Since the beginning of the 'pink tide' in Latin America, much of the international media have been actively smearing progressive Latin American countries.
These media outlets, who have the means to reach global audiences, selectively report the news in what some consider to be an effort to destabilize leftist governments that dare to challenge the economic privileges of big business, banks and financial corporations.
Several South American leaders have argued that private media discredit their governments as parts of plots to overthrow them and replace them with governments more aligned with U.S. interests.
Late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned of this repeatedly, and in 2002 this materialized into a short-lived coup. The coup was broadcast live and media were shown to have played an active role, deliberately distorting information to the Venezuelan public as well as to the international community in order to justify the usurpation of democracy in the country. Though the coup failed, media attacks against Chavez continued, and have now focused intensely on his successor, President Nicolas Maduro.
Since taking office in 2007, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has also been the target of a media smear campaign both within and outside of the country. Correa has not only championed laws to democratize media in order to break up the power of monopolies, but he has also been vocal in calling out the attacks on his and other progressive governments.
"Do you think really that the difficult situations (faced by) Dilma Rousseff ... in Brazil, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Cristina Fernandez in Argentina and the difficulties that Evo Morales has had in Bolivia before winning an overwhelming majority, are all accidental?," Correa told a groups of reporters in 2015. "They are all leaders of leftist governments ... None of this happens to right-wing leaders."
The Goal: End Latin American Integration
According to Argentine writer and journalist Stella Calloni, the United States needs a "disciplined" Latin America that will submit to the U.S. governments political and economic interests. To achieve this, the U.S. has launched a media campaign to recover the control it once held over South American countries.
It is no coincidence that Latin America began receiving attention from major international media when countries started to move away from the neoliberal capitalist model.
Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador for became the targets of media attacks when elected, progressive leaders, pushed back against U.S.-promoted intiatives like the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas interests and instead began projects for regional integration such as UNASUR, ALBA, Mercosur and Petrocaribe.
For the analyst Beto Almeida, the United States felt threatened because "Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela are finding another way to shape the future of Latin America, one of solidarity and cooperation. These attacks attempt to stop the continuation of Latin American integration."
Smear Campaign Against Ecuador
Ecuador has experienced an intense media offensive against President Rafael Correa’s government and the Citizen Revolution.
The Correa government has spearheaded numerous efforts challenging powerful sectors including: the closure of the U.S. military base in Manta; the proposed increase of inheritance taxes; the government’s public condemnation of Chevron’s environmental crimes in the Amazon; the support Ecuador provided to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, who revealed U.S. global espionage as well as human rights abuses; and the passing of a Communications Law that redistributes TV and radio frequencies.
U.S. Military Out of Ecuador
The press attacks against Ecuador intensified after Sep. 18, 2009, when the country closed the U.S. military base in Manta established in 1999 under the pretext of fighting drug trafficking in South America.
Manta served as a base for Plan Colombia, an agreement signed between Colombia and the United States under Colombian President Andres Pastrana, purportedly as a program to boost economic alternatives to the drug trade. The real aim was to install U.S. forces in the country and undertake counterinsurgency efforts.
The media attacks against Correa were predicted by then-President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, who said: "The Yankee empire will never forgive Rafael Correa for kicking them out of Manta and launching the Citizen’s Revolution." A year later, on September 30, 2010, there was an attempted coup in Ecuador by sectors of the military and police. Some in the local and international media attempted to deny a coup attempt had taken place, while the U.S. government simply stated they were watching the situation "closely."
The Law That Hit the Top 2%
In 2015, the president of Ecuador introduced changes to the country's inheritance law, proposing an increase that would affect less than 2 percent of high income earning Ecuadoreans.
Under the proposal, more than 98 percent would pay no inheritance tax at all.
"The proposed Inheritance Law will not affect low income families or that of the people’s economy, but rather seek to democratize property ownership in Ecuador," said President Correa in June 2015.
However, the media manipulated information, suggesting the law would impact everyone – even those with little or no inheritance – and was actually a disguised effort to increase government revenue.
The right wing launched violent protests, calling for Correa's ouster.
In June 2015, the Ecuadorean head of state announced a national debate on the law to prevent further violence in the country as well as to educate the public on the content of the proposal.
Support for Snowden and Assange
Whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden earned worldwide attention for exposing the global espionage networks set up by the United States. Both were also supported by Ecuador, with Assange being granted asylum and Snowden being offered the same.
Assange is the founder of the website WikiLeaks, which published more than 76,000 secret documents from the Pentagon and U.S. State Department. In 2006, the site upset many officials in the United States by releasing videos of Iraqi and Afghan civilians killed by U.S. military.
Since June 19, 2012, Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London after being sought for 'questioning' by Swedish authorities.
In June 2013, Edward Snowden leaked classified files to The Washington Post and The Guardian, revealing a massive spying program against leaders and citizens worldwide, run by the U.S. and U.K. governments.
The former NSA agent sought political asylum in Ecuador and President Rafael Correa said he was willing to consider the request. However, Snowden’s passport was canceled and since August 2013, he has taken refuge in Russia.
For Argentine journalist Calloni, Correa’s support for Assange and Snowden was a direct challenge to the United States, sparking fierce media attacks from both national and foreign outlets.
"The media attacks we have received from the world are incredible!" Correa said in 2013, adding that "what is really important is what Snowden has revealed" — not his government’s decision to grant Snowden political asylum.
The director of the Ecuadorean daily El Telegrafo, Orlando Perez, said the United States tried to distract the press from its global espionage. "Here we are questioning the countries Snowden goes to and not questioning the U.S. over its espionage."
"If the U.S. had not spied, it would not have committed the great crime of violating the privacy of its citizens, of the citizens of the world, of governments, parliaments and their own media, in which case there would be no Snowden. That’s why what should be discussed is why the U.S. has done what it has done," Perez said.
Chevron’s Campaign Against Its Victims
From 1964 to 1990, the multinational Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001) extracted oil from the Ecuadorean Amazon. During that time, the company also dumped more than 16 million gallons of oil and toxic waste into the regions soil and rivers as a cost-saving measure.
Ecuador showed that Chevron contaminated 5 million cubic meters of land, opening approximately 1,000 pools and pits where it deposited 64 million liters of oil and 71 million liters of waste — without any environmental treatment. The contamination has caused cancer rates to skyrocket.
In 2011, an Ecuadorean court ordered the company to pay billions in compensation. Two years later, the Supreme Court of Ecuador ratified the lower court’s decision and set the cost of compensation and remediation at US$9.5 billion.
The multinational refused to pay and immediately began a media smear campaign against the South American country. President Correa has argued the attacks were retaliation for exposing Chevron’s environmental crimes.
On March 18, 2014, The Guardian published an article revealing that in 2008, strategist Sam Singer sent out a memorandum to Chevron with tips on how to discredit Ecuador’s government and institutions, suggesting the company call Ecuador's judiciary "corrupt" while also attacking the plaintiffs.
The Media Strategy
Correa's administration also legislated changes to the country's communications laws, which included a distribution of airwaves to communities, in an effort to democratize media. The law has been ardently opposed by private media and right-wing politicians in the country.
Similar laws in countries like Argentina raised the ire of the country's Clarin group, and were among the first laws to be scrapped by the conservative government of Mauricio Macri.
The culmination of these actions has been to present Ecuador and its government as undemocratic, authoritarian and aligned with other countries presented in a similar light (namely Cuba, China, Russia and Iran).
Through the ill-named National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, public funds from the United States began to be directed at NGO's like Participacion Ciudadana, who collect information and organize opposition groups and individuals. In addition to groups like Participacion Ciudadana, whose official mandate is to promote transparency in government, NED funds flow to opposition media organizations like Fundamedios.
In total, almost US$1 million go to funding the operations of groups like Participacion Ciudadana as well as media like Plan V, Fundamedios and others. These groups devote their time and resources not only to turning Ecuadorean public opinion against the government, but also towards influencing Latin American and the U.S. media, especially foreign correspondents, reporters and even bloggers and opinion writers.
Promoting the idea that a government is bad and unpopular is essential to the objective of overthrowing it.