Broadcasting a 24/7 Mix of Punk Rock and Human Rights in Venezuela

Published April 17, 2018

Editor’s note:
At the 2018 Internet Freedom Festival, Loa had a special opportunity to meet with and learn from people amplifying the stories from other countries. Quyên Ngô met with Melanio Escobar of Humano Derecho Radio Estacion of Venezuela. They talk about what it’s like to broadcast a 24/7 mix of punk rock and human rights, often in the midst of a national crisis.

Melanio Escobar on the cover of  ClíMax Magazine . (Photo: Facebook/ Melanio Escobar )

Melanio Escobar on the cover of ClíMax Magazine. (Photo: Facebook/Melanio Escobar)

Quyên Ngô: We’re here at the Internet Freedom Festival 2018, I’m standing with Melanio Escobar from Humano Derecho Radio, thank you so much for joining Loa today.

Melanio Escobar: Thank you for inviting me, it’s a great pleasure for me.

QN: So, briefly can you just give me an overview of what is it that Humano Derecho Radio does?

ME: Well, Humano Derecho Radio is a radio station like the name says that is basically in Caracas, Venezuela and we broadcast all day, punk rock, rock music, alternative music, mix it up with human rights podcast in a very easy and accessible language for young kids to understand what is happening in the human rights world because sometimes when we hear about human rights, we imagine this guy in a suit in a library talking about the declaration but it’s not like that. Anyone can be a human rights defender and that’s what we’re trying to teach to the young people- that they can get involved without being like in a specialist in human rights. We try to mix it up with music to make it a little bit more fun and more attractive. It’s not only a radio station, it’s combined of many products to reach people out.

You know that it’s important to be like diverse, in the kind of, in the ways you transmit you information. There’s many factors you have to consider, there’s so many people that doesn’t have internet access. So maybe having an online radio station, it’s not that accessible for people, more reduced, more [focused] but it’s like the printed version of the content that we share on the radio station. It’s called the Humano Derecho Fanzine and we distribute like in the subway, in the street buses, on the streets, to people directly so they can get the information and they have the same editorial line.

Also we have Humano Derecho Visión, like a YouTube channel where I explain what is happening in politics in Venezuela. It is very hard, I mean keeping up with the politics in Venezuela, it’s crazy it’s like keeping up with, I don’t know, with what Trump says everyday because he says something different each day, well, the same is in Venezuela.

We have developed this project called Humano Derecho Records, it’s a record label that we edit CD’s from protest bands, punk rock bands from Venezuela, rock bands in general that they have a message, that they have like an awareness of songs, lyrics, and we try to not sell it, we try to give it to people for free but in the goal to make awareness of some crisis in Venezuela we invite people to trade CD’s if they wanted. If they want the CD, they have to trade it for a medicine.

In this case, we are trying to do it in the IFF because I want to get people talking about the health crisis in Venezuela. It’s not about how much medicine you can collect. It’s about getting people talking about the crisis in Venezuela, make awareness of it and the best way that we have found to make people getting involved in that problems, it’s trading medicine for a product.

QN: And you operate entirely in Venezuela, is that right?

EM: Yeah, Humano Derecho right now, it’s only in Venezuela but I am lucky to have a very busy international agenda so I try to take the world with what we’re doing in every trip that I have. I manage to get to this conference where human rights activists like you and all people who are here at IFF to try to show what we’re doing. so we’re, I mean, we’re based in Caracas but I like to think that we’re globally.

QN: So when you first came up with this idea, how did you end up making it happen? What are the greatest challenges of starting something like this in Venezuela?

EM: Well the first thing, I was reunited with Rafael Uzcátegui, he’s my partner on this project, he’s the coordinator, from a very successful and long time human rights organization in Venezuela. We were thinking about it, how we get the message to the youngest people so we start to making the podcast. It wasn’t a radio station from the beginning, we were doing like a podcast for two years you know, talking about human rights and mix it up with punk and it was very successful. Young kids started to listen to the podcast and recognizing on the streets, you know “ay I listen to the podcast man, awesome great job!” and we start to exposing people in the interviews that we’d done, we only interview people that is making country, you know, people that’s making good to the country. So when we saw the success, we started to like raise funding to buy the basic equipment and we set up radio station and we start to inviting other organizations in Venezuela to encourage them, you know to inviting them to the radio station trying to do a podcast of their work, of the expertise that they have, and people started doing it, you know? One by one, one by one, and now every radio station in Venezuela has a podcast or a little intervention on their audio.

QN: And in general, this whole idea of mixing punk rock with human rights, it sounds to me, if everyone started doing it, that the receptiveness of people was pretty high. I guess the bulk of your listeners, how do they feel about that, what are the responses that you have gotten?

EM: Well, there’s people that really like punk rock and enjoy everything that’s sounds on the radio but there’s people that’s in the radio for the content, for what we’re talking about and when the punk rock starts, they’re like “Oh man I was listening to this nice interview to this nice lady that was talking about children in the indigenous groups and suddenly they start to play like wah wah wah wah wah I was like wha what am I hearing?” But people take it like something funny, people that doesn’t listen to punk rock or doesn’t like punk rock, they think like “Oh yeah this is something different, yeah I enjoy it."

QN: And so what are your greatest challenges?

EM: Well, well being in Venezuela per se is a great challenge because of the lack of everything. The lack of food, the lack of medicine, the lack of security, the lack of freedom- that’s the most important. And the persecution from the government because every activist is on the look for the government, I think that’s our greatest challenges besides we have the worst internet connection in the world, it’s nothing small what I’m saying-it’s the worst connection in the world, so we have to manage to figure out how we get the podcast online and it’s a 24/7 radio station but we never go on live because the internet connection doesn’t allow us so we have to upload everything to the cloud, you know, that’s the playlist and you listen to everything in fake live, you know we have to record it in the morning and pass it in the afternoon.

QN: And so with all those challenges in mind, what is it that kind of keeps you and your staff doing this?

EM: Because we’re making a change, we’re informing people. The government controls every regular media, I mean, almost every TV station, every newspaper, every radio station. It’s controlled by the government and if the government is not the owner, there are censorship by the government so people doesn’t get the information that they need to be critical of the situation, to get informed, to know what is really happening, so that’s what keep up motivated. Because we need to tell people what is happening. They need a clue of who is responsible for all the shit storm that we have in Venezuela.

QN: Awesome, thank you so much. From one podcast or from one group that amplifies stories from and about Vietnam to another group, thank you so much for sharing your insights and your experience.

EM: No, thank you so much. And hi to everyone who listened!