Sunday, May 31, 2009

Persecution of Monterrey Community Radio "Tierra y Libertad"

Mexican Government Used the Drug War to Raid a Rebelious Poor Neighborhood's Radio; Radio Magnates Rejoice

This past March 12, Monterrey community leader Dr. Hector Camero arrived at the Mexican Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) to provide witness testimony regarding a June 2008 raid on his organization's radio station, Radio Tierra y Libertad. When he arrived, government officials informed him that he was no longer considered a witness in the case; he was the main suspect, accused of "use of national assets without prior permission."

Within the next few days, the government is expected to issue a federal warrant for Camero's arrest because the Federal Prosecutor's Office has announced that it has enough evidence to charge him. Camero faces 2-12 years in prison and up to MX$500,000 (USD$37,920) in fines.

Camero's legal problems stem from the June 6, 2008, nighttime raid on Radio Tierra y Libertad, located in the lower-income neighborhood of Tierra y Libertad on the outskirts of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Approximately 120 heavily armed Federal Preventive Police participated in the raid. The police ran up three streets in the neighborhood, reportedly yelling, "No one go outside! This is an anti-drug operation!"

The police arrived unimpeded at the station and broke down the building's steel door, interrupting a live transmission. When Dr. Camero heard the police attempting to break down the door, he managed to issue a call for help over the radio before police cut the transmission and stole the radio's equipment.

In addition to seizing the equipment, the police attempted to arrest Dr. Camero. However, approximately 300 neighbors heard Camero's call for help broadcasted over the radio and ran to his aid. They managed to prevent the detention of Camero and two other people who were with him in the radio station during the raid, but they couldn't save the radio equipment.

The neighbors' failure to mobilize enough people in time to prevent the raid and loss of equipment can't be written off as indifference. Camero told Narco News that since the radio doesn't have a history of police raids, and since Monterrey is a known haven for drug traffickers, many people who would have otherwise come out to stop the police did not do so because of the heavily-armed cops' claims that they were carrying out a raid on drug traffickers. These bogus claims "confused and delayed the support of the community," says Camero.

The Tierra y Libertad neighborood ("Land and Liberty" in English) is certainly no stranger to political struggle, and most likely would have mobilized to stop the invasion had the police not lied to them. Tierra y Libertad residents have fought hard for land rights in Monterrey for over thirty years, ever since the neighborhood's founders expropriated the land it sits on in the 1970s. Thanks to decades of organizing and struggle, the neighborhood now was all of the basic municipal services such as running water and electricity, and residents are the legal owners of the land.

Radio Tierra y Libertad has served the Tierra y Libertad neighborhood without a government license since 2001 and serves approximately 10,000 families. In November 2002, Radio Tierra y Libertad filed a formal request for a permit from the federal Ministry of Communication and Transportation's Monterrey office. The government never responded to the request--neither positively nor negatively--meaning that since late 2002 Radio Tierra y Libertad has operated in a state of legal limbo.

Since Radio Tierra y Libertad filed its request for a permit, other radios have done the same. In 2003, the Secretary of Communication and Transportation under former President Vicente Fox reportedly invited pirate radio stations to file for permits. Three community radio stations filed the necessary paperwork: La Voladora in Mexico State, Radio Calenda in Oaxaca, and Radio Bemba in Sonora. The Ministry of Communication and Transportation rejected their requests, justifying the rejection with the circular argument that the radios were operating without a permit.

Radio Tierra y Libertad's request was never rejected, and for nearly eight years it has broadcasted educational programs, children's programs, "poor people's news" programs, programs about labor rights, and cultural programs featuring traditional music. Then the Federal Preventive Police raided the station out of the blue. But why now?

Dr. Camero can't say for sure why the police chose the night of June 6 to raid their station, particularly because his station's request for a permit went six years without any response at all from the government.

What is known is that US lawmakers were scheduled to arrive in Monterrey on June 7--less than 24 hours before the raid on Radio Tierra y Libertad--for a two-day Interparliamentary meeting with Mexican lawmakers that included the Merida Initiative at the top of its agenda. It was at that meeting that US and Mexican legislators ironed out their differences over the Merida Initiative's controversial human rights conditions.

El Universal reported that heavily-armed agents from the Federal Preventive Police (PFP)--the same force that raided the radio in overwhelming numbers--were called in to guard the hotel where the lawmakers would meet. While it is not confirmed, it is possible that the federal government chose June 6 to raid the station in order to take advantage of the increased number of PFP officers who were in town for the Interparliamentary meeting. The press anticipation of the meeting may have also provided the cover of distraction.

This wouldn't be the first time that the Mexican government has taken advantage of increased militarization related to the drug war in order to carry out raids on local organizers. Victor M. Quintana, writing for the Americas Program, notes that the federal government used Operation Chihuahua to crack down on local organizers in that state. Under the auspices of Operation Chihuahua, the federal government sent 2000 soldiers and 400 federal police to Chihuahua. While the federal troops were officially there to combat organized crime in that state, during the first week of the operation they arrested six local organizers: five men from an organization that fights against the North American Free Trade Agreement, and one a woman who assists the families of femicide victims. Three of the five men were organization leaders.

Federal police and the military have been deployed to Nuevo Leon (where Monterrey is located) and the neighboring state of Tamaulipas since 2007 as part of those states' own joint anti-drug trafficking operation.

The timing of the PGR's notification to Dr. Camero that it was investigating him as a suspect due to his involvement in Radio Tierra y Libertad is also interesting, to say the least. The notification came about a month after he gave an interview to Radio Bemba regarding Monterrey's infamous (and highly suspicious) "narco protests." That interview was picked up by other media outlets--including Narco News--and made international headlines.

War on Community Radios

The raid on Radio Tierra y Libertad comes at a time of increased repression against community radios in Mexico. In addition to multiple raids and closures (107 closures during the Calderon administration as of March), community radios have lost a number of collaborators to suspicious murders.

In April 2008, just two months before the raid on Radio Tierra y Libertad, unknown gunmen assassinated indigenous Triqui radio broadcasters Teresa Bautista Merino and Felicitas Martinez Sanchez in the state of Oaxaca. The two young women worked at Radio Copala, "The Voice that Breaks the Silence." They were murdered on their way to a radio workshop in Oaxaca City, and they were the only ones killed out of the six people traveling in their car. The Mexican government, in addition to resorting to the racist argument that the two women were killed as a result of cultural conflicts (often used to write off the murders off indigenous people) instead of as a result of their media work, also refused to investigate their case. The government didn't even interview the surviving riders during its "investigation." (More detailed information on the Radio Copala assassinations can be found in John Gibler's book Mexico Unconquered.)

On June 10, 2008--just days after the Radio Tierra y Libertad raid, 40 federal agents attempted to raid Guerrero's Radio Ñomndaa, but the community there stopped them. Then, a month later, professor Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila of the Autonomous University of Guerrero was beaten to death on his way back from visiting the Suljaa' y Cozoyoapan community. He was there filming a documentary and investigating the government aggression against Radio Ñomndaa.

While Dr. Camero and Radio Tierra y Libertad are fortunate to not have suffered deadly attacks, they still feel the increased government pressure on unlicensed community radios. While in the past the government has charged non-profit pirate radio operators under the Federal Radio and Television Law, it has decided to charge Camero under the Federal Law of National Assets. The Federal Radio and Television Law contains provisions that allow for administrative penalties against operators of unlicensed radios, such as a fine and the seizure of equipment. The Federal Law of National Assets, on the other hand, is a criminal law that mandates 2-12 years in prison and up to $500,000 pesos in fines for those that use government assets without proper permission.

The government's use of the Federal Law of National Assets against Rario Tierra y Libertad is an escalation of the Calderon administration's offensive against non-profit community radios. Camero told Narco News, "This law [the Federal Law of National Assets] is applied to stations that use the electromagnetic space for profit, which has never been the case at Radio Tierra y Libertad. However, the Ministry of the Interior is trying to apply this law in our case, undoubtedly to teach a lesson to the over 200 other radios that have, particularly in the southern and central parts of the country, been looking for their own space."

The "national asset" in question in the Federal Law of National Assets is the radio spectrum. The radio spectrum is a range of frequencies with defined channels for different transmission technologies--that is, that is, something that is not produced by the government or anyone else and something that cannot be touched, a lot like air. Many governments, like Mexico, have decided that they not only have the right to regulate the radio spectrum, but that they own it. As such, the government grants licenses to radios to occupy their own little part of the radio spectrum.

These licenses don't come easy; the government reportedly charges radios over $100,000 dollars to file for a permit. IPS reports that of all of the community radio permit requests filed over the past thirty years, the government has granted only one license. Due to government restriction, 13 companies control 90% of Mexico's airwaves.

Those 13 companies are doing everything in their power to see to it that Mexico's airwaves continue under their control. The National Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry (CIRT in its Spanish initials) successfully lobbies the Mexican government for laws to protCIRT statueect and expand their monopoly over the means of communication. They pull out all the stops to push independent radios off the air. CIRT has pressured the government to close community radio stations, and it has even gone so far as to accuse the World Association of Community Radios (AMARC) of "fomenting clandestine, pirate and insurgent radio."

On June 12--just days after the police attack on Radio Tierra y Libertad--the CIRT unveiled a statue of its organization's logo in a public park in Monterrey "as a thank-you for the hospitality the city has shown."

Originally published in Narco News:


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