[In the article below April Howard & Benjamin Dangl of UpsideDownWorld.org speak to community activists Juan Contreras and Gustavo Borges about the Caracas barrio '23 de Enero', community radio, the internet, their histories and hopes for the revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez. --Ed]
Freedom on Air: Venezuelan Jail Transformed into Community Radio Station
By April Howard & Benjamin Dangl - UpsideDownWorld.org
October 06, 2006
The neighborhood of El 23 de Enero is like many improvised neighborhoods in Caracas clinging to the hillsides of the city; multi-colored apartments made of brick and cement were stacked on top of each other forming labyrinth-like alleyways and streets. One of many barrios in Caracas, the community was self-assembled by immigrants from the countryside, most of whom began by squatting land on the hills outside the center of the city, and assembling houses next to and on top of each other.
As in most barrios in Caracas, the approximately 15,000 residents of El 23 are accustomed to their barrio being stereotyped as a dangerous, drug-ridden slum. They have also become adept at building their own community infrastructure, at times by hand, and at times over radio waves.
Community media activist Gustavo Borges, a big mustachioed man with a smile that doesn’t always come easily, escorted us gravely toward the barrio’s new radio station, La Emisora Libre al Son del 23 de Enero. He loosened up a bit when we arrived at a two story cement building with a mural of Che Guevara painted on the outside of it. Borges, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, pointed to the roof of an enormous apartment building with laundry flapping in the windows. "We attacked the police station with guns from the roof of that apartment," he explained, referring back to his days as a guerilla fighting against right-wing governments.
Now, like many other barrio residents, Borges is a staunch supporter of the administration of President Hugo Chavez. "This is the police station we were shooting at," he says, smiling. The white building looks different now, with murals of Che and Simon Bolivar in progress on the walls next to the main entrance. Outside people set up chairs for a community event, and from the second floor, Emisora Libre broadcasts festive music. There is nothing to suggest to the visitor that the building’s former incarnation was that of a police station and jail where, for 40 years before the presidency of Hugo Chavez, political activists and dissidents were detained, tortured and assassinated.
Long known as a community of revolutionaries and guerillas, the barrio was one of the first communities to receive titles to their land and houses, and to install community gas, water and sewer systems. Social programs instituted by the Chavez government have flourished here, and so have independent community media organizations such as the Cordinadora Simon Bolivar and the website El23.net. Both organizations seek to provide positive community news, and educational material, promote community involvement and media for the community by the community.
Both the radio, La Emisora Libre al Son del 23 de Enero and its home, La Casa de Encuentro Freddy Parra (the Freddy Parra Meeting House), as well as the magazine "Desafio" are projects of the Cordinadora Simon Bolivar, a force for community activism and social change in Caracas’ historically rebellious barrio. We spoke with Cordinadora member and social worker, Juan Contreras and El23.net editor and community activist Gustavo Borges about the community, the radio, the internet, their histories and hopes for the revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez.
Benjamin Dangl: Can you comment on your opinion of the larger media operations in Venezuela?
Juan Contreras: They are intolerant monopolies. Even after 7 years of the revolutionary process they are still resisting change, they have manipulated information terribly about what is really happening. They have changed the ethics of journalism from the idea of informing, communicating the truth, into a discursive criticism, into conspiratorial criticism. The profession of journalism in this moment is run by these bourgeois companies, the people who have all the money and a lot of power in this country. They are twisting everything that’s really going on; they are “disinforming” people, and they have sold themselves to this diabolic campaign, the coup, conspiracy and destabilization. The corporations don’t permit the media to tell the truth about what is happening in this part of the hemisphere, particularly in Venezuela.
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