Russian disinformation campaigns are spreading in Latin America, raising concerns about regional stability, and urging for a thorough evaluation of recent events that indicate a growing Russian presence in the information and geopolitical sphere, Spanish news site El Periódico reported.
The Kremlin is leading efforts to exert influence in the “global south” through the media. This strategy seeks to promote non-progressive values and question the liberal democratic legacy in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, Mexican magazine Letras Libres reported.
Russian media such as Sputnik and RT, are notable examples of this strategy, Letras Libres indicated. Although they are the most visible elements, they are not the only participants in the disinformation war being waged on television, radio, print media, social networks, and the educational field.
Created in 2005, RT emerged as one of the most influential media outside Russia, with expansion in different languages and platforms, focusing its attention on international issues, Mexican daily El Financiero reported. In 2009, it launched its Spanish-language platform, broadcasting 24 hours a day.
It is, however, subject to frequent accusations of broadcasting propaganda in favor of the Kremlin and the communist regime. With more than 200 Spanish-speaking journalists, RT devotes a lot of resources to identify professionals and people with relevant content, to promote false narratives in Latin America, U.S. news site Voice of America reported.
Vladimir Rouvinski, director of the Department of Politics and International Relations at ICESI University in Colombia, told Diálogo on January 17 that “various elements of the Russian state collaborate in a coordinated manner to achieve the same goal: to damage the image of the United States, especially in Latin America.”
This “ecosystem” includes not only the Russian regime-backed media, but also embassies, influential people who promote Putin’s interests and are part of foreign ministries in Latin American countries, cultural institutes, and diasporas in the region, Rouvinski added.
The U.S. State Department found that Moscow is funding a well-structured disinformation campaign in Latin America, seeking to leverage media contacts in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
The objective of the campaign is to secretly manipulate information, taking advantage of the openness of the information and media environment in the region. Russia’s goal is to whitewash its propaganda and disinformation through a vast ecosystem of Russian surrogate websites, individuals, and organizations that appear to be independent news.
“Russia expands its presence in the region with its ecosystem, marking a significant difference with many other international media outlets that compete with RT Actualidad or Sputnik Mundo in the same media niche,” Rouvinski said. “These media lack backing and are not part of an ecosystem similar to that of Russian media.”
Unlike independent and objective media from different countries, including the Americas, RT has a considerable budget and is legally protected under Russian law as a strategic company, ensuring that it always has financial resources, he said. Sputnik Mundo is also in this category.
Since late December 2023, the Kremlin has been financing RT’s participation in the 2024 Mexican presidential elections, “to favor the operation of the Russian espionage apparatus against the U.S. and spread false information for destabilizing purposes,” El Financiero reported on January 11.
RT, previously accused of interfering in elections, such as the 2017 French and 2016 U.S. presidential elections, is stepping up its presence in Mexico City with ads in the subway, airport, buses, pay TV, and social networks proclaiming that “News has no borders,” El Financiero reported.
In relation to Mexico, Rouvinski highlighted three fundamental aspects. First, the country’s unique geographic position as a neighbor of the United States makes it a prime target of the Russian strategy to disinform the U.S. citizenry from there.
Second, Russian elements have been increasing present in Mexico starting in 2023. In addition, he points out that the presence of RT ads is not by chance. At the same time, Russian companies have returned to Mexico, even reopening previously closed business offices.
He also noted that in the electoral context, RT can play a significant role, as evidenced by the protests in Panama in November 2023, which got prominent coverage through this channel. “However in Mexico, with its deep-rooted democratic tradition, RT’s influence may be more challenging,” Rouvinski said.
In some Latin American regions, local media seek to mirror RT’s influence. One example is Telesur, a state-owned broadcasting company of the Venezuelan regime, which broadcasts numerous stories that cast a positive light on Russia and a negative one on the West, according to the Wilson Center, a Washington-based nonpartisan organization.
Lack of awareness
Faced with the advance of the Russian media ecosystem in Latin America, it is essential to understand and counteract its influences, Rouvinski said. “Russian media managed to infiltrate the region by disguising their appearance as freedom of expression. However, the lack of awareness of the true nature of these media among Latin American leaders and public opinion poses a significant threat.”
As such, local governments must use the legal tools available to address disinformation and mitigate the impact of the Russian media, Rouvinski concluded.