BETINHO PRIZE SPECIAL: Communication technologies, weapons against war in Colombia

By AL for APCNews MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 09 October 2006

In the midst of an armed conflict, organising an audiovisual communication workshop for youth does not tend to be a priority for groups working in the area. Nevertheless, for the International Peace Observatory (IPO), a Colombian organisation that was a finalist for the Betinho prize in 2005, it is essential that small farmer communities – who are the first victims of the war – be able to tell their stories.  APCNews spoke to Laura Lorenzi, president of the IPO, about how new technologies can become arms in the struggle against the war. 

Stuck in between paramilitaries and guerrillas

International observers are essential to the peaceful resistance of the small farmers organisations in the armed conflict zones in Colombia. It is precisely these organisations that approached the group to strengthen their work in defence of human rights. But the work of the IPO is not limited to “accompaniment”.  It aims to amplify the voices of the communities through different communication mediums – a voice for denunciations, struggle, as well as for the expression of joy and the celebration of life. 

The IPO works in areas greatly affected by the internal conflict, such as the Magdalena Medio region, where the guerilla and the paramilitaries dispute their zones of influence. “The conflict is real and daily; [the small farmers are witnesses to] disappearances, assassinations, and armed confrontations,” says Laura.  But she emphasises above all that “the people are aware that they do not want to be simply victims, and they want [sic] to defend themselves without the use of arms.”

A new form of political struggle

As such, the communication workshops proposal was seen as a new form of political struggle, especially by the youth. To involve the entire community from the outset, introductory talks were given about independent communication and the importance of building networks.  These were moments of “discussion and reflection in the communities”. Though the older generation was nervous at first, it was not long before they added their enthusiasm to the project.

After these first talks, practical workshops were held on how to handle a video camera and audio recorder. Laura recounts that “these workshops [in which people from ages 12 to 55 participated] are carried out in rural areas, where the trainings are held by day, and at night the entire community is invited to a film forum, led by the participants”.

What exactly is a film forum?  According to the IPO, to be an information producer one also needs to be able to look at the media with a critical eye, and see its limitations and possibilities. The film forums are very much about this: “[they are] spaces where movies and documentaries are screened, discussed and analysed… The aim is to propose an alternative to the soap operas and movies (most of which are from the United States) that are shown on television. It’s also a way to show the social reality and processes of other countries, especially of other parts of Latin America,” explains the Italy-born Lorenzi who has chosen to live in Colombia.

Later the group decides jointly what type of productions they themselves will take on. “In the last one the youth wanted to make a video about the way their own group had come together, and record audio of stories by the elders in the villages,” she continues. The proposals also include written press and photography. The most popular are photography and film, says Laura: “most of the participants don’t like to write”.

The third stage involves training more specifically focused on video editing, which requires substantial technical infrastructure and is carried out in the capital Bogotá. Some members of the group participate: “those who have time, availability and the desire to do so,” she clarifies.

Reflection is part of the praxis at all stages: from the first brainstorm to the distribution of the final product. “The important thing is that they decide as a group what they want to communicate, to whom, and why,” explains Laura. This includes “using communication mediums and strategies that are viable and compatible with the conditions in which they live”.

Telling stories to recover Colombia’s collective memory

Who are these stories aimed at? If there is a community radio in the municipality (township area), they are produced and transmitted for people in the area. Videos are also made for foreign audiences. “Given the political training that they received, the tendency is to direct themselves to people or institutions who could help them solve the problems they face”, she continues. “We try to include elements like recovering collective memory, so we propose productions aimed at the Colombian public.”

The idea, then, is to go beyond political denunciations. The IPO proposes “to produce videos that tell of the day-to-day life in a village, for example, or the life of a man who hauls logs with mules… but the group always has the last word”, she emphasises.

The public, as stated, is varied: from small farmers to international activists. How do they react to these productions? “In Colombian cities a lot of people are surprised by the reality.  Outside of the country, there is also a lot of indignation [videos and photos have been exhibited in Spain, Italy and the United States]. When we showed the film Innocent Voices, one boy told us how paramilitaries had done the same thing to his father,” she said.

As far as information and communication technologies go, one of the objectives of the IPO is to “train [communities] in how to use these tools, and to make them available to them”. She adds, “we think that it is a reality which the communities have a right to”. They believe that it is an essential complement to the communication activities that they are carrying out.  It is a tool for autonomy: “to be able to do audiovisual work they have to know how to edit it, put it on the internet and distribute it”, she concludes.

Technologies, in this area of Colombia, are peaceful arms in the struggle against the war. By showing faces and listening to voices, traditional political organising is combined with a more mass outreach. The audio, image and video files produced by the community are available on the IPO site. Words are no longer necessary. 

Photo: Communication workshop at the IPO.
Credit: IPO

Author: —- (AL for APCNews)
Contact: analia [at]
Source: APCNews
Date: 10/09/2006
Location: MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay
Category: Campaigns

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