Costa Rica’s Tico Times recently published a profile of unlicensed Guatemala radio station Radio Ixchel, as part of an examination of the radio scene in that country. Guatemala has as many as 800 pirate stations, where most radio licenses are auctioned for as much as $100,000. While there are license categories for public stations, there is no regime to license community stations. The 2009 Community Media Bill would have permitted new community stations in some 300 municipalities, but the law failed to pass.
Guatemala’s radio pirates do face the threat of government raids, but the story of Radio Ixchel‘s founder sounds more like the relative toothless penalties risked by pirates in the US:
Today, pirate radio stations face the constant threat of police raids and possible imprisonment. It happened to Radio Ixchel in 2006. But unlike the warnings made in radio announcements, Xunic was not sent to jail. He went before a judge and returned home without a fine.
Not unlike many unlicensed broadcasters in the US and around the world, Guatemala’s radio pirates take to the air because the dominant media fails to serve the needs of local communities and indigenous peoples. The 1996 peace accords that ended Guatemala’s civil war guaranteed indigenous peoples the right to establish media outlets in their own languages, but this has yet to be turned into policy. In a country where even speaking an indigenous language was illegal less than twenty years ago, the fight for communication and media freedom is still vital.