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“A communication media cannot always be neutral or impartial”
Paolo Moiola
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Radio Sucumbíos, a popular and educational community radio station, has reached 25 years addressing different social problems in their transmissions.

In Nueva Loja, the capital of the northwestern province of Sucumbíos, next to the main entrance to Radio Sucumbíos, in front of a small garden, there is a colorful mural with seven faces, five of which are of the native ethnicities (Kichwa, Siekopai, Cofán, Shuar, Siona), one afro-descendant and one that represents the mestizo peasants. The mural represents the sense of the philosophy and objective of the station: “We work in favor of interculturality.”

The station came to light in 1992 at the urging of Msgr. Gonzalo López Marañón, who at the time was the Apostolic Vicar of the province. It was a time in which Sucumbíos had few communication routes and its population — indigenous and outsiders — had limited possibilities to make contact.

A lot has changed throughout the years. The oil economy has transformed the entire Amazon region often for the worse. There are some 30 broadcast stations in the province now, but Radio Sucumbíos covers a larger area than any of their competitors. It forms part of the Latin American Association of Radio Education networks (ALER) and Coordinator of Community, Popular and Educational Media of Ecuador (CORAPE), where many stations that share three characteristics converge: they are communitarian, popular, and educational. This year the radio of the Vicariate celebrates 25 years of not only satisfactions but also bitter conflicts.

Marilú Capa Galarza, journalist, coordinator of information and anchor of the “El Comunicador” (The Communicator) radio news program, is the guide during the visit to the local station. The weekly tasks are written down in a large blackboard in the press area. In a room next to it another blackboard shows the list of interviews. There are a total of 14 people working now at Radio Sucumbíos, but until not long ago there were 23 people there.

“We are three journalists plus two collaborators in the neighboring jurisdictions of Shushufindi and Orellana,” she said.

The radio of the people
Dozens of photos hang from a wall, and Capa, with a lot of patience, pointed out the most notable ones.

“This radio station does not belong to us: it is a radio of the people. This is shown by the fact that the citizenry has been behind us in all the conflicts that we have had,” she mentions while she heads to the large filing cabinets where vinyl records, CDs, VHS tapes, cassettes and now obsolete technical instruments are kept in perfect order.

Pilar Guarnizo, the host of the Saturday program “Rostros y Rastros” (Faces and Traces), is working in a recording studio.

“We talk about historical figures and people from today who perform an important role in the area of human rights and the defense of the environment. In short, it is an educational broadcast,” Guarnizo explains.

“La Trocha” (“The Trail”), an entertainment program hosted by Miguel Angel Rosero, who is bursting with energy and enthusiasm, is being transmitted from another studio.

Next to the consoles there is a sign in Kichwa: “Alli Shamushka Kai Anki Sucumbiosma” or “Welcome to Radio Sucumbíos.” The research into interculturality is, without a doubt, a commendable aspect of this Nueva Loja station.

Germán Tapuy is an indigenous young man who is in charge of the program in Kichwa called Jatarishunchik (Let´s get up) that is broadcasted from Monday to Saturday from 4:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. “I touch on the more diverse questions,” he explains; “all the issues that are of interest to the five indigenous nationalities who live in the province.”

There is also a program at the weekend directed to the Afro-Ecuadorian population called “Voces y Jolgorio” (Voices and Entertainment), hosted by Antonia Guerrero. “Although there are only a few thousand Afro descendant people [in the province], we decided that it was important to also allot a space for them,” Capa explains.

“We are an inclusive station,” confirms Amado Chávez, the Programming Director, who also mentions his program, “Machetes y Garabatos” (Machetes and Scribbles), where we “deal with practical questions like agricultural crops, livestock farming and fish farming.”

Political and economical struggle
In October 2010, when Msgr. López went on retirement after reaching the age limit, the Vatican replaced him with the Argentinean priest Rafael Ibarguren Schindler, a member of the ultraconservative Heralds of the Gospel congregation, an appointment that brought chaos and marked divisions between the clergy and the population in this Amazonian province. This also brought on serious consequences for Radio Sucumbíos.

The situation exploded when the police seized Radio Sucumbíos in May 2011;  which immediately gained international interest. After some dramatic twists and turns, in November 2013 Pope Francis puts an end to the incident with the naming of a new Apostolic Vicar, Msgr. Celmo Lazzari.

The difficult events that the station endured from the end of 2010 to the first part of 2012 remain vivid in the mind of Víctor Gomez Barragán, the director of Radio Sucumbíos since June 2015.

“The Heralds wanted a station that instead of following the peasant marches, civil protests, popular demonstrations, and gender issues, only follow the masses and only broadcast prayers. In other words, not talk about a living God who is present in the fields, alongside the poor and the indigenous peoples. They wanted to fire the entire staff and operate the radio with just three volunteer staff,” he recalled.

The station has resisted, but the price paid has been very high. The religious fight between the Discalced Carmelites, gathered in the so called San Miguel Church of Sucumbíos (ISAMIS) and The Heralds soon turned into a political and economical fight, with factions and divisions that even involved friends and family.

“Many of these wounds have yet to heal,” admits Gómez, who now has other worries. “We have always had to fight against the economic difficulties. But the situation has turned worse due to the crisis that has battered the country since 2015. The first consequence has been the reduction of publicity coming from governmental entities and private enterprises. Also, given that we are in an oil region, and since the drop in oil prices, many shops have closed down, commerce has decreased, bringing down the advertisement investment.”

“It has turned very difficult to support a communication project as the one offered by Radio Sucumbíos,” he says. “If the support from various non governmental entities does not get here soon, we will only be able to survive by implementing the reduction of personnel and programs. We do not want for this to happen because we will then transform ourselves into one of the many stations that only offer music and a program here and there, without any interest for social and community problems.”

And the slogan that guided Radio Sucumbíos for its last 25 years of existence would be undermined: practice journalism with social responsibility.

“If there is an oil spill, we denounce it right away. We do not compromise with power, be it political or economical. A communication media cannot always be neutral or impartial. When there is a violation of human rights, when there is an environmental disaster, we need to take sides. And Radio Sucumbíos has always sided with the people, the peasants, and the indigenous population.” —Latinamerica Press.


Marilu Capa Galarza (journalist) and Victor Gomez Barragán (general director), dedicated to doing socially responsible journalism. / Paolo Moiola
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Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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