Colombian Navy at the Service of the Community
By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo November 15, 2017Colombia is a nation of radio listeners. Despite the advances of means of communication, radio reaches places that other media do not. Given this, the Colombian National Navy (ARC, per its Spanish acronym) opted to create radio stations to counter the propaganda of narcoterrorist groups in the area of Montes de María, in the country’s northern department of Sucre.
The process began in 1997, when the government, through the Ministry of Communications, granted a radio broadcast license to the public force of Colombia, which comprises the military and the National Police. The stations became military broadcasters at the service of the community.
“With the first radio station, and with each one added, the leadership saw the network’s potential and the immediate and positive response from the community,” ARC Chief Petty Officer Edwin Cubillos Fuquen, director of the radio network, told Diálogo. “In response to programming and strategically broadcasted messages, we began to receive information that allowed us to improve operational outcomes.”
The first broadcasting equipment purchased was installed at the 4th Marine Corps Battalion in Corozal, Sucre. At 6 a.m. on August 5th, 1997, Marina Stereo Corozal launched on 99.8 FM playing Colombia’s anthem, followed by the ARC anthem. It was the first of a network that today includes 18 stations broadcasting from strategic points across the country where the Navy is present.
Participatory, cultural, and educational stations
From day one and for its 20 years of uninterrupted broadcasting, the programming followed the network’s mission. Stations air military programs as well as popular, participatory, cultural, and educational messages to strengthen democracy—with fundamental values of national pride, civic-military engagement, and citizen solidarity.
“This is achieved through content designed to connect with communities based on their tastes, responding to their needs and providing information and entertainment that contributes to a better quality of life,” Chief Petty Officer Cubillos said. “In each station, news and music content is adapted to the local customs of the communities from which we transmit. We look after every detail so listeners identify with the station and we become part of their daily lives.”
Station programs were designed to bring residents together. Programs also promote the Military Forces’ comprehensive actions, provide information on state services, and entertain the audience with carefully selected music.
“We have one very important programming that complements another strategy: the transmission of messages directed at guerrillas hidden in the mountains,” said Captain Omar Enrique Soto Aguilera, director of ARC Strategic Communications. “That was a structural reason to establish the Navy radio stations.”
The military knew perfectly well how the stations’ signals penetrated different parts of the country. Along with the thousands of fliers military aircraft scattered over the mountains, the process of inviting guerrillas to return to their families and reintegrate into society began.
“Guerrilla demobilizations grew,” Chief Petty Officer Cubillos said. “A great part of the messages broadcasted were to encourage guerrillas to reintegrate into civilian life.”
The greatest impact, according to Capt. Soto, happened in talks with demobilized guerrillas, when a more direct approach was found. “While meeting with demobilized guerrillas undergoing the process of reintegrating into civilian life, they recommended that we send personalized messages. They gave us names of comrades who wanted out but were still undecided.”
Targeted messages began. The impact on guerrillas who heard their names on the radio was great. They knew the state spoke directly to them. In recent years, nearly 32,000 guerrillas demobilized.
The People's Radio
The ARC stations operate 24 hours a day and transmit at five kilowatts. The Marina Stereo network consists of 17 radio stations transmitting over FM airwaves, plus an internet station out of Bogotá.
All stations have a programming schedule controlled from Bogotá, but are regionalized. Every day, listeners tune in to “Daily Navy Magazine,” a 7:30–9 a.m. program with the most important news. Sixty percent of all programming is music—the remaining 40 percent is news. Feature segments on cultural activities of different regions are frequent.
“I joined the Navy as a journalist and broadcaster. I aspired to join the military through its airwaves. In our travels to far-flung communities with Marina Stereo, I was able to witness the results of the connection between people and ARC,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Morea, one of the radio network’s 70 “crew members.” “The Colombia that listens to our broadcasts is grateful for our services, the solutions, the entertainment, and moments of leisure provided through our programming. They make us feel we’re doing things right.”
“Our content changed. Today, strategic messages are directed at stabilization and peace building. After 20 years, we plan to defend and expand the position gained in all areas [of the country],” Capt. Soto said. “We’re working on developing our programming. Stations not only play a role with civilians, but also our marines. We have to be more effective with our broadcast content daily. We’re working on that.”