Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

COMMUNICATIONS-ARGENTINA: Indigenous People On the Air

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 21 2006 (IPS) - When the project emerged three years ago, it involved communication between indigenous communities within one Argentine province, but it rapidly grew into a larger network that broadcasts their voice from more than a hundred community and commercial radio stations in the north of the country.

“At first it was a project just for ourselves, but we soon realised that we had to expand our audience to be able to exert influence and have our problems addressed by the political agenda,” Germán Díaz, a member of the Toba indigenous community who is head of production and co-host of one of the programmes, told IPS.

Based on the experience of several towns that had local radio stations, two communities in Chaco province created the Indigenous Communication Network (RCI) which now extends throughout Tucumán, Jujuy, Salta, Santiago del Estero, Formosa, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, Misiones and Corrientes, as well as Chaco.

The indigenous organisations involved have expanded from two to nearly 60, and where there was a single non-indigenous group providing support, there are now 70, many of them linked to churches and community media. The large commercial radio stations, their vehicle, offer them free air time.

The project received a Special Honourable Mention in the Experiences in Social Innovation Competition at the Social Innovation Fair organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Mexico Nov. 7-10. The distinction was specially created to recognise the merits of this initiative.

There are about 450,000 indigenous people, belonging to 25 different ethnic groups, in Argentina, which has a total population of nearly 39 million, according to provisional results of the complementary survey on original peoples conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Census.

In recent years, their demands for rights to land, health and education have received more attention in the national and provincial press. “We have correspondents covering the conflicts that occur, and we make more of an impact that way,” Díaz said.

In 2002 the communities had eight radio stations, which are still operational and broadcast 24 hours a day, partly in indigenous languages. But these only reached rural areas. So, with the encouragement of the Catholic Church’s national Indigenous Pastorate team (Equipo Nacional de Pastoral Aborigen) and the Institute for Popular Culture, they launched a more ambitious project.

“We want to change society’s historical prejudice against us, and draw attention to our problems,” said Díaz. The plan was to devise high-quality programmes describing events in the indigenous communities in the 10 provinces involved, and broadcast them from 120 stations to ensure good audience penetration.

“There are small community radio stations that ask for our programmes, to fill up their air time, but in the case of the large commercial broadcasters we had to adopt a very diplomatic approach,” he said.

Through agreements, RCI committed itself to deliver a weekly programme which the radios would broadcast at weekends.

“Many of our people live on the outskirts of towns and cities in the provinces, and this way they can listen to us,” he commented.

The programmes offered are “Our People’s Voice” (“Con la voz de nuestra gente”), “Ancestral Roots” (“Raíces milenarias), and a section of news included in a general news programme for the northwest and northeast of the country, broadcast by the Argentine Community Radio Forum.

The radio show hosts are, in addition to Díaz, Mónica Charole, a Toba from the northeastern province of Chaco, Carmen Centeno of the Omaguaca people in Jujuy, in the extreme northwest, and Sebastián Reyes, a Chane Guaraní from Salta province, which borders on Jujuy.

The topics are the problems facing indigenous communities. “Most of them are related to land claims,” Díaz said. “That is the main problem that concerns our communities.” But the programmes also focus on the rights to health, education and a healthy environment.

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