Argentina′s ′powerful throat′ gives slums a voice | Globalization | DW | 25.09.2012
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Argentina's 'powerful throat' gives slums a voice

Argentinean slums go mobile: The magazine "La Garganta Poderosa" has gained the support of Leo Messi and Diego Maradona in its fight against media clichés, giving voice to the city's least-privileged inhabitants.

La Garganta Poderosa calendar

La Garganta Poderosa

The camera pans over a seedy labyrinth of tightly stacked houses on a narrow street, zooming in on aggressive-looking people in dirty clothes, possible drug dealers who appear to have just gotten high. Villa Zavaleta, the off-screen reporter says, is territory better left untrodden.

But Alejandra Rojas calls the Villa Zavaleta slum - which lies on the southern edge of Buenos Aires - home. The petite 25-year-old mother of two looks anything but dangerous. But she can certainly be angry.

The so-called investigative report represented the pinnacle of a series of media reports that provided a distorted view of life in the slums, she explained. "Instead of reporting on the context and causes of our problems, our image was just dragged through the mud," Alejandra complained.

"That's why we founded the Garganta Poderosa, to finally let loose a scream," she added.

Voice of the villas

Paola and Romina, the magazine's editors, holding signs

"The fatherland has no mother, it has sisters!" say signs held by editors Paola (l) and Romina (r)

"La Garganta Poderosa," "the powerful throat" in English, is a magazine-format publication, 30 to 40 pages long, which has been put out monthly for about two years.

What makes it unique is that it is developed, written and published by residents of Buenos Aires slums, or villa miseria - another word for shantytown in Argentina. Since the magazine began, circulation has increased from 3,000 to about 20,000 issues - now it's even available on stands in the city's ritzy northern quarters. Not only do sales pay for the magazine's production, they also finance social projects in the villas.

The headquarters of this unlikely success story is a small, graffiti-scrawled house in Villa Zavaleta. Large-format, glossy photos of Eva Perón and Che Guevara hang on the walls, along with a Cuban flag and the title pages of recent editions.

Paola Vallejos, one of the magazine editors, told DW that they wanted to produce a high-quality magazine. "We didn't want to conform to the cliché that all that comes from the bottom up is junk," Paola said, resting her hands on her ample hips.

The project was developed in asambleas, or neighborhood meetings, and collectively planned and financed through street sales, vendors and flea markets. Every week, the office offers photography and writing workshops, often led by university students. Hardly any of the magazine's workers has journalism training.

Plaza Kevin playground encircled by children and adults

La Poderosa helped finance the renovation of the Plaza Kevin playground

Argentina's indignados

In the meantime, the magazine's can boast material that makes other Argentinean editors go green with envy - interviews with stars like the football idols Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona, the Spanish singer Joaquín Sabina, or the Uruguayan poet Eduardo Galeano.

La Poderosa's signature is to have its celebrity subjects appear on the front cover with their mouths wide open. On the back cover, a political message appears: Maradona sending birthday greetings to Fidel Castro, Messi demanding justice for the murder of a labor union activist, or Galeano - author of the book "Open Veins of Latin America" - protesting the contested impeachment of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo.

The media has become addicted to making money off famous figures, one of the workers explained. "We use that. Because behind these faces are real people, not robots, and we appeal to them to support a good cause," he added.

Spanish singer Joaquin Sabina on the cover page of La Garganta Poderosa

Spanish singer Joaquin Sabina on the cover page of "La Garganta Poderosa"

"We're a little like the indignados in Europe: a movement speaking with a single voice," the worker said.

Maradona - one of us

Alejandro, a lanky fellow with a shemagh around his neck, lived on the streets for years. He got through his day with the help of paco, a type of crack cocaine, and watched Maradona guide the Argentinean team through the 2010 World Cup on television through shop windows.

At some point Alejandro became familiar with "La Poderosa" - in English "the powerful one," the collective behind the magazine - named after Che Guevara's motorcycle. Enthused by the magazine concept, the very next day, he sat drinking yerba mate tea with his idol Maradona.

"Someone knew someone, who knew Maradona's medical coach, and suddenly everything went very fast," Alejandro recounted. He still basks in the excitement of that day - and the pride - at having held an interview that was later quoted by nearly all the Argentinean media.

"Diego and I talked about our history of drug use, about family, soccer, the hypocrisy of the media and the business of sports," Alejandro said. "It was like chatting with a friend." Diego told Alejandro that he supports the Poderosa project because he's experienced much of what they've experienced.

Invisible heroes

The "powerful throat" stories tie together issues that are also on the front pages of mainstream media - but they do so from the perspective of the slums, Romina said.

They would love to put images of local people on the front pages: the woman running a soup kitchen for years, the priest who has saved dozens of street kids from drug abuse, or the group that has fought for sewage systems in various villas.

But she acknowledged, winking, that this would sell fewer issues than the Messi covers. Romina is invited as a guest on talk shows, where she speaks not only about the well-known stars, but also the invisible heroes of the villas.

"That ignorant people can be so intelligent - nobody reckoned on that," Romina says. And now, she adds, the media is more careful about how it reports on the villas. Due in part to their powerful throat.

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