Community Radio in Guatemala: Legalization efforts and impact on Mayan rights and identity

There are over 200 community radio stations in Guatemala that broadcast in 23 languages for the country's indigenous people, which constitute half of Guatemala's population. Guatemala's 36-year civil war saw the deaths of 200,000 Mayans, ending in 1996 with Peace Accords that called for the allocation of radio channels for the repressed indigenous communities. But the Telecommunications law approved after the Peace Accords negated such a guarantee, and legal bandwidth frequencies were auctioned off at unaffordable prices, making their purchase impossible for many of the recovering Mayan communities. 

Despite this, Mayan groups are using local technology to usurp unused bandwidth, using the radio as a developmental tool to unite and strengthen their communities and cultures. Although technically illegal, these radio stations are well-known as central means of communication within their towns. But their unauthorized, "pirate" status puts them at constant risk of being raided and shut down, especially if they interfere with the frequencies of other commercial stations.

Currently, efforts toward legalization of community radio are being taken by the National Community Media Movement of Guatemala, comprised of around 80 community radio stations, the Maya Organization Council of Guatemala, and the non profit organization Cultural Survival, as they strive to implement the "non-discrimination principle in the usage of media” that the Peace Accords called for. However Bill #4087, which proposes to change the discriminatory telecommunications law, remains in congress without significant attention or advancement for the past 3 years.

Through the funding of the Brown International Scholars Program I am performing ethnographic research on community radio, recording my experience with a film documentary. In collaboration with member stations of Cultural Survival's community radio project, I am attending broadcasts, meetings, and workshops about programming and legalization efforts. I will be working closely with a low-budget Mayan Mam station in Cajolá, Xela run by Mayan priests and supported by 34 Mayan development committees. 

My project examines the impact of community radio as a means of revitalizing Mayan spirituality, language, and culture, while simultaneously promoting development, education, and equality. Through participant observation and interviews, I will examine how listeners and programmers integrate discourses of indigenous rights activism and cultural revitalization into current notions of Mayan identity. Below you will find updates about my journey.



  • Maia Chao | August 19th, 2012
    This past month I attended a two-part "intercambio" between two radio stations- La X Musical and Doble Via. The idea of the intercambio was implemented by Cultural Survival, a non profit in the states that works with various stations, helping to get...
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    Maia Chao | August 10th, 2012
    Last week I travelled to Tacaná, going there and back in one day, which totalled about 12 hours in many crowded chicken buses. The latter leg was spent standing, which turned out to be a lot more comfortable than sitting three to a seat, though the...
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    Maia Chao | July 30th, 2012
    Here is a compilation of some footage I got on one of my visits to La X Musical in Cajolá. This is the program of Don Cruz Ramirez, which discusses Mayan Mam history and broadcasts marimba music from the region.  The Mam portion doesn't...
  • Maia Chao | July 22nd, 2012
    Two weeks ago I attended a community radio workshop at Mujb'ab'lyol in San Mateo, Xela. Around 25 radio station programmers from around the country boarded chicken buses for the monthly workshop, which has topics varying from environmental awareness...
  • Maia Chao | July 14th, 2012
    I am now finally adjusting to time and planning as it exists here, and the consequential theme of waiting that seems to pervade the entire system. At first I thought that perhaps, as a foreigner, I was experiencing a particularly unfortunate and...
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    Maia Chao | July 6th, 2012
    The night I arrived in Guatemala I prepared my camera bag, took a freezing cold shower, and slept for a few hours before waking up at 4:45 am to attend a Mayan Mam ceremony run by the priests that direct the community radio station I am working with...