“The hill is no longer called by its own name, but is ‘The Hill of the Antennas’ “

Olivia Johnson

On 5 March we held our third community call for our project focused on strengthening and building healthy information ecosystems in Latin America and the Caribbean. As we think about information needs and accessibility in this work, we are also reflecting on these processes internally. For this call, we decided to hold the event simultaneously in Spanish and Portuguese, with an interpreter, to best accommodate our speakers and audience. 

The topic for this community call was “Dreams of a collective infrastructure for information ecosystems in Latin America.” The theme was inspired by conversations we have been having around the exclusion of historically marginalised groups within the information ecosystem, and initiatives that are focused on bridging the information needs of indigenous and Afro-descendent communities. We were joined by over 20 participants from nine countries in the region to hear from a panel discussion with: 

We are grateful for all those who took the time to share their dreams, initiatives and experiments when it comes to collectively working toward healthier information ecosystems. In this blog we are sharing the main takeaways from the call.

Climate justice must be at the centre of creating stronger information ecosystems 

Multiple panellists emphasised the importance of considering the ecological implications of developing infrastructure. In discussing internet accessibility for indigenous communities in Mexico, Kiado Cruz, from INDIGITAL Initiative in Mexico, reminded us to keep climate justice in mind: In the desire to build more robust infrastructure, he reminded us, we must also consider the eco-political repercussions of these actions. He proposed concepts such as recycling infrastructure, and looking at existing structures to generate new content and ideas. 

Amarilys Llanos, from Movimiento Cesar sin Fracking y Sin Gas in Colombia, also cautioned against adopting extractivist practices in efforts to expand digital rights. She explained that there must be equilibrio, – balance – , in guaranteeing access to information while considering the development of technologies and demand for minerals that would be required to achieve this.

She shared a visual example of how the history and identification of a territory can be lost in the process of introducing technology. From her department of Cesar, a territory near the Sierra Nevada, she says: “I am here, in front of me is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. I see before the mountain range a hill that is full of those telecommunications towers. Already, the hill is no longer called by its own name, but is ‘El Cerro de las Antenas’. In some way all this arrival of technology re-signifies even the identification of our ecosystems.”

This conversation was a helpful reminder that in working to widen access to information and news, there are many ecological and environmental considerations to take into account, and that digital technology is not the sole solution when it comes to creating more fluid information flows. 

Access to meaningful information is still a key barrier

A major focus of the call was to talk about information needs, including devices and broadband access, for many of the communities the speakers work with. Kiado (INDIGITAL Initiative) shared how the digital divide, and lack of affordable tech, devices and internet services continue to impact indigenous communities in Mexico. He raised the issue of costs as a major barrier, with rural communities paying a much higher price for low service, compared to those in cities.

Isapi Rúa from Red Chaco in Bolivia shared how a lack of infrastructure (including broadband and electricity), has resulted in people only being able to access information “little by little” in some instances. This is particularly true for indigenous communities in Bolivia, especially when it comes to accessing environmental information. Ensuring meaningful access that embraces language justice and context-specific content is an important element of building healthier, more inclusive information ecosystems. 

Amarilys Llanos (Movimiento Cesar sin Fracking y Sin Gas) wove in concepts of extractivism and economic power dimensions, in the conversation of who has access to the internet and technology. She shared how even the concept of talking about access to information could be seen as chiste or as a joke; since in some cases people have absolutely no access, and in other cases even when they do have access, that access is conditioned and adjusted to spread dominant narratives of those in economic and/or political power. 

Oscar Parra, from Rutas del Conflicto in Colombia, added that in some areas people only have access to police and army radio stations. Creating narratives outside of official government data through data journalism, collecting victim testimonies, and fostering participatory storytelling, are some of the ways in which Rutas del Conflicto is bridging information needs when it comes to armed conflict and resistance. 

Weaving together cultural and oral traditions with technologies 

Throughout our interviews, many people have used the verb tejer – ‘to weave’ –  to describe elements of collaborations and coalitions. In this call, Isapi brought in the idea of weaving together the work of alternative media and indigenous communicators or people that use communication as a tool to empower their communities to defend their territories. She emphasised indigenous knowledge as key to resolving many social problems related to health and education.

Oscar (Rutas del Conflicto), too, stressed the importance of valuing oral traditions within storytelling, as a crucial element of their work is generating dialogues with the communities they work with. Sometimes oral traditions can be dismissed when discussing access to media infrastructure, but there are many forms of spreading and sharing knowledge that go beyond technologies. In Rutas del Conflicto’s work they have used ecological walks, physical data visualisations and theatre to transmit and exchange information. 

Diverse ways of sharing information, especially in physical spaces, can be powerful in spreading messages. Nina Viera, from (Juízas Negras Para Ontem), presented a video of the participatory campaign she helped curate, which coordinated art exhibitions in streets all over Brazil, to create mobilisation around the demand of having Brazil’s first Black woman judge in the Supremo Tribunal Federal.

This work is particularly disruptive and important, given Brazil’s majority white and masculine dominated government. They reproduced murals featuring artwork from 24 artists across various cities, drawing media attention. Nina shared how using art and collective action led to an issue that was very important for social movements to be discussed in traditional media and become infused in the national “imaginary.” This project used physical space (as well as multimedia) to transmit awareness around an issue to new audiences, invoking new representations of Black women in the media and sparking public conversations. 

Stay up to date with our project (and learn how you can be involved) 

Over the next few months we will continue to be busy writing and sharing our findings on how journalists, communicators, activists and civil society organisations are working together to strengthen and build healthier information ecosystems. Keep an eye on our blog and newsletter for project updates and more info on how you can join us!

As part of this project, our team is also offering free tech and data support to social justice organisations, activists and journalists, if you’re interested, sign up for an introductory call with us.