Latin American media cover war on Ukraine through local political divides

Pilar Marrero | Ethnic Media Services
Kyiv, the Capital of Ukraine. Photo Credit: Gleb Albovsky / Unsplash

Local politics, historical resentments, and economic realities have driven reactions in Latin America to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and that includes how media in the continent are covering -and editorializing about- the conflict.

In Latin America, the closest Russian allies – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – have offered the most support by blaming NATO and the West for the events. They have directly benefitted from Russia’s economic support, and sanctions against that country can affect their livelihood.

In each of those countries, freedom of the press is severely limited, but a few dissenting voices can still be heard on the editorial pages of newspapers such as El Nacional, from Venezuela, for example.

However, most Venezuelan media, including former opposition TV station Globovision (bought years ago by a pro regime figure), newspaper Ultimas Noticias and global network Telesur, keep their information clean of any bloody images in Ukraine.

In their pages and social media, one can read about the “humanitarian aid” Russia has sent Ukraine, and about peace negotiations. Telesur regularly shares the same pro-Russia propaganda that one can read in Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, two official Russian outlets, which have operations in Spanish.

“It’s hard for me to find real independent media in Venezuela”, said Joshua Collins, a freelance journalist covering Colombia and Venezuela who is based in Bogotá. “Telesur essentially repeats RT propaganda”

The opposite occurs in neighboring Colombia. “The coverage here is pretty sympathetic of the Ukraine. Everyone knows Colombia´s closest ally in the world is the US but you can also see coverage as extensions of the political party or ideology,” said Collins.

Radio Caracol´s owner, for example, is the biggest donor to the party of the current president, Ivan Duque. “They are kind of covering it the same way Duque talks, he likes to talk about forceful military solutions.”

Center left media, such as El Espectador in Bogotá, are opposed to any type of intervention, he added, although they aren´t defending Russia or expressing a pro-Russia line.

Meanwhile, Mexican media and journalists have expressed a variety of positions about the conflict, much of it reflective of ideology and how much of the traditional “anti-Americanism” (Anti-USA) that opinion contains.

“Mexico is a country with a strong current of anti-American opinion based on well-known historical resentments,” said journalist Dolia Estevez, a regular commentator for Mexico´s Noticias MVS and a contributor to Poder Magazine.

Contempt for the US translates into defense of Putin and his war, she added.

The President of Mexico has not joined in condemnation or support of Russia, arguing that he supports “nonintervention”.

But on social media, a variety of influencers -who may or may not be financed by the government and who usually support official positions – are showing support for Russia and spreading disinformation that echoes some of the Russian propaganda. The very active twitter account of the Russian Embassy in Mexico constantly engages in criticism of the Mexican media that reports the news in Ukraine.

In Cuba, the media reflect the official position of the government, said Jesus Hernandez Cuellar, editor of Contacto Magazine in Los Angeles.  “The alternative view is outside of Cuba, with one exception, digital newspaper which is led by Yoani Sanchez.”

Sanchez became world-famous via her blog years ago and her outlet is the only one inside Cuba that has covered stories and contains opinion pieces that are critical of Russia.

“Her newspaper covered this story about a Cuban baseball player that offered to fight for Ukraine after taking his family out of that country,” Hernandez said. “That would not have been a story that any Cuban outlet in the island would cover at all.”

Local politics and opinions regarding controversial president Nayib Bukele dominate the media in El Salvador, said Roger Lindo, an independent journalist living in the capital and writing for the online magazine Barracuda Literaria.

“El Salvador was one of the nations that abstained at the U.N. from condemning the invasion,” said Lindo. “Bukele was closer to the US at the beginning of his government, but he has moved away from it and gotten closer to Russia, seeking to evade the financial systems of the West”.

Bukele has been promoting Bitcoin as a legal currency of his country and that has not gone his way, he said.

Most media in the central American country have been critical of both Russia and Bukele.

“Very few Salvadorean outlets have a different position than that of the west and they have used Bukele´s increasing closeness to Russia as a hammer against him,” Lindo explained.