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Peace Radio
Refuses to
Leave Site
By Tim Rogers
Tico Times Staff
trogers@ticotimes.net

[11-07-2003]

In a surreal and escalating war between two international institutions dedicated to peace, human rights and non-violent conflict resolution, Radio For Peace International this week appealed to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) to intervene in the shortwave station's fight for survival against the United-Nations-created University for Peace (UPEACE).

The legal motion, filed Tuesday and signed by the station's board of directors and former President Rodrigo Carazo, asks the Costa Rican court to order the university to repeal the UPEACE-issued eviction notice and allow the station to continue its worldwide broadcasting on issues of peace and social justice from the university's campus in Ciudad Colón, 25 km west of San José.

The radio station went off the air Wednesday at 11 p.m. - for the first time in 16 years - when the university cut the power to the transmitting building.

In July 2002, the university terminated the operating agreement and gave Radio for Peace 90 days to vacate the land. The university claims Radio for Peace is operating without a legal contract, broadcasting on a pirate shortwave band, has not paid outstanding debts to the university and is not consistent with the moder-nization efforts of UPEACE.

"In the expansion and internationalization of its programs, UPEACE is emphasizing the use of state-of-the-art technologies and the Internet to disseminate knowledge and teaching materials worldwide. As such, UPEACE sees no role for the shortwave transmissions of [Radio for Peace], which are transmitted principally to North America," the university told The Tico Times this week in a prepared statement.

Radio for Peace cofounder and director James Latham dismisses the UPEACE's allegations as: "The same old crap they throw at us again and again and again."

Latham also takes exception to comments that shortwave radio is antiquated, and therefore no longer relevant.

"Such comments show an arrogance toward the rest of the world that is not connected to the Internet and fall on the other side of the digital divide," he said, adding that Radio for Peace's strongest signals are in rural areas in Latin America and the Caribbean. He claims the attempted shutdown of the radio is a form of censorship and a violation of press freedom.

Perhaps the most important issue at the root of the eviction order is the fact that UPEACE wants its land back.

"The University for Peace is now expanding it activities in accordance with its mission from the United Nations General Assembly and is extending the facilities on its campus in Costa Rica to meet the needs of a growing number of students," the UPEACE statement reads.

The eviction deadline was extended several times during the last 15 months, but is now being enforced for the first time, following Radio for Peace's failure to leave by last week's Oct. 31 deadline.

UPEACE went on the offensive this week by ordering university guards to prevent anyone from entering the station, placing barbwire around the station's already-padlocked gate and cutting off telephone and water service to the radio station's building.

Five members of the station, including Latham, remained holed up inside the station at press time, afraid that if they leave they will never be allowed back in and will lose their radio equipment and the building, which was built with private donations raised by Radio for Peace.

The radio station's journalists, who were still broadcasting internationally at press time, were being fed by loyal listeners who slid food through the gate. Buckets that collect rainwater outside the station were being used to provide drinking water.

Watching the university's maintenance staff wrap barbwire around the steel gate - once used to keep cattle out and now serving as an unfriendly reminder that the peace station is no longer welcome at UPEACE - Latham on Tuesday maintained a tragic sense of humor about the situation.

"At least they haven't electrified it yet," he said. On a more serious note, Latham showed the maintenance workers a magazine picture of Jews locked behind barbwire at a Nazi concentration camp and comments: "This is how it starts, my friends."

The university argues that the original 1987 operating agreement was signed between UPEACE and a now-defunct U.S. company called World Peace University, which started Radio for Peace International as a project in the late 1980s. World Peace University left Costa Rica and changed its name, but Radio for Peace continued to operate from the UPEACE campus under the existing agreement.

UPEACE claims it does not recognize the station's right to operate on its premises because Radio for Peace is not a signatory on the agreement.

"No such organization as Radio for Peace International is legally registered either in Costa Rica or in the United States of America. As such, [the radio] has been operating from the land of the UN-affiliated University for Peace without any legal status. The operations were conducted by a small group of individuals living in Costa Rica," the university statement said.

However, the radio has been registered in the U.S. state of Oregon since 1992 as Earth Communications Radio for Peace, a non-governmental organization with 501(C3) status. The radio station is in the process of applying for non-profit status in Costa Rica, explained Emily Morales, Radio for Peace's operations manager.

Radio for Peace International did not always have recognition problems with UPEACE.

According to a document obtained this week by The Tico Times, former Vice-Rector Francisco Barahona issued the station a letter in September 1990 saying: "Radio for Peace International is authorized to construct a new transmitting building and antenna system at the campus of the University for Peace and has exclusive use of said installations."

Although Radio for Peace built its $200,000 two-story transmitting station with funds raised from grants and listeners, the University for Peace has not offered to pay an indemnification for the property, according to Latham, who claims the station doesn't have any money to relocate.

The university's lawyers, meanwhile, claim they can't pay an indemnification to a "non-existent" entity.

Latham dismisses charges that Radio for Peace is broadcasting on illegal shortwave bands, claiming that frequency 7445MHz is an international band registered with the High Frequency Coordi-nation Committee. Since the radio is broadcasting from UN-owned territory, Latham claims he is able to broadcast on international bands (TT, July 25).

The radio station and the UPEACE attempted to resolve their differences in a series of meetings beginning last August (TT, Aug. 1). But the talks collapsed last month when the two sides failed to reach any agreement.

Radio for Peace has sent two letters to UN Secretary General Koffi Annan, but the man who is apparently spearheading the ouster effort is UPEACE President and Under-Secretary General of the UN, Maurice Strong.

Strong, who spends his time at the General Assembly in New York and visits the UPEACE a couple times a year, repeatedly has declined to comment during the last four months.

Latham, meanwhile, continues to scratch his head over a raging conflict between organizations dedicated to peace and human rights.

"The UPEACE teaches Master's courses in conflict resolution. But if they can't do it here, it is going to be even harder in the Middle East," he charged.