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Radio for Peace International Under Siege in Costa Rica

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The only shortwave radio station dedicated to peace and social justice in the Western Hemisphere is under siege by the U.N.-mandated University for Peace, where it is housed. In July, the university served an eviction notice to the radio station staff, who refused to leave. We go to Costa Rica to speak with the station’s CEO from inside the locked studios. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The only shortwave radio station dedicated to peace and social justice in the Western Hemisphere is under siege. Founded in 1987, Radio for Peace International broadcasts Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio News and other independent radio programs, as well as United Nations.

Radio for Peace International is housed on the grounds of the University for Peace, a U.N.-mandated university located in El Rodeo, Costa Rica. On July 21st, the university served an eviction notice to the radio station staff. Armed guards employed by the university locked the station’s access gate and patrolled the premises. They ordered the staff to evacuate the facilities in two weeks. A number of Radio for Peace International employees refused to leave the station. Supporters delivered supplies and food to the locked station, and a group of listeners is collecting donations for a legal defense fund.

Well, yesterday, the United Nations’ University for Peace began to use aggressive means to force the shutdown of the station. At noon, they cut off the water supply to the remaining staff and volunteers holed up in the building. Four hours later, the university cut the telephone line. Security guards have turned away reporters and cameramen who have come out to try to enter the campus. Since the university is owned by the United Nations, they’re claiming immunity from all laws and law enforcement. The station has little power against this major act of censorship.

Joining us on the line—we just got through to him—is James Latham, the CEO of Radio for Peace International. He’s speaking to us from inside the locked studios.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, James.

JAMES LATHAM: Thank you, Amy. It’s good to be here on your show.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what’s happening? I also want to say, we are joined by Studs Terkel, who will be our guest for the hour, but if he has any question for you, he should feel free to ask you. What is happening right now?

JAMES LATHAM: At present, the staff as well as some listeners are inside the building. We have no way to leave or enter. There is guards posted outside. Our water has been cut, as I think you mentioned to the listeners. And the phone lines, as well, were cut yesterday about midday.

We’re going to hold up here and protect the station. We’re very concerned that if we leave, that the station will be shut down permanently, and things will be damaged at the radio station. We’ve been calling on the United Nations and the University for Peace to honor the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, in particular, Article 19 of that declaration, that gives the right for individuals to impart information on media and for individuals to receive that. Our listeners are very concerned that the radio station will be cut off and this very progressive voice will be lost to the international shortwave.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the head of—this trouble started with the new president of the University for Peace, Maurice Strong, the former adviser to the president of the World Bank and head of the council of the World Economic Forum?

JAMES LATHAM: That’s true. The radio station has existed alongside working with the University for Peace for some five administrations in the past, and in very good harmony, helping each other with the projects and such. When Maurice Strong came to the University for Peace in 1999, he indicated to us at that time that there wasn’t going to be any changes. He had heard about the radio station, and since we were self-funded through our listeners, he indicated that he was very pleased at that.

But Radio for Peace International has covered extensively the efforts of the anti-globalization movement around the world and the effects of globalization. And we believe that this goes contrary to the beliefs of Maurice Strong, who is a multi-billionaire, and the whole philosophy of the University for Peace has changed during his three years as president of the council of the University for Peace. So we believe it is this rift that has changed the stance of the University for Peace towards the radio station.

STUDS TERKEL: Mr. Latham, what country are you calling from? What country?

JAMES LATHAM: We’re here—and greetings, Studs Terkel. It’s remarkable and a pleasure to talk to you. We’re calling from Costa Rica. And I’d like to point out that the Costa Rican government has tried to intercede and help us in this issue and provide mediation. They are very concerned about this, being that they are very involved with peace. And the president of Costa Rica has assigned a minister to provide mediation, which is what we want to go into. But the University for Peace has refused that.

STUDS TERKEL: Jim, the reason I asked that question is I thought, for a moment, as you were talking—and Amy’s announcing the news about all this stuff that’s granted to the president of the United States, more and more the Pentagonian work—with one exception, that of the conservative Senator Byrd, the only voice—I thought you were calling from Chile during the time of Pinochet. See, this is the part I find fascinating.

Downstairs—for a moment, if I can make—if I could, for a moment, be a ham actor—downstairs, before coming up to see Amy here at WBAI, I saw a sign. It said, “Wipe out crime.” But I thought it said, “Wipe out cringe.” And suddenly, it occurred to me that the cringing aspect of what is happening in the Senate elsewhere and the cringing aspect of those who are putting you down reminds me of the simple danger of this very moment, that the US PATRIOT Act is at work already, and you and your colleagues are under the gun right there. So, the rest of the world has to know about that, thanks to you and to Amy and to people like here at BAI.


JAMES LATHAM: Well, certainly—yes, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you continue broadcasting, even as you’re locked in there?

JAMES LATHAM: We do, Amy. The transmissions continue to go out. People will be hearing this show very soon over the airwaves of Radio for Peace International. We don’t know how much longer that will happen before they—they manage to cut the power lines coming into the station. So, our listeners may lose the signal very soon. We’re hoping that doesn’t happen. We’re filing an injunction to try to stop this, but the University for Peace is standing behind immunities given it because of its unique connection with the United Nations.

AMY GOODMAN: If people want to help, what can they do?

JAMES LATHAM: Well, they can check out their information on our website. It is We do need funding for our legal defense fund to help, you know, in this case. They can get the word out to as many peace organizations as they can and human rights organizations about this case. We’re also looking for some attorneys that would take the case on in the United States in a pro bono, since we have a—our headquarters are in the United States, and they could help us with that, if anybody knows of a good attorney that would be willing to take on this situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, James Latham, I want to thank you for joining us. And your—what frequency are you at Radio for Peace International?

JAMES LATHAM: OK, on shortwave, we’re at 7445, and we’re broadcasting throughout the night into North America and Europe and all over Central America, and the Caribbean in the daytime.

AMY GOODMAN: If they throw you out, can you go to another site to broadcast?

JAMES LATHAM: It will be very difficult, and the station may have a disruption of some time before we can relocate. The shortwave station is a pretty complex thing, and trying to relocate it is not going to be easy. We have offers for some land to rebuild on, but the buildings that our listeners have built—this building that I’m in right now is something that we can’t take with us, and we have been asking the University for Peace for compensation for that move and compensation for the building, and to this date, they have not offered the radio station any compensation for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, James Latham, I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll continue to talk to you. You’re still in there—that’s right—behind locked doors. You’ve got the Costa Rican government on your side, and the University for Peace, now led by Maurice Strong, trying to throw you out. Thank you for being with us, James Latham, CEO of Radio for Peace International, speaking to us from inside the locked studios of this shortwave radio station, the only one dedicated to peace and social justice in the Western Hemisphere. You are listening to Democracy Now!

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