In recent months, two similar crises have emerged in two different parts of the world. Both Ukraine and Venezuela have seen a sharp increase in protests and all that comes with such growth of social movements: governmental oppression of the protests, arrests and, in some cases, deaths. The two countries are separated by thousands of miles, but there is another marked difference between the events: media coverage.
A Washington Post article from February demonstrated this trend with a superficial but effective analysis. When they searched the database LexisNexis for mentions of Ukraine and Venezuela on a particular day, they found 10 mentions of Venezuela versus 28 mentions of Ukraine in the Post, as well as 13 mentions of Venezuela and 25 of Ukraine in The New York Times.
There are several potential reasons for this disparity. First, the protests in Ukraine began in November and have included a much higher death toll, while the Venezuelan protests began in February, with fewer people killed. Second, and most importantly, the events in Ukraine involve issues of secession and Russian influence, thereby threatening European stability and many of the U.S.’s closest allies.
But even in this data, which is from only one day, we can see the hints of a larger problem: When it comes to international news and, concurrently, United States foreign policy, Latin America tends to get pushed aside.
Perhaps this is because, in comparison with the rest of the world, Latin America seems relatively stable. Sure, there’s a coup every once in a while, but every country in Latin America—with the exception of Cuba—is run by a democratically elected government. Relative to the U.S. relationships with China, Russia and the Middle East, Latin America seems like it could be put on the back burner.
However, in relegating these issues to a position of less importance, we are forgetting a few key facts. First, Latin America as a whole contains a half billion people, a substantial portion of the world’s population, and they’re growing still. In particular, Brazil’s economy is blossoming, and they are even campaigning for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
The U.S. also has strong economic ties with Latin America, and as the roles of other countries in the international economy grow—particularly China—these countries will begin to have greater political influence in Latin America. If the U.S. continues to pay little attention to our southern neighbors in our policies and media, this may hurt our relationships with these countries in the future.
It’s true that news outlets are limited in how much they can publish, and that our interests are more closely connected to some countries than others. But that does not mean that we as North Americans shouldn’t make an effort to keep up with Central and South Americans—we can’t know when we’ll need their support or economic power to ensure our own future.