribbean coast and Honduras's eastern tip. This densely-forested area was ignored by the Spanish and, like Belize, became a haven for pirates, smugglers, escaped slaves, and British loggers who all intermingled with the local Miskito Indians. The Miskito Kingdom, as it was called, was actually a British protectorate with its own Indian king from 1780 to 1885 until the British government handed the territory over to Nicaragua and Honduras. The easiest way to hear the Mosquitia is to tune in either of two stations in the small Honduran portion, Evangelist La Voz de Mosquitia on 4910 or Sani Radio on 4755. In Nicaragua, the former contra station Radio Miskut has been reported on several frequencies in the past year. Some years ago there was a Sandinista station, Radio Zinica, in the Mosquitia.

Our next "almost country" is a sort of South American version of the Texas story. For decades the Bolivian government ignored its northernmost department of Acre and during the Amazon rubber boom of the late 1800s allowed the territory to fill up with Brazilian traders and settlers. Tired of Bolivian rule, the Acre Brazilians declared their independence in 1899. A 1903 treaty allowed Brazil to annex the small republic in return for paying ten million U.S. dollars to Bolivia. Frequencies on which Acre stations have been heard include 3401, 3568, 4118, 4765, 4865, and 4885 kHz.

One of the first cries in Latin America for independence from Spain was raised in 1807 in the southern Bolivia department of Tarija which declared itself an independent country. However, once the Spanish were gone and the dust settled, Tarija was part of the new nation of Bolivia. As Tarija is very small, it's hard to imagine how it could have survived as a country, but who knows? Tarija is one of the most difficult of Bolivia's departments to log, but stations on 4599 and 6140 have been heard in North America in the past few years.

Continuing south, we reach Chile. When the Spanish conquered and settled Chile in the mid and late 1500s, they found the warlike Araucanian (or Mapuche) Indians in the Temuco region impossible to subdue. For several centuries Araucania remained a sort of hole in Chile, free of Spanish, and later Chilean, control. In late 1800s a French adventurer was adopted by the Indians and worked his way into their ruling councils. Soon there were rumors, never proven, that France was going to declare the area a French protectorate. In the early 1880s, the Chilean government raised an army and marched in to finally place Araucania under their control. To hear Araucania, try for Radio Esperanza from Temuco on 6088 kHz. The station is easiest to hear in the wee hours of the morning on weekends when it is on 24 hours.

Our final "almost country" is also the easiest to hear. Bizarre as it may seem, Argentina's capital city and the surrounding province once seceded from the rest of the country! There has always been a lot of rivalry between Argentina's interior provinces and Buenos Aires province, which dominates the country from the metropolis of Buenos Aires city. Early in Argentine history, in 1859, the interior provinces defeated B.A. in one of the frequent civil wars of the period and moved the country's capital up river to Parana. Angry, Buenos Aires province seceded from Argentina. Two years later, however, B.A. defeated the interior provinces in yet another war, reuniting the country and moving the capital back to Buenos Aires city. That was the last war, but feelings didn't really calm down until 1880 when the capital city was split off politically from the rest of its province, diluting the power of both.

To hear Buenos Aires, one simply needs to log external service, RAE, on 11710 kHz, or the domestic SW channel of Radio Nacional on 6060. It's the rest of Argentina, outside Buenos Aires, that's hard to hear. Radio Nacional Malargue has been reported around 1000 UTC on 6160 kHz over the past several months and some years ago, Radio Nacional Mendoza was on 6180 kHz, but they have been inactive for some time. Overall, the Argentine interior is tough-going for SW DXing.

Well, that's the end of our DX tour through these obscure nooks and crannies of Latin American history. I'm sure a little more sleuthing could turn up details of still more "almost countries." Hasta luego! Don

This article is copyright 1994 by Don Moore. It may not be printed in any publication without written permission. Permission is granted for all interested readers to share and pass on the ASCII text file of this article or to print it out for personal use. In such case, your comments on the article would be appreciated.


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