Photo: Mario Pérez
Update [July 9th]
Good news! Radio Fe y Alegría 92.1 FM is back on the air.
For some, distant, hidden places bring peace, serenity, solitude and relaxation. But in the land of Simón Bolívar, remoteness is a synonym for violations against human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of press and the capacity of free, critical and alternative media outlets to operate without coercion.
Such is the case with Radio Fe y Alegría 92.1 FM, in Tucupita, Delta Amacuro.
One of the 21 stations that currently make up the network owned by Fe y Alegría (an institution founded 63 years ago as a movement for popular education and social promotion), suffered a two-hour long power cut on June, 22. The second day this happened, the body responsible for the electrical service didn’t restore it.
Employees noticed something was off when they realized that the building where the station is located was the only place with no power, while nearby houses and stores were unaffected.
In the land of Simón Bolívar, remoteness is a synonym for violations against human rights.
Tucupita is the capital of Delta Amacuro, one of the smallest, most remote cities in eastern Venezuela. When Fe y Alegría decided to establish a radio station in this region, where the great Orinoco splits into hundreds of streams on its way to the Atlantic Ocean, they did it certain of their vocation to serve the most vulnerable sectors — especially native communities.
Radio Fe y Alegría Tucupita offers a wide range of programs to all Delta Amacuro citizens: information and news, opinion and political, economic and social analysis. The community actively participates via phone calls and instant messaging, since it’s one of the few radio stations where they can get news updates, not just locally, but from all over the country. Tucupita, being relatively small, is one of those towns where everyone knows each other, so the station has a big audience, which makes it an influential media outlet open to attacks by representatives of the regional government, aligned with Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
Francisco “Paco” Pérez, head of Radio Fe y Alegría 92.1 FM, realized there was something fishy about the power cut because there was no rationing in the area and they had no past due bills. He went to the National Electric Corporation’s (CORPOLEC) offices to ask what was truly happening. The answers were vague, but Pérez insisted until he got it: “The orders to cut the service come from the top.”
Paco looks at his hands and counts with his fingers: This is the fifth power cut the station has suffered so far this year. “The same happened last year, the radio was left without power and we went out to catch the CORPOELEC people working on disconnecting the wiring. When we asked them why, they said ‘orders from the top.’”
Tucupita, being relatively small, is one of those towns where everyone knows each other, so the station has a big audience.
Why would the government want to silence Pérez and his people? The healthcare situation is serious in Delta Amacuro, according to the testimonies of patients and health workers who use the radio’s programs to speak up about their ordeals.
The Kapé-Kapé Network of Native Rights is even talking about “genocide” against the Warao population, because there’s no attention for the HIV epidemic, specifically in Bajo Delta. Based on the studies made by a team of specialists from the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research (IVIC) and UCV’s Biomedicine Institute, Minerva Vitti, journalist and activist for the rights of native communities, cautioned that the area’s population is “under threat of disappearing” if the epidemic isn’t stopped. 9.5% of natives are infected, the highest rate in the world, surpassing even Sub-Saharan Africa, with 5%.
These conclusions, and many more complaints, reach the general public through the station’s news reports, thanks to the work of journalists and community spokespeople covering the situation by land or sea, while the State’s media remains silent. But reality’s stubborn and stands on its own, so Delta Amacuro citizens support the radio, Tucupita’s bridge to the rest of the country.
If the State is truly behind these measures, this is, essentially, a flagrant violation of fundamental rights established in Article 52 of the Constitution: “Communication is free and plural (…) all citizens have the right to timely, reliable and impartial information, without censorship.” This affects the most vulnerable, those who cannot answer back: the inhabitants of Alto Delta and Bajo Delta, places once idyllic and now forcefully disconnected from the world outside the tropical Iron Curtain.
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