The unlicensed stations will live under this threat until Guatemala’s congress acts. A bill to make the stations legal is on the voting schedule, but there is no timeline for an actual vote. In August, indigenous activists met with Roberto Alejos, the president of congress, to press for passage, but nothing concrete was resolved. “It’s a high priority of the congress to reform the telecommunications law to include community radio,” Alejos says. “But it does not have sufficient support yet. The risk of losing it in the plenary session is still very real.”

Cultural Survival’s Mark Camp remains hopeful. “You have people from all these community stations getting on the bus, traveling to Guatemala City, waiting in line and telling their congressmen, ‘Hey, I’d like you to support this bill,’ ” he says. “That’s revolutionary. This is only fifteen years after you couldn’t talk politics for fear that you were going to wake up dead.”

In the meantime, Radio Ixchel and its sister stations will continue to operate in legal limbo, their homemade towers dotting the skylines of their tiny villages. “If they take our equipment, we will buy more, because this is something that the people need,” says Anselmo Xunic. “We don’t have fear, because we know we aren’t breaking the law.” 

 

Connor Boals (connorboals.com) is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and VeloNews.