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Community Radios in Colombia Tune In for Peace

BOGOTÁ, Feb 23 2012 (IPS) - Cleaning up a stream that used to be a garbage dump and restocking it with fish, or helping demobilised far-right paramilitaries reintegrate into society by returning to school, are some of the early outcomes of a project involving community radio stations in a remote area of northwest Colombia.

The project is called “Con-vivencias al dial: Radios para el encuentro” (roughly, “tuning in to shared experiences: radio stations bringing people together).

These social and environmental success stories stand in stark contrast to the long history of violence in the municipality of Tierra Alta, in the province of Córdoba, which has claimed countless victims, including Sergio Restrepo, a Jesuit priest killed by paramilitaries in 1989, after whom the community radio station that is a part of the project is named.

The agreement for the demobilisation of paramilitary groups, negotiated by the government of rightwing president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and paramilitary commanders, brought about an improvement of the general situation.

But “there is still tension in the local area, and it will take 10 or 12 years to eradicate it, by developing educational and employment programmes, especially for young people,” Víctor Pantoja, a member of the programming committee for the Sergio Restrepo radio station, 105.0 FM in Tierra Alta, told IPS over the telephone.

“It’s also true that the messages of ‘Con-vivencias al dial’ are beginning to have an impact,” he said enthusiastically.

Radios de Colombia sintonizan señal de paz
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Of course, the initiative will not reach all 56,000 paramilitaries demobilised over the past decade, nor all of the victims of the armed conflict in this war-torn country.

But it is teaching radio production and broadcasting skills while producing 120 10-minute programmes that will be distributed to the radio stations participating in the project.

The plan was instigated by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technologies (MINTIC) and the Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR) – the government agency in charge of demobilisation and reinsertion strategies – with support from the Japanese fiduciary fund managed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“The Japanese fund contributed 113,000 dollars, the ACR 150,000 dollars and the ministry 130,000 dollars,” María Fernanda Ardila, the deputy director of methodologies, monitoring and evaluation at MINTIC, told IPS.

“The main goal is to provide tools for community radio stations to support social reinsertion processes and play the role of mediators in bringing about peaceful coexistence,” Esmeralda Ortiz, a journalist who has worked in community radio since 1990, told IPS.

Ortiz, who works in the Ministry of Culture, has been coordinating the project, which is to last one year, since August 2011.

“The Ministry of Culture’s mission is to create contents that are consistent with the social reality of the specific cultural contexts in the different regions, and programming that strengthens nationality, identity, social participation and democracy,” said Ortiz.

To develop the plan, 20 municipalities were selected out of 1,067 studied, with a particularly violent history resulting from the forced displacement of persons and later mass demobilisation, in the context of the decades-long war in Colombia between leftwing guerrillas and government forces and their paramilitary allies.

The municipalities are located in the provinces of Atlántico, Bolívar, César and Magdalena, in the northern Caribbean region; Antioquía, Córdoba, Sucre and Santander, in the centre and northwest; and Casanare, Huila, Meta, Cundinamarca and Tolima, in the east, centre and west of the country.

Participants in these 20 municipalities are developing their skills and capabilities, in order to produce the radio programmes on their own in the future.

In the municipalities of Soledad and Planadas, in Atlántico and Tolima provinces, respectively, the main goal is to discourage young people from joining illegal armed groups.

The community radio station participating in the project in Soledad is Madrigal 88.1 FM Stereo, and in Planadas it is Musicalia Stereo 106.0 FM.

“The radio programme has been very, very, very useful. The skills training courses are very interesting,” Efrén Silva, an observer for the NGO Cruzada Social (Social Crusade) in Planadas, told IPS over the phone.

“This project is like a light for us, because we have been living in the midst of war here since 1940, and we have been perpetually afraid of saying anything,” Silva said.

Planadas is in the south of the western province of Tolima, near the Cañón de Las Hermosas, a remote river canyon taken over by the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It was in this area that the Colombian army killed the top FARC commander, known as “Alfonso Cano”, in a military operation in November 2011.

“I would say that 60 percent of the population of about 40,000 people has come together because of the project. Women, children, teachers are all participating, and many musicians come here once a week to make music and entertain people,” said Silva.

“People are so keen on the project that one member of a community action group walks for two hours to get to Planadas, because, he says, he is convinced of the importance of the work that can be done through the radio station,” said Ortiz, the coordinator.

“I am surprised by the mass participation of young people in most of the municipalities. But the thing is that local people want not only music, but also to know what is happening in the country, and to find out about ways of solving their problems without violence and with respect for different ways of thinking and doing things, and there is a great deal to be done in that area,” she said.

Once the radio programmes are made, in addition to distributing them to the community stations, “we will take them to be broadcast by the national police radio station, university stations, and as many other stations as possible,” said Ortiz.

“We have so many stories to tell about people who used to be armed combatants, but who are now working for the community,” she said.

“For example, in Montes de María (a mountain range in the northern provinces of Sucre and Bolívar) former combatants are clearing minefields, and demobilised women are now running soup kitchens for the elderly,” she added.

* This story was produced with the support of UNESCO.

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