Unconventional alliances are emerging in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Among them is the partnership between Russian state media outlet Russia Today (RT) and the Daniel Ortega-Rosario Murillo regime in Nicaragua. This link raises concerns about disinformation and the role of Russian propaganda in the region.
“The union reflects the dynamics of the relationship between Moscow and Managua over the past two decades, which is strengthened by the interests of both the Ortega-Murillo and Vladimir Putin,” Vladimir Rouvinski, associate professor in the Department of Political Studies at Colombia’s Icesi University, told Diálogo on August 27. “One of Russia’s interests, especially in terms of propaganda and disinformation in Latin America, is to strengthen both local and regional alliances. The purpose is to secure an additional channel to exert influence on media and opinion in the region.”
The partnership between RT and the Nicaraguan regime moved forward with a five-day training program in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, for media affiliated with the Nicaraguan Council of Communication and Citizenship, RT’s third approach to the country, German platform DW reported on July 11.
The Council brings together approximately 20 platforms, TV channels, and radio stations in Nicaraguan territory, many of them owned by Ortega and Murillo, Argentine news site Infobae reported.
RT has resources superior to those of Nicaragua as it is a conglomerate with a significant budget, due to the fact that it is part of the Russian state-owned strategic security companies. This gives the Ortega-Murillo regime access to financing and technical capabilities, Rouvinski said.
This chain of interests was established in December 2022 when the Nicaraguan regime, through the aforementioned Council, signed a memorandum of understanding with RT en Español, to “collaborate in the constant search for the truth,” as official Nicaraguan media El 19 Digital reported.
This Russian combination acquired by the Ortega-Murillo regime includes satellite stations, training programs for affiliated journalists, and agreements aimed at exercising control over the use of communication technologies, Infobae reported.
Kremlin-funded media RT and Sputnik promote disinformation and propaganda for the Kremlin’s objectives. They also collaborate with other elements of the ecosystem to amplify false content and spread cyber disinformation, the U.S. State Department indicated in a statement.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, Meta limited its presence on social networks Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, due to a request from the European Union. The latter accused the networks of being components of a disinformation strategy, Infobae reported. However, Russian propaganda and disinformation thrive in Latin America through other channels.
According to Rouvinsky, RT expands its influence in Latin America by taking advantage of the scarcity of non-Western media. It also benefits from limited regional awareness of its actual actions and creates anti-U.S. sentiment through manipulation and promotion tactics.
“A number of specialists discussed the danger of Russia’s strategy in expanding its media in Latin America,” Rouvinsky said. “However, this concern did not reach decision-makers. Their response was to justify it as an exercise of freedom of expression.”
Given that Nicaragua already faces challenges in terms of press freedom and human rights, cooperation between RT and Nicaragua, according to Rouvinsky, could result in the promotion of narratives that reinforce the image of these regimes, further silencing critical voices and blocking the free flow of information.
From 2018 to June 2023 a total of 208 journalists, communicators, and media professionals in Nicaragua were forced into exile due to harassment, threats of arrest, and assaults, mainly perpetrated by police agents, CNN reported. More than 50 media outlets have been confiscated by the Ortega-Murillo regime, according to Nicaraguan daily Prensa Libre.
As for possible measures to counteract the negative impact of these collaborations between RT and the Ortega-Murillo regime, several experts are analyzing the legislation in place in Latin America to safeguard public opinion from information manipulation and deterioration in the quality of information, Rouvinsky said.
“Access to truthful information is a fundamental human right. In this sense, strengthening this right emerges as a viable route to progress. A crucial aspect of this measure is to raise collective awareness of the true nature and transcendence of the media, including alliances such as that between RT and Nicaragua,” Rouvinsky concluded.