Confiscation and exile is the double price paid by the director and some former workers at Radio Vos, formerly a local Matagalpa, Nicaragua radio station. For more than 18 years, the station had offered those in the vicinity a community radio service.
Radio Vos was founded in 2004, thanks to the ideas and dreams of the women’s group known as the Colectivo de Mujeres de Matagalpa [Matagalpa Women’s Collective]. The station was conceived as a way to use the radio to educate young people in that northern Nicaraguan city about their human rights.
Over all these years, the station broadcast via open signal at 101.7 FM. From their modest studios on a Matagalpa side street, the station fostered dozens of youth, training them to broadcast communications that advocated for human rights. They did this both from within the broadcast cabin and live on the streets, reporting news of social interest.
From exile, Argentina Olivas director of the station, recalls the station’s beginnings: “It took us over ten years to get our operating license approved, so we could be heard on the radio dial. We already had a recording studio and people who were in the process of training. There were kids who were studying communication, and some who had been with us from the time they were very little, and who later participated in the training process the radio offered them.”
Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s authoritarian rulers, ordered Radio Vos shuttered in August 2022. A month later, the station facilities were confiscated. The government alleges that the reason for the closure and confiscation were that the radio station gave coverage to the events of 2018 in Matagalpa, when there was brutal government repression there, and in other cities in the country.
“The radio was there on the street [reporting] in May 2018, when there was an attack on the barricades. [During the wave of protest in April-May 2018, demonstrators blocked the streets with makeshift barricades. The government responded by using police and armed paramilitary to violently dismantle them]. So, to a great extent, that triggered the beginning of the harassment of the station and its staff, on the part of sympathizers of the ruling [Sandinista] Party,” Olivas believes.
Rebuilding from exile
The journalist and feminist leader is currently in exile in the United States. She left the country after being cited to appear in June 2021 by the head office of Nicaragua’s Public Prosecutor and answer questions as a media director in the [bogus] government case against the “Violeta Barrios de Chamorro” Foundation.
“I left [Nicaragua] in June 2021. I was afraid they’d put me in prison because I was given a citation to offer declarations at the main office of the Public Prosecutor in Managua. At one time, the [Violeta Barrios] Foundation granted funds to the radio for our productions, equipment, our everyday work, because we’re a radio that defends human rights,” she recalls.
“The fact of not being able to go out on the street in peace, not being able to sleep in peace – but not because you’ve done something wrong – weighs on you. You say to yourself: ‘I know what I’m doing is right. I’m on the right side.’ But that’s not well regarded, that’s not acceptable to them, and that puts you in danger – not only yourself, but your family.”
Like thousands of Nicaraguans who have left the country due to the persecution, threats, confiscations, and banishment imposed by the government, for Argentina Olivas one of the things that’s been the hardest to overcome is being far from a part of her family, who she hasn’t been able to see in person for the past two years.
“I know that my leaving caused them pain. It’s not easy. I believe I’ve gone through a process to adapt, to live well. I have family here, but it’s difficult,” she confesses, without being able to control her tears.
Radio Vos continues to function, now from exile, through the social networks, a website, and by making alliances with other media outlets to resist the censorship imposed in Nicaragua. Nicaragua has seen the closure of all the media outlets not favorable to the dictatorship, and now faces the harsh reality of not having independent journalists in the country.
“I continue to support young people in the process of learning radio skills; I continue looking for economic resources to continue this project… My interest is to be able to give support to other, young journalists, so they can continue doing their work despite the difficulties.”
In exile, Olivas joined journalists Patricia Orozco and Maryorit Guevara in founding the multi-media project Las Comadres, which aims to unite women journalists in different parts of the world. Once freedom has been achieved for her country, she plans to return to rebuild the new Radio Vos.