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August 18, 2007

Coups and Earthquakes

By Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons

For those of you who do not know my blog, I write primarily about Latin America with a special interest in Brazil (more about me here). So, while Ezrinho is revisiting his raizes brasileiras, he was kind enough to ask me to fill in.

Matt Yglesias made the following comment here about Wednesday's earthquake in Peru:

I have nothing to say about it, but it seems wrong not to recognize these tragedies and their victims.

Of course it's not wrong to recognize these tragedies and their victims. What is wrong is that so much of what we hear in the news about Latin America involves these sorts of tragedies and political upheaval.

In the early 1980's I read a book that profoundly changed my view of how media in the US report the developing world back to us. The book, Coups and Earthquakes was written by Mort Rosenblum and it was a compelling analysis of media coverage in the US of the world outside the US and Europe. The title essentially reiterates the MSM focus on the developing world.

Unfortunately, precious little has changed. Google "bus plunge" and you'll see what I mean. Do the same with "coup de etat" or "strongman dictator" and you'll get the idea. How many media outlets report the fact that Brazil is leading the way in developing smaller commercial jets via Embraer and created 247 jobs in Ft. Lauderdale? How often do we hear that Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) is the world's leading miner of iron ore? Before Hugo Chávez, how often did the MSM mention that Citgo was owned by PDVSA, the state-owned oil company of Venezuela? Much was made of the fact that in Michael Moore's film Sicko, that the US was just ahead of Slovenia in terms of health care, but I don't recall anyone mentioning that the US was just behind Costa Rica. Has anyone heard any mention that Banco Bradesco was the third bank in the world to provide online banking to its customers in 1996?

Admittedly, much of this wonkish, but it bears pointing out. I hope in my short stay here to perhaps dispel some myths about and spur some interest in Latin America.

August 18, 2007 in Foreign Policy, Media | Permalink

Comments

....perhaps i am wrong, but outside of discussions on energy independence, rain forest concerns, carnavale, plastic surgery, urban crime and brazilian jazz of the sixties and seventies, there is not much familiarity with brazil, in general.

i am looking forward to reading your posts here, and glad to have discovered your site.
i think this will be a great opportunity!

Posted by: jacqueline | Aug 18, 2007 12:49:47 PM

I've been reading your site for quite a while, having a long-standing interest in Latin America. (My parents were both professors of Spanish, and I spent a lot of time in Mexico growing up.) Your point about media bias is a good one. I also think we're so intent on thinking of ourselves as the "good guys" that we willfully ignore the destructive impact of many of our policies on LA. Most Americans don't know about the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954; our role in destabilizing Chile in 1970; our support of numerous caudillos in the region, or our support of the death squads in Guatemala and El Salvador, and of the contras in Nicuaraga (sp?). We've visited a lot of pain on those people, often for no particularly good reason.

Posted by: beckya57 | Aug 18, 2007 2:20:03 PM

Of course it's not wrong to recognize these tragedies and their victims. What is wrong is that so much of what we hear in the news about Latin America involves these sorts of tragedies and political upheaval.

I wonder how Africans feel...

Posted by: Stephen B | Aug 18, 2007 2:45:51 PM

Welcome, Randy.

I'm someone who lived through the early-70's military coup in Honduras (it was a relatively bloodless one, thankfully) and moved to the States shortly before a nasty hurricane washed away one of the bridges we traveled almost daily, rendering countless families homeless and helpless. Yet TV and newspapers in Miami were oddly bereft of stories about my previous home and its citizens--we relied on pricey overseas calls to check up on friends and know what was needed in the way of help.

North America is a young, young nation, and it's at once a hopeful, optimistic society and a self-centered one that sometimes suffers from acute tunnel vision. The great thing these days, though, is that there's a wide open forum for voices, for ideas, for messages of all kinds. I"m so glad you're on board, and I look forward to reading Latin-American-focused blogging here.

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 18, 2007 4:40:19 PM

I don't see this as a matter of bias, or unfair bias. News is naturally focussed on powerful countries, things affecting us, celebrities and disasters. And car chases.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 18, 2007 5:16:05 PM

I'm also glad to have discovered your site and am happy to see you posting here. As someone who has a deep interest in sub-Saharan African politics (and who hopes to start a blog on the subject in the near future - your site is a good inspiration!), I can definitely relate to the criticisms you've leveled at the mainstream media here. I've also been disappointed, however, that the mainstream of the blogosphere devotes very little attention to world affairs - especially in poor countries - except when reacting to mainstream media coverage. This means that even issues that have important ramifications for U.S. foreign policy get largely ignored by progressives. I believe that a truly "progressive" movement needs to take an interest not only in domestic policies (and Iraq) but also the important political, social, and economic developments happening around the globe. Your site looks like a great step in that direction - keep up the good work!

Posted by: Elwood | Aug 18, 2007 9:50:09 PM

Elwood and All,

Thanks for the kind words.

Stephen B,

Couldn't agree more.

Sanpete,

The nations of Latin America and the Caribbean are our leading trading partners as well as our nearest neighbors. Colombia is our third largest recipient of foreign aid. There's much more to these nations than sensationalism.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 18, 2007 10:21:31 PM

Randy Paul,

Welcome. I see, you met the village "commander guy".

I look forward to reading your diaries here and on your site. I find it extremely frustrating catching up on the Latin American news with the traditional tree-based media. And Univision with PrimerImpacto type news is doing Latin Americans a huge disfavor by validating all the stereotypes Americans have of Latina/os. Happy to learn that you are out there in the internets.

Posted by: jncam | Aug 19, 2007 2:08:24 AM

Randy Paul,

Welcome. I see, you met the village "commander guy".

I look forward to reading your diaries here and on your site. I find it extremely frustrating catching up on the Latin American news with the traditional tree-based media. And Univision with PrimerImpacto type news is doing Latin Americans a huge disfavor by validating all the stereotypes Americans have of Latina/os. Happy to learn that you are out there in the internets.

Posted by: jncam | Aug 19, 2007 2:09:37 AM

Randy Paul,

Welcome. I see, you met the village "commander guy".

I look forward to reading your diaries here and on your site. I find it extremely frustrating catching up on the Latin American news with the traditional tree-based media. And Univision with PrimerImpacto type news is doing Latin Americans a huge disfavor by validating all the stereotypes Americans have of Latina/os. Happy to learn that you are out there in the internets.

Posted by: jncam | Aug 19, 2007 2:10:52 AM

Is it me or is typepad loosing it? I did not post 2x.

Posted by: jncam | Aug 19, 2007 2:12:32 AM

Randy, Mexico is a top trading partner (currently number 3), but no other Latin American or Caribbean country is in the top 10. (Sometimes Venezuela's oil gets it to number 10 in a given month, and Brazil was number 10 one month in the last year.) Mexico is very important to us in various ways, and we hear a good deal about it. The others we hear about as much about as other countries of comparable size and influence. There is some attention to Columbia in regard to the drug war and related matters, which is responsible for all that foreign aid--we probably hear more about Columbia in that regard than we do Egypt, but we hear much more about Israel, because of our strong connections there. This seems right to me.

This isn't to say all these countries aren't important and interesting, but there are lots and lots of other nations. I look forward to learning more from your posts.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 19, 2007 2:15:28 AM

This isn't to say all these countries aren't important and interesting, but there are lots and lots of other nations.

One would note, though, that the Monroe Doctrine doesn't apply to lots and lots of those other nations, and that the Monroe Doctrine still applies in US dealings with the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

Of course, all foreign coverage concerning regions not currently hosting the US military, large numbers of US tourists, or large numbers of Israelis is useless. This is, however, not some 'natural' tendency of news, but a learned helplessness that can be treated with a dose or two of other countries' news coverage.

If everyone in Brazil stopped speaking their funny language and learned English, things might be different. At very least, a few dozen Americans might realise it has a population of nearly 200 million in area greater than the lower 48.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Aug 19, 2007 3:30:13 AM

Pseudo, when the Monroe Doctrine becomes an issue, then we hear about the particulars. It isn't an issue at the moment. I don't think speaking English has much to do with it. We have a great deal of coverage of China and Russia. There are quite a few English speakers in Bangladesh, and much published in English there, but we hear very little. Brazil gets little attention because it doesn't affect us as much as some other countries. That may change as Brazil's influence grows.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 19, 2007 4:06:58 AM

Sanpete,

In the aggregate they are.

Brazil gets little attention because it doesn't affect us as much as some other countries.

Ask the US cotton industry.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 19, 2007 11:52:57 AM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 7:43:29 AM

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