- Community Radio in Bolivia: The Miners’ Radio Stations
Following a military coup in 1980, tin miners, Bolivia's most militant and organized social force at that time, shared information and attempted to coordinate resistance in different regions of the country using the radio stations owned and operated principally by local miners' union groups. A moving transcript of the dramatic and tense communications among three miners' stations is one of the features that makes this edited collection on the unique miners' radio network such a rich and valuable contribution to the literature on alternative media and their relationship to social and political movements. This transcript and the book's other materials have been translated into English for the first time by editor Alan O'Connor, who has assembled contributions from an impressive mix of Bolivian and other Latin American authors, including communication practitioners as well as distinguished academics.
The collection describes the stations' rapid growth in mining communities mobilized by the nationalist revolution of 1952 and their decline or demise after 1988 when the closure of the mines disrupted and dispersed the communities that had sustained them. It emphasizes the diversity and independence of the more than 20 stations that became what contributor Gumucio Dragon describes as "a paradigm of community and participatory media" (p. 131). What emerges clearly from the history of the stations' role as open political, social, and cultural spaces, their repeated closure by repressive military regimes, and the miners' tenacious struggle for their [End Page 672] restoration is the importance for social movements of decentralized means of communication democratically organized at the grassroots level and the vital role of community radio as a public sphere, particularly in places with limited economic resources and technological infrastructures. This Bolivian case compellingly demonstrates that some of the most important examples of democratic communication come from courageous and creative experiences in the South that have not received sufficient attention in the North.
The Introduction helpfully situates this groundbreaking Bolivian experience of self-managed, participatory, grassroots communication in the context of the international debate underway during the late 1970s and early 1980s over creating a New World Information and Communication Order based on the democratization of national and international communication systems. However, it does not provide a comparable overview of relevant Bolivian political history, particularly the revolution of 1952 and the subsequent cycles of military coups and social struggles for democracy. Nor does it describe the role of tin as the lifeblood of the Bolivian economy for approximately a century, a historical context that would have more fully illuminated the key role of organized tin miners in Bolivian political and social struggles during the period under consideration. While much of this information emerges in fragmentary form in the individual chapters, introductory overviews of these topics would have been extremely useful. Other additions that would have assisted readers are a map showing the locations of the radio stations, a political chronology of Bolivia's complex succession of military and civilian governments with periods of radio station closure noted, and a list identifying major political and union figures who are referred to on many occasions without any identifying information. However, the excellent bibliography provides ample resources for readers desiring additional background.
The book is particularly timely given the recent election of Evo Morales as Bolivia's first indigenous president, whose challenges to U.S. policy, transnational interests, and domestic elites have propelled this often-neglected country into the headlines. Although this volume's consideration of miners' radio stands as a major contribution to Latin American and media studies in its own right, its in-depth analysis of that earlier era's social struggles also provides an important historical foundation for understanding the contemporary Bolivian movements that constitute Morales' social base.
Latin American Perspectives