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COLOMBIA
Radio waves tie community
Paolo Moiola
8/31/2009
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Radio Payumat gives Cauca´s indigenous peoples a voice.

Colombia´s population is tormented by a seemingly endless war, poverty and social injustice. Its indigenous population, just 1 percent of 46 million, must face this issue while preserving cultural identity.

Viewed as “terrorists” for their contact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, by the government of Alvaro Uribe, the indigenous peoples risk their lives in the crossfire between the rebels, army and paramilitary groups. And yet, their plight goes ignored by large media.

An absent state in these areas led the indigenous groups to organize their own resistance campaign, with the help of international organizations and missionaries.

One of the most active and organized initiative is the Association of Indigenous Communities of the North, an umbrella group of indigenous communities from the southwestern Cauca department. The association takes on five central issues: economy and environment, population and culture, justice and harmony, defense of life and communications and external relations.

Invisible to the media
Dora Muñoz, a young Nasa or Paez indigenous woman became a journalist, well-aware of the difficulties her people face. She now works in the radio station the indigenous association runs in the city of Santander de Quilichao.

“In Colombia, the large media outlets don´t talk about the indigenous people or our ´life plan,´” she said. “If it was only them, no one would know we exist. When they speak about us, it´s only to call us terrorists.”

Muñoz added that the initiative uses radio, video and the Internet to get their stories out.

“Our lands are occupied by militas of the left and the right, by the army, by the guerrillas and by the transnationals,” she said. “All of them want to take our lands and resources without a care about who lives here. For indigenous communities, land and natural resources are not merchandise, but goods that give life, and that´s why they are protected.”

For this reason, indigenous people are often seen as an obstacle to other interests.

Permission to enter
The community radio station, Pa´yumat, is based on the Nasa or Paez language´s word for when an individual arrives at the house of a community member. The word announces the person´s arrival and is a request to enter the home. Their daily broadcast runs from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and listeners are estimated at 110,000.

But the station was ransacked in mid-December of last year, following the large indigenous marches on the government. The perpetrators have not yet been determined, she said.

“It´s dangerous for us to say,” she said.

It does not appear to be an exaggeration: between June 23 and July 6, Marino Mestizo, of the Nasa people and Héctor Betancourth Domicó, indigenous governor of  Changarra were killed.
—Latinamerica Press.


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