Caracas, Venezuela, April 4, 2006—The 5th National Convention of the National Association of Free & Alternative Community Media (ANMCLA) was held this past weekend at the Olympic Village in Valencia. Over 600 individuals attended the 3-day meeting from 18 states across Venezuela to, “a public communications system in the hands of the community,” according to one of the conference’s declarations.
The participants belonged to various alternative media from community radio to audio-visual or performance collectives which composes the more than 300 community media projects associated with ANMCLA.
Among plenary sessions and short musical or theatrical performances, participants attended round-table workshops on audio-visual production and multimedia strategies. Discussions and debates were also held on the future of ANMCLA and proposals for a grassroots school for communicators, a telecommunications cooperative, and the Alternative New Agency, from which members of ANMCLA could distribute and receive the latest information from their communities across the country.
In line with one of the more important themes from this year’s convention, of creating unity with all grassroots struggles, members of other Venezuelan social movements also participated in the meetings, including the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front, the National Worker’s Union (UNT), and indigenous communities struggling against the state exploration of coal in indigenous lands.
Speaking in her native language, Angela, an indigenous campesina from the state of Zulia called out to the packed auditorium, “You are my family… and we will continue to struggle together for our America and most importantly for our ANMCLA… and I ask that you support us in our territory in the state of Zulia. No to Coal, yes to land, water and dignity!”
The event was not without its share of inconveniences and irregularities, with the distribution of food and housing to the hundreds of participants sometimes taking long hours. But as one member explained, “Every time I come to one of these events, I always say I’m not going to go back, and 10 days later I can’t wait for the next meeting.”
Overall, most participants were pleased with the results where nearly all proposals from the roundtable discussions were overwhelmingly approved with little debate in the full ANMCLA assembly.
Carlos Lugo, one of the founders of ANMCLA and a representative of the Negro Primero community radio in Caracas said, “One of the most important things to come out of this meeting is the consolidation of our movement. There was a large youth presence this weekend and a lot of people who came were new, which means that we are growing.”
Although the US government has recently critiqued the Chavez administration for curtailing freedom of speech in Venezuela, according to Lugo, the majority of ANMCLA community radios have formed within the past couple of years, resulting in an increase in community media outlets. Many stations have also received support from the national government in the form of equipment, housing and other financial resources.
While ANMCLA and its members support President Chavez and the Bolivarian Process, defense of community sovereignty and grassroots self-governance was highlighted at the convention. Numerous members, reports, and proposals stressed the importance of developing plans to sustain and finance the various community media projects without support from the state.