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 company. 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 40 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 province. 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 Morazan. 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- camaya. 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 concluded. Accordina to the broadcast's selected especially for its combat skill. "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. Hinton." 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 offensive. 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 I 41update update update update recalls. 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 compact." 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 42 way. "When we were quite far away, we heard the great gun bat- tle as they attacked the empty trenches." 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 ambush." 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- ment." 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 transmitter." 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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