While Western sanctions have done much to curb Russia’s misinformation in the English-speaking world, as Emanuele Ottolenghi documents, Kremlin-funded channels continue to shape public opinion in Latin America, with the active support of Iran and Venezuela. There Internet and satellite platforms continue to broadcast conspiracy theories and falsehoods aimed at demonizing the West. Ottolenghi argues that this “battle of ideas in Spanish will have long-term implications,” particularly considering the string of presidential elections coming up in Latin American countries allied with the West. Ottolenghi also proposes a series of initial steps Washington might take to counter pervasive misinformation campaigns.
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.
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.