The Kremlin’s Latin American Echo Chamber
On March 6, a ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine collapsed, as Russian forces shelled humanitarian corridors for Ukrainian civilians fleeing their besieged cities. But not according to TeleSur, the propaganda network of Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, nor according to HispanTV, Iran’s Spanish-language news channel. Within hours of each other, the two networks blamed “Ukrainian extremist forces” for blocking Russian humanitarian assistance and using civilians as human shields, amplifying the Kremlin’s fake news. This was not a one-off, but part of a pattern of deception where Russia invents a lie and its allied networks amplify it. When Russia, for example, accused the U.S. of having established bioweapons labs in Ukraine and then implicated President Biden’s son, Hunter, in the plot, both HispanTV and TeleSur peddled the same conspiracies on their platforms.
To be sure, Russia’s main conduit for propaganda in Spanish is Russia Today’s Spanish language channel, Actualidad RT. But Vladimir Putin’s Ministry of Truth can also count on TeleSur and HispanTV, whose broadcasts to Spanish-speaking audiences are closely intertwined with Russia’s. They are the Kremlin’s Spanish-speaking echo-chamber. Western media have (correctly) exposed far-right Russian proxies in Europe and North America. In Latin America, the useful idiots occupy the opposite end of the political spectrum: They fancy themselves an anti-imperialist “resistance” front led by Caracas and Tehran.
The trio of Spanish language media networks controlled by Iran, Russia, and Venezuela push out conspiracy theories, fake news, whataboutism, and disinformation that serve a common agenda: demonize the West, undermine the credibility of Western news outlets, paint Western leaders as hypocrites, and promote a narrative of global resistance against America and its allies. Aware that a global audience of 500 million Spanish speakers—including almost 60 million in the U.S. — would be receptive to their anti-imperialist spin, these propaganda outlets entered the Spanish language arena relatively early—TeleSur in 2005, Russia Today (RT) in 2009, and HispanTV in 2012. They package their imperialism as resistance, their terrorism as anti-terrorism, and their authoritarianism as democracy.
Latin America has always been a fertile ground for conspiratorial worldviews, radical causes, romanticized views of resistance to imperialism, and anti-Americanism. Russia’s propaganda, and its Iranian and Venezuelan counterparts, is potentially more damaging than their English-language counterparts in a region where many countries still have a tenuous democratic tradition, mistrust in the media is widespread, and many outlets are owned by tycoons-turned-politicians whose news production serves their masters, not the public. In this environment, the Iran-Russia-Venezuela echo chamber is offering 24/7 news that appears independent. Local audiences are receptive to their vehemently anti-American counternarrative, no doubt, thanks in part to Washington’s checkered past in the region as an imperial power that often prioritized anti-Communism over democracy and human rights. But the echo chamber goes beyond reminding their viewers of bad “gringos” and their past misdeeds. After all, it uses anti-imperialist rhetoric to justify the much darker imperialism of China, Iran, and Russia.