With Internet connectivity rates around 22 percent, many Central Americans are missing out on the digital revolution’s potential for greater communication. Guatemalan-American journalist and U.S. Fulbright fellow (and AQ blogger) Kara Andrade is working to reverse that trend with a new portal (HablaCentro.com) that allows citizen journalists to upload stories from their cell phones.
Seeking to take advantage of Guatemala’s nearly 80 percent cell phone penetration, Andrade, who emigrated from Bananera, Guatemala, when she was six, created a space for people to upload news and photos on their mobile phones via services like Twitter. “You don’t have to be connected by a computer or at a cyber café to share your story,” says Andrade, who notes content comes via phone and Internet in equal amounts.
She started by launching HablaGuate.com from Antigua, Guatemala, in May 2009. Today, the site boasts 26 bloggers, 40 subscribers and 2,335 visitors per month. The project has inspired editorially independent sister sites in Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, all of which use HablaCentro as a central hub.
Demand has been driven, in part, by tumultuous events in the region. Andrade launched HablaGuate.com after a video surfaced following the murder of Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg. HablaHonduras.com was launched in the wake of the June 2009 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. At the height of the crisis, it received 6,000 hits a day.
Andrade is now wooing cellphone companies to provide Android phones to rural Guatemalans with the goal of them becoming citizen journalists. She hopes the various country sites will become “seed beds” for investigative journalism “…that goes beyond the coverage of foreign media,” as well as produce an income for participants.