Nueva Loja is located in the centre of Sucumbíos, in the Amazon forest and is one of the most important cities in the north – east of Ecuador. Its importance derives from the oil-drilling industry. For twenty five years, Radio Sucumbíos has been the voice of the local communities in defense of the environment and the people.
To one side of the main entrance, in front of a small lawn, stands a great coloured mural with seven sections: those of the native ethnic groups (Kichwa, Siekopai, Cofan, Shuar, Siona), one Afro section and one section representing people of mixed race.
An inscription shows the meaning of the philosophy and the aim of Radio Sucumbíos: ‘We work for Interculturality’.
The broadcasting station, established due to the initiative of Mons. Gonzalo López Marañón, a Discalced Carmelite, and then Vicar Apostolic of the diocese, was opened in 1992. That was at a time when Sucumbíos had little by way of communications and its inhabitants – indigenous people and others from outside – had few possibilities to interact. The discovery of oil radically changed the face of the region. The tropical jungle gave way before oil wells, cisterns and pipelines with disastrous consequences for the natural environment.
We were welcomed by a young journalist, Marilú Capa Galarza, coordinator of the information sector and head of the Radio news (El comunicador). Marilú, wearing a Radio Sucumbios t-shirt, speaking with overpowering enthusiasm, took us immediately to the offices of the journalism area.
A large blackboard showed the week’s appointments: an artisans’ show, reliable transport service and a safe water supply for Nueva Loja. In an adjacent room, another blackboard shows the list of interviews. On the seats in front of the computers there are jackets with the slogan ‘Prensa Sucumbíos’ printed on the back.
“We are three full-time journalists and two other collaborators from the nearby areas of Shushufindi and Orellana”, Marilu’ told us.
Today Radio Sucumbíos has fourteen employees in all. One wall is covered with dozens of photos and Marilú, proudly explains the important ones. “This radio station – she comments – is not ours: it belongs to the people. This is shown by the fact that, in all the conflicts we have had, the citizens defended and protected us. We received more than our share of threats”. We entered a studio where Pilar Guaizo was at work. She is the presenter of Rostros y Rastros (Faces and Traces), a Saturday programme. Pilar told us: “This programme speaks of personalities of past history and of the present day who have carried out important work in the field of human rights and the defence of the environment. In brief, it is an educational programme”.
Another studio is transmitting La trocha, an entertainment programme. The presenter, Miguel Angel Rosero, is full of energy and enthusiasm.
Near the console hangs a banner in Kichwa: ‘Allì Shamushka Kai Anki Sucumbiosma’. ‘Welcome to Radio Sucumbíos’, Marilú translates. The search for interculturality is certainly commendable and the strong point of Nueva Loja.
We met with German Tapuy, a young indigenous Kichwa man who is in charge of programmes in Kichwa, broadcast from Monday to Saturday from 4am to 5,30am. His programme is called Jatarishunchik, which means ‘Let’s rise up’. He explains: “I deal with the most varied problems – everything that is of interest to the five indigenous nationalities that live in this province. These may go from the cultural to traditional medicine and the most basic problems of the various indigenous communities including that of telling them their history though the elders”.
At the weekend there is a programme aimed at the Afro population entitled Voces y Jolgorio (Voices and Revelry), presented by Antonia Guerrero. “Even though there are only a few thousand people of African descent, we think it is important to make room for them too”, Marilú explains. We also met Amado Chavez, director of programming. “We are an inclusive radio station. We cover very practical problems: agricultural cultivations, husbandry and fish farming. But we are also a radio station that takes a stand. If there is an oil spill, we report it immediately. We have not made any compromise with those in power, whether political or economic. A means of communication cannot always be neutral or impartial. When human rights are violated, when there is an environmental disaster, you have to take a stand. Radio Sucumbíos has always taken the side of the people, the peasants and the indigenous”.
Police attack on the radio Station
Victor Gómez Barragán has been director of Radio Sucumbíos since June 2015. Between the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2012, with a change in leadership of the Vicariate, the heralds of the Gospel, a congregation started in Brazil and largely conservative, took the place of the Carmelites.
The station immediately became the centre of bitter polemics that threatened its very survival. At that time, Victor was not the director but those events made a deep impression on him. He told us: “It was 16 May, 2011, when the police violently burst into the headquarters of Radio Sucumbíos. Resisting in a non-violent manner, all of us locked ourselves inside. The police had been called by the Heralds of the Gospel who, since October 2010, had been the new leaders of the Vicariate and also administrators of the radio station. The Heralds wanted the sort of radio station that, instead of covering citizen marches, civic protests, general demonstrations and problems of that kind, covered only Masses and transmitted only prayers. This meant never speaking of a living God who is to be found in the fields, next to the poor and the indigenous. They wanted to dismiss all the personnel and run the radio with just three volunteers”.
The station resisted but at great cost. The religious differences between the Carmelites (members of the Isamis movement) and the Heralds of the Gospel soon became a political and economic struggle. In truth, the events at Radio Sucumbíos made an already tense situation come to a head. The appointment of Mons. Rafael Ibarguren Schindler, a member of the Heralds of the Gospel, brought havoc and serious divisions between their clergy and the peoples of that Amazonian province. People took different sides and there were divisions even between friends and family members “Many of those wounds have yet to heal”, Victor admitted.
After various events and twists and turns, in November 2013, Pope Francis closed the matter with the appointment of a new Vicar Apostolic Mons. Celmo Lazzari.
“Today we have other concerns – the Station director continued – Since 2015, the economic crisis has caused a continual reduction in advertising by government departments and private entities. Furthermore, since we are in an oil-producing area, due to the reduction in crude oil prices, many local businesses have closed down, commerce has diminished and with it advertising investment”.
“It has become very difficult to sustain a communications project like that of Radio Sucumbíos. If we do not receive support from some NGO, we can only survive by carrying out a reduction of personnel and programmes. We do not want this to happen as it would reduce us to something like the many stations that transmit only music and a few other programmes with no interest in social and communitarian problems. And we would fail to do that which for 25years we have believed in: journalism with social responsibility”. (P.M.)