Advertisements in Mexico City with the suggestive slogan “News has no borders” invite Mexicans to contact the Russian propaganda network RT. Campaigns of ridicule similar to those used by the Kremlin when it defected were launched against Chilean President Gabriel Buric, the only significant leftist leader in Latin America who condemns the invasion of Ukraine. Former presidents with a populist ideology such as Ecuadorian Rafael Correa join the list of interlocutors on Vladimir Putin's international channel.
Such scenes, already unthinkable in the European Union or the United States due to Moscow's propaganda media veto, remain common in Latin America. From Mexico to Argentina, the Spanish-speaking continent is now an open space for the Kremlin's disinformation campaigns. Led by the Spanish language departments of RT and the agency Spútnik, a vast communication ecosystem made up of columnists, bloggers, and politicians, and supported by the fruits of Russian embassies, distributes and amplifies content and narratives favored by Russia, contributing to the region's sensitivity to intervention in the Ukrainian conflict. “They want neutrality; the inaction of Latin American countries is a victory for them,” asserts Douglas Farah, president of IBI Consultans and co-author of Las campaignañas de influencia rusa en Latinoamérica, the most recent and comprehensive report ever prepared. now.
Figures regarding the weight of the RT-Sputnik tandem leave no doubt. According to another study conducted by Spanish researcher Daniel Iriarte entitled RT in Spanish: How Russian Disinformation Reaches 500 Million Spanish Speakers, in 2018 18 million people watched Russian television. Its weight on networks is also significant: in 2021, RT's Spanish-language Twitter account reached 3.2 million followers, while its Facebook followers numbered about 18 million, a number similar to the number of visitors to its website, most of them in Mexico, Venezuela and Venezuela. Argentina and Colombia.
It is also a feedback phenomenon. On the one hand, “far-left governments are opening their doors and signing agreements to include RT in their networks,” notes Iria Boyosa, a senior researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Laboratory.
This broad presence, coupled with the perception of being a “legitimate” media outlet that conveys a “different” point of view, ultimately leads to influencing decisions regarding the war in Ukraine, explains Vladimir Rovinsky, director of the Department of Policy and International Relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Colombian ICESI University: “They create doubts, they say that the United States or Europe is also guilty and that Putin is partly right; this ultimately limits the politicians who make the decisions.”
The narratives of this disinformation ecosystem have fertile ground on a continent with fragile democracies and have long been treated as the backyard of the United States of America. “They convey the message that liberal democracy is nothing more than a tool for Washington to consolidate its hegemony and present Russia as a friendly ally interested in regional development,” Farah says.
A year ago, Victoria Vorontsova, director of RT's Spanish-language channel, arrived in Managua with a team of collaborators. Their mission is to implement a “training” program for local journalists, according to what was reported by the official Nicaraguan press. Thus, the results of “this cooperation” are in sight, according to Javier Meléndez, security analyst at Expediente Abierto. Prominent Nicaraguan propagandists, such as William Grigsby of his radio program La Primerísima, imitate their Russian television counterparts such as Vladimir Solovyov or Yevgeny Popov in style and content. Among other fake news, Grisby asserted, at the beginning of the dispute, that Russian forces had not destroyed “a single village, house or civilian building.”
Nicaragua, a country ruled by a family dictatorship, where independent journalism ceased to exist due to the repression of the Daniel Ortega regime, has great similarities with Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko, and has become the “gateway from Russia” to Central America, especially to the countries. “Like Honduras.” According to Melendez, between 1,500 and 2,000 Russians operate in the small country, whether they are part of intelligence, training security forces or working on the mysterious global navigation satellite system that Russia inaugurated in 2017 at Lake Negapa in Managua.
Mexico, my favorite.
RT in Mexico City has its largest correspondent in Latin America, which many locals believe is disproportionate to its workload. As soon as the decree expelling more than 400 Russian diplomats in Europe was issued, the government of Mexico, headed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), increased the number of employees with diplomatic passports working in the Russian Legation by 80%, according to Doula. Estevez reported to Egy's central portal, a complaint that earned her a massive smear campaign on networks promoted by the embassy. With a porous border with the United States, and “one in three Mexican families have relatives” in the northern neighbour, as journalist Veronica Calderon recalls, it was clear that the Kremlin would focus its propaganda efforts on the more populous Spanish-speaking country.
The results of this activity go beyond AMLO's neutrality in the war in Ukraine. Newspapers like La Jornada are openly pro-Russian, use the same vocabulary as the Kremlin and describe the conflict as a special military operation for months. John M. Ackerman, a university professor and columnist with more than 800,000 followers on Twitter, published a column in defense of the network titled “We Are All RT” on Rotary shortly after RT was banned in Europe. Even the prestigious Mexican Journalists' Club has repeatedly awarded Russian media outlets. A special surprise was the awarding of an award to three RT employees in 2022 for their coverage of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
In 2014, the former President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, in a video conference with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, announced an audiovisual cooperation agreement that included the inclusion of RT in the open digital television network. From that moment on, its signal can be seen openly and for free in most Argentine territories. “So that all Argentines can know the real Russia, and all Russians the real Argentina,” the former head of state celebrated. Eight years have passed, and the charter is still in place, despite experts and representatives describing it as a “privilege” paid for by the taxpayer. “RT is broadcast throughout Argentina without any compensation,” explains José Cretaz, a professor, researcher in business and media economics and contributor to the newspaper La Nacion. In Argentina, the spread of digital television is limited, but its information “raises controversy on the networks.” He says.
Mauricio Macri's attempts to amend the terms of the relationship led to a crisis between Moscow and Buenos Aires, with threats from Russia to cut off vital Argentine exports. RT has a staffed office in Puerto Madero, one of the most exclusive areas of Buenos Aires. “There was Calais in the dojo. I will never get a salary like that again. We had technology that neither Al Jazeera nor TVE had,” recalls a former producer who preferred to remain anonymous. n
“Freelance social media evangelist. Organizer. Certified student. Music maven.”