Heard about the man who was the only candidate for municipal council and still couldn’t get elected? No? Well, perhaps that’s not so surprising. It happened in Bolivia , and news from that country, whether humorous anecdotes or more serious events, does not rate a mention in most of Britain ‘s media. Beyond Bolivia, Latin America as a whole seems to have fallen into an information black hole that keeps Britons singularly uninformed about events in the part of the American continent that isn’t the United States.
There is no argument about the importance of the USA. Both ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europeans ignore developments there at their own risk, a fact reflected by the amount of media space and correspondent time devoted to the coverage of the United States and its internal and external policies. The real problem is that the rest of the continent, the bits that stretch from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego (not to mention Canada ), appears to have slipped back into the fog from which they emerged, and entered European consciousness, on the day Columbus blundered into the Caribbean.
There has always been some interest in events in Latin America and the Caribbean. The sugar, coffee, and cocoa trade meant that colonial administrators and those with ‘interests’ in the region paid attention to what went on there. That continues. The fullest sources of information in Britain about countries such as Brazil, Argentina or Mexico are publications such as the Financial Times and the Economist, whose readers are more likely to have economic interests in the region.
For readers of the non-financial press, the assumed irrelevance amounts to a news black-out. The Middle East is news, because apart from the humanitarian and social justice concerns, we must perhaps bear some of the historical blame for the carnage and oppression that takes place there. Asia is acknowledged: China and its impact on the global economy can no longer be ignored. But now at least, the press assures us, if the ‘yellow peril’ does materialize, it will be of an acceptable capitalist persuasion. Africa also occupies our attention, again for humanitarian reasons, but also, perhaps, because we and other European powers suffer from a form of post-colonial hangover.
Latin America may feature in the news agendas of the USA, and perhaps Spain and Portugal . But in Britain , and the Andean or Central American countries could easily form a chapter of the Channel 4 series ‘What We Still Don’t Know’. When Latin American issues are covered, reports often bear the mark of fillers and the intellectual level of some pieces is poor. And, of course, there is the issue of political bias. The market coloured glasses of the Economist and Financial Times are obvious.
What is perhaps not so clear, and therefore more problematic, is the perspective of two more ‘progressive’ dailies, the Guardian and the Independent . The papers have no regional staff correspondents. They rely on stringers and agencies such as Reuters and Associated Press (the more progressive Inter Press Service, IPS, isn’t on their list) and copy could be described, generously, as middle of the road: a recent article in the Guardian concerning the de-commissioning of paramilitary fighters in Colombia failed to mention that the ‘Paras’ have been accused of links with the army and the President. The headline of another piece in the same paper in May could even be considered sickly humorous. It read, ‘Chavéz: left-wing dictator or saviour of the poor?’ We can only wonder if this gem would have been published if the subject had been, George W.Bush: right wing dictator or saviour of the rich?
On a more positive note, the BBC, to its credit, does make news available on its web site that in many cases does not appear in the dailies. For instance, there was coverage of the attempted re-trial of Abimael Guzmán, leader of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas in Lima , Peru . But the coverage is still mainstream and First-Worldist. In one report on the Guzmán trial, the BBC writer described some Peruvian journalists as being “as respectful as a bunch of hungry hyenas who have just stumbled on a dead zebra”. While the mainly tabloid Lima press is rightly famous for its blood and sex journalism (deftly portrayed in the Film ‘Tinta Roja’), it is hard to understand the incredulity of a reporter surely not unaware of the table manners of some of the British tabloid press.
The other problem with the BBC web page is that, in terms of reaching a new public, the Internet is used mainly by those already interested in a particular topic. And while the coverage is better, it is still not brilliant. A search of its Americas news site reveals that in the last six months Luiz ‘Lula’ da Silva, President of Brazil, was mentioned only ten times, about the same number as his Peruvian counterpart, Alejandro Toledo. They both fared better than the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, with seven mentions, or Lucio Guttierrez of Ecuador , with only two. For non-official political figures such as the Bolivian indigenous leader Evo Morales, or Subcomandante Marcos of Chiapas , Mexico , the situation is much worse: they didn’t manage a single mention between them.
The most likely explanation for this silence is the acceptance of an informational Monroe Doctrine, a doctrine drafted by John Quincy Adams and put forward by US President Monroe (1817-1825) declaring the American continent to be off-limits to European interests (leaving Africa to Europe). But in an interconnected age in which financial upheavals can cause major impacts on the other side of the globe, where global warming and the social consequences of global ‘free trade’ are major inter-related problems, and poverty is not confined to Asia and Africa, the failure to provide in-depth coverage of Latin America and its over 500 million inhabitants is a disservice to everyone.
In Britain we need to understand more of the civil war in Colombia, the Bush-Chavez battle over Venezuela, the Argentinean battle with the International Monetary Fund, the struggle for a separate indigenous state in Bolivia, and the economic and political contradictions of a Brazil governed by a man whose presidential juggling act reminds one of Tony Blair, despite his solid labour background. Brazil , Venezuela and Bolivia may be half a world away, just like the United States , but that’s no reason to ignore them. Their issues are also ours.
Gerard Coffey, Director of the Ecuadorian bi-monthly, Tintají
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram