Senal de Libertad - Radio Venceremos Turns Two

September 25, 2007

"Transmite Radio Venceremos, expre-
sion del poder popular. Emitiendo su
serial de libertad desde territorios
controlados por nuestro pueblo en ar-
mas ....
"Radio Venceremos is on the air, ex-
pression of people's power. Sending
its signal of freedom from territories
controlled by our people in arms .. .
-Sign-on of Radio Venceremos
January marked the second
anniversary of Radio Venceremos,
principal voice of the insurgent
Farabundo Marti Front for Nation-
al Liberation (FMLN) and the
Democratic Revolutionary Front
Radio Venceremos broadcasts on
two frequencies simultaneously on the
40 meter band, seven khz. three times
a day. RV publications are available
by writing to Radio Venceremos, A.P.
7-907, Mexico D.F.; or A.P. 23-63 Tel-
cor Los Escombros, Managua, Nica-
ragua; or A.P. 96, Paseo de los Es-
tudiantes, San Jose, Costa Rica.
(FDR) in El Salvador. From a dream
of the leadership of the People's
Revolutionary Army (ERP), one of
the political-military organizations
that make up the FMLN, Radio
Venceremos has become a vital
source of information about the
revolution and a symbol of Salva-
dorean resilience and tenacity. It
has grown into an international
communications network which
includes short-wave and FM trans-
missions within El Salvador (with
the technical capacity to transmit
live from the battlefield), three ma-
gazines and a film production
The birth of Radio Venceremos
(RV) was announced by Coman-
dante Joaquin Villalobos, member
of the FMLN general command
and head of the ERP, just prior to
the January 1981 general offen-
sive. Today, RV broadcasts three
39update update update update
times a day over a short-wave
band and nightly to San Salvador
on FM from a relay station on Gua-
zapa Volcano.
Expanded from the five leaders
of the ERP general command--
who knew nothing about radio
broadcasting-the RV staff now
includes professional reporters,
writers and radio technicians. It
does news reports, analyses, in-
terviews with prominent leaders
of the revolutionary movement,
reports from the battlefield and
cultural programs from the liber-
ated zones.
Nobody knows the size of RV's
listening audience. In the refugee
camps in Honduras, Costa Rica,
Nicaragua and Belize, where ra-
dios are few, refugees have organ-
ized "listeners' circles." Through-
out El Salvador combatants follow
the war and await political orien-
tation from the station.
Army Seizes Radios
While it is risky anywhere in El
Salvador to tune in the clandestine
broadcasts, it is most perilous in
the cities, where the bulk of the
Salvadorean military power is
concentrated. "Listening to RV
here is a bitch," says Abel, an
FMLN supporter in San Salvador.
"If they find you listening, they
bust you," Abel told Sehal de Li-
bertad, an RV publication. "If they
find a short-wave when they search
your house, they take it away."
So, as in the refugee camps,
people have organized them-
selves in the barrios into listeners'
circles. "Each day we listen in a
different house," Abel continues.
"The children are responsible for
organizing a look-out system in
case the enemy comes near. If
the control is too great, then there
is no meeting. Someone records
the program and then circulates
the cassette from house to house.
"If we can't record, then we
write down the most important
news and instructions and pass
the notes by hand."
Although RV is the project of the
ERP, in its two years it has come to
be recognized as the main voice
of the Salvadorean insurgency.
An attempt to establish a radio
station operated by all of the mem-
ber organizations of the FMLN-
FDR, Radio Liberaci6n, failed af-
ter only a short time while another
station, Radio Farabundo Marti,
operated by the Popular Forces of
Liberation (FPL) broadcasts ir-
regularly* from Chalatenango
As the main voice of the revolu-
tion, RV is essential listening for
the foreign press. Although some-
times overzealous and guilty of
rhetorical excess, RV has become
a fundamental and credible source
of information about the progress
of the war and the political con-
cerns of the FMLN-FDR forces.
Radio Venceremos' Origins
ERP leaders began discussing
the possibility of regular radio
transmission in late 1978 and early
1979. Since its organization in
1971, the ERP frequently had oc-
cupied radio stations to broad-
cast messages to the general
population. By mid-1979, repres-
sion of the two independent
newspapers in San Salvador and
raids by security forces on print
shops had grown fierce. This, ex-
plains Comandante Mercedes del
Carmen Letona ("Luisa"), led the
ERP leadership to conclude that
"written propaganda had lost its
force because of the limitations
on its diffusion and the risks to
those who distributed it and those
who read it."
So, sometime in the last six
*On February 21. 1983, a third radio sta-
tion Radio Guazapa-was begun by the
National Resistance, a member group of
the FMLN
months of 1979, Jorge Mel6ndez,
second in command of the ERP,
was sent abroad to find a radio
transmitter. After a considerable
search, he bought a World War
II-vintage Valient Viking, an ancient
but impressive machine, which
no one in the ERP really knew how
to operate. As the person respon-
sible for smuggling the radio into
El Salvador was preparing its dis-
guise, he saw a piece sticking out
of the radio that looked like an
outlet without a wire. He ripped it
off. Of course, when the transmit-
ter, without that part, finally got to
El Salvador, it would not work.
October 1979 brought the young
officers' coup against General
Romero and the first junta. In those
tumultuous days, the radio was
forgotten. Not until January of the
next year was the project revived.
In the extraordinary march on
January 22, 1980 to celebrate the
unity of the Left, the ERP-with
Comandante Luisa at the micro-
phone-broadcast live from the
middle of the march. Few, if any,
listened; no one knew of the ra-
dio's existence.
Throughout 1980, leaders of
the ERP dreamed of someday ob-
taining a short-wave transmitter. It
was not until they finally identified
an experienced radio technician-
"Apolonio"-among the ranks late
that year that they discovered their
machine had that capability.
It was then that the technology
of radio and the strategy of war
converged. By now the ERP was
engaged in a full-scale war against
the Salvadorean Army. This led
them to aim for establishing an
area of control, a strategic front
from which to fight. The answer
was Morazin, a very poor, moun-
tainous province of El Salvador
where the ERP had been organiz-
ing for several years. The radio,
they realized, was a project for
NACLA Reportupdate update update update
"El Muerto" Makes Noise
On December 11, 1980, Joa-
quin Villalobos, chief of staff of the
ERP, entered Morazin. The radio
went with him. An armed column
of men and women carried the
generator, gasoline and the trans-
mitter--dubbed El Muerto by those
who shouldered it--to the ERP
command post in the town of Gua-
The project was a secret, even
within the ERP. A special squad
was created to guard the radio,
Deane Hinton's Love Story
Radio Venceremos chose the
occasion of the marriage of the
U.S. ambassador--on Valentine's
Day--to show that the rebel sta-
tion is as creative as it is resource-
ful in its radio broadcasting. Deane
Hinton, a widower, had announced
his intention to marry Patricia de
Salaverria, widow of one of El Sal-
vador's most right-wing landown-
ers, who lost a big portion of the
family holdings in the 1980 agrari-
an reform.
"Tongue in revolutionary cheek,"
reported the Washington Post,
Radio Venceremos "suggested the
marriage was cooked up not in
heaven but in the salons of El Sal-
vador's wealthy, where it said pa-
trician ladies designated the bride
as a sort of rightist mole to influ-
ence the diplomat"
Radio Venceremos: "On more
than one occasion, the elegant and
hysterical ladies of the already fa-
mous feminine fronts and peace
crusades attacked Hinton in costly
newspaper advertisements," a ref-
erence to the campaign against U.S.
policy by women in the D'Aubuis-
son camp. "However, the oligarchy
realized that while it may not al-
ways be in agreement with imperi-
alism, it is not advisable--particu-
larly for an oligarchy that has al-
ready smelled death-to be at odds
with imperialism. If you can't beat
the enemy, join 'em," the ladies
Accordina to the broadcast's
selected especially for its combat
"The idea was to not let any-
body enter the zone where the
radio was," Comandante Luisa
explained in a written history of
RV. But it was difficult to keep the
radio's existence a secret because
the gasoline motor made a very
loud noise. Hearing the racket,
people from the area told one
another: "They must be making
mezcal up there," referring to the
potent alcoholic extract of the ma-
guey cactus.
satyrical reverie, the ladies began
to play up to the paunchy ambas-
sador: parties, flattery, offers of
money. But Hinton was a hard man
to break.
And so "the big idea, the very
brilliant idea, arose." The author of
the supposed plan remains un-
known, but "in it lay the solution to
the problem of ensnaring Mr. Hin-
ton." The answer: love!
"That was how at an elegant re-
ception, our hero was introduced
to the distinguished and cultured
widow, Patricia de Salaverria, ...
Mr. Hinton fell into the trap. ....
"Now they have announced the
wedding of the golden Ambassa-
dor Hinton and the flower of the
oligarchy, although a little wilted,
Patricia de Salaverria.
"We already imagine Mr. Hinton
answering his adorable Juliet," the
broadcast continued. "'Listen, Hin,
we need military aid.' 'Yes, my
love.'"Listen Hin, the State Depart-
ment should change its policies
toward our country,' 'Yes my love.'
'They should abandon the fish'
[slang term for the Christian Dem-
ocrats]. 'Yes my love.'
"In conclusion, that which the
oligarchy could not win in the dip-
lomatic struggle it has won in the
wedding bed. Congratulations Mr.
Based on Daiy Report-Latin America.
Foreign Broadcasting Information Ser-
vice. February 15. 1983. D. P8
The newly named Radio Ven-
ceremos went on the air for the
first time on January 10. Coman-
dantes Luisa and Mariana had
organized all of the necessary
equipment, tools and spare parts,
ready for any eventuality. They
were backed up by two radio
technicians, Apolonio and Mauri-
cio. Their first assignment was to
broadcast the call for the general
War of Position
Within a month of the first trans-
mission, it became obvious that
the existence of the radio had un-
expected military consequences.
Though the rebel offensive was
not entirely successful, the Salva-
dorean Army immediately grasped
the potential importance of the
radio and went after it. That, in
turn, forced the ERP to reconsider
its strategy, abandoning what
strategists of guerrilla warfare re-
gard as a fundamental principle:
the guerrilla army is always on the
move and never attempts to de-
fend a fixed position.
"The radio forced us to stay in
a particular area," Comandante
Villalobos has written. The mobile
guerrilla units had therefore "to
wear out the enemy and try to pre-
vent them from reaching the area."
Should they fail, then the Salvado-
rean Army "had to arrive so worn
out that soon they would have to
withdraw or at least [so tired] that
we could drive them out."
From July to December 1981,
Radio Venceremos remained the
fundamental objective of the Sal-
vadorean Army. In December, the
Army almost got what it wanted.
"Six thousand troops came, and
with them, a disproportionately
large number of air and artillery
attacks. Their objective was the
annihilation of our headquarters
and of Radio Venceremos," one
member of the radio collective
May/June 1983
41update update update update
Nocturnal Escape
"On December 7 they began
an artillery attack to soften us up
as infantry units advanced on our
positions, trying to surround us.
We were, by then, familiar with this
tactic after many previous experi-
ences. But so were they, and this
time they were more agile and
Quickly it became clear that
"they had surrounded us. They
knew that Venceremos and the
command center were there, and
they began to close the circle.
"Our team [those responsible
for the radio] asked the Command
to let us go on the air, so the enemy
could never say that they had si-
lenced us . . But what was at
stake wasn't just the radio but the
entire war front. It wasn't possible.
"Our defense lines waited for
the order to fire while the entire
camp prepared to try an escape.
When they were 500 meters away,
the compas opened fire. The
shooting was intense. But it only
lasted for a few hours because it
began to get dark and the shoot-
ing stopped."
With the night came the chance
to break the encirclement. It had
to be done silently and quickly.
Many people had to get through.
The heavy components of the ra-
dio slowed the escape.
Rebel observers had noticed a
possible point of penetration where
no troops seemed concentrated,
and toward it in silent march moved
the Command, the military units,
the civilian population and Radio
Venceremos. "The enemy didn't
detect our escape. They were
waiting for the morning assault on
our positions."
The insurgents silently passed
through the encirclement and once
on the other side broke up into
small groups, each going its own
way. "When we were quite far
away, we heard the great gun bat-
tle as they attacked the empty
The RV team was now separated
from the others and protected only
by its security squad. "We had not
gone on the air and many people
feared the worst." With the heavy
equipment, it was slow going as
they advanced toward a safer area.
"The next morning the unex-
pected happened: we fell into an
The Death of "El Muerto"
"It's the ugliest thing that can
happen and we had never experi-
enced it before." Ramiro, a young
campesino from a nearby village
in Morazan, was the first killed.
"He was a radio technician; he
learned here in the mountains and
together with Apolonio and Mauri-
cio had performed magic and
miracles repairing the radio equip-
Javier, responsible for the lo-
gistics of the radio encampment,
fell mortally wounded. Montalvo,
another member of the RV team,
was the third.
"I began to think that they were
going to kill us all, but no. The
Fourth Section of our army took a
little hill and from there guaran-
teed our retreat. But we lost the
El Muerto-the monster radio
lay in the middle of the path rid-
dled with bullets. "The compahero
who was carrying it dropped it
right at the most critical point in
the ambush. Our security forces
went back to get it but it had been
shot to pieces."
Several days later El Salvador's
minister of defense, Gen. Jos6
Guillermo Garcia, told reporters
that the radio had been taken,
and promised to take them to
Moraz6n to see the "captured
Radio Venceremos." "Of course
the trip never happened. .. .Gar-
cia never dared to show the trans-
mitter to the press because no-
body would ever have believed
that that museum piece was Ra-
dio Venceremos."
The radio was silent for three
weeks. The Salvadorean Army
gloated over its victory, and the
supporters of the rebels worried.
On Christmas Eve came the fa-
miliar, "Transmite Radio Vencere-
mos, espresion del poder popu-
lar .... " Regular programming
would begin on the 26th. "Because
it was so old, we had asked for a
substitute," a member of the RV
collective told Senal de Libertad.
"It had come just before the [De-
cember] offensive." With intense
work, Radio Venceremos was back
on the air.
That December attack marked
the last direct threat to the radio.
With the new year the FMLN seized
the initiative in the war and went
on the offensive, a situation which
has not changed.
Radio Venceremos Today
Villalobos: "Today the radio is
protected not only by the forces
that are there to defend it, but also
by the offensive military actions of
the revolutionary movement."
The Salvadorean Army, now
preoccupied with the guerrilla on-
slaught, can no longer dedicate
its energies to the destruction of
Radio Venceremos.
"Since the revolutionary move-
ment has taken the initiative, the
radio has ceased to be the enemy's
principal objective and what they
now do is try to create interfer-
ence," Villalobos has observed.
"They've adopted another form of
struggle because they're con-
vinced that the battle against [the
radio] is going to be won only if
they win the war. If they don't win
the war, the radio is going to con-
tinue on the air until victory."

Tags: El Salvador, FMLN, radio venceremos, communications, guerrillas

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