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Opinion: Guatemalan scandal shows how the media is misrepresenting Latin America

Guatemala “has been plunged into a Constitutional Crisis,” TIME Magazine tells us. The article lists all the reasons why it appears President Jimmy Morales is driving both himself and his country on a downward spiral. Morales comes off as a highly ineffective President causing major international dissent.

As a Guatemalan citizen myself, I know there’s another side to this story. The international media fails to cover Latin America with nuance. Instead it sees a controversial decision Morales made last month in stark black-and-white terms.

Morales ordered the removal of the head of a United Nations anti-corruption committee. The U.N. committee, called CICIG in Spanish, was led by Colombian judge Ivan Velasquez, who in 2015 was responsible for impeaching and imprisoning both the then-President and Vice President on corruption charges. His committee has been highly praised. Guatemalans hoped he could singlehandedly strengthen the government’s ethics.

However, there’s reasonable evidence that suggests Velasquez also has skeletons in his closet, which the international media routinely fail to recognize. He’s been accused of trying to change our Constitution, of accepting bribes from leftist political parties and of having his own hidden agenda.

At this point, it’s hard to know who’s right and who’s wrong. Both parties are acting sketchy. The issue here is not whether these men are guilty, but the lack of proper coverage by the U.S. media.

Although most of what they write is true, it’s not always fair. Media companies are choosing their public’s interest at the expense of accuracy, preying on America’s obsession with scandals. The media’s inaccurate portrayal of Latin American countries is creating filter bubbles that completely misrepresent the region.

Articles about the current Guatemalan situation highlight the groups protesting against the President and the reasons why the international community expresses its dissent. Hardly anyone, however, will discuss the reasons why hundreds of Guatemalans are demonstrating in favor of the President’s decision to remove Velasquez. The hashtag #YoSiTengoPresidente (I do have a President) and #FueraIvan (Get out Ivan) have become popular among Guatemalans. Instead of reporting on the division created by such a controversial decision, the increased anxiety as Guatemalans wonder what comes next, or the UN’s reactions to the events; they solely vilified the President, his decision, and his supporters.

Sometimes it feels like they’re getting paid by Velasquez himself to heap praise on him. And given that the United States financially supports the U.N commission, maybe it should be clear by now why coverage seems to support America’s viewpoint. By now it’s a recurrent theme: Whenever the media has a small window to positively portray the United States, they skew their reporting toward the side their country is rooting for without even bothering to explain the other one.

In February, The New York Times published an article about Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri changing the country’s immigration laws. “Argentina’s Trump-Like Immigration Order Rattles South America,” was the headline. We know many people only read an article’s title and skim the rest, so headlines matter. And this one is a complete insult to both Mauricio Macri and his country. His policy was nowhere near as extreme as Trump’s; in fact, a big chunk of the population actually agreed with it. And the comparison between him and Trump’s travel bans is so implausible, I even find it comical. They were trying to make a connection where there clearly isn’t one.

Don’t get me wrong, not everything is biased. Latin America is plagued with corrupt governments and bad policies. There’s no denying it. And the fact these issues are being covered is inspiring, and I’m grateful that they don’t stop Latin America from being represented. Exposing all these issues starts a conversation that will, we hope, lead to change.

But sometimes, they start the wrong conversations.

They vilify our governments and profit from our economic problems. As some of the most reputable news sources in the world, these media outlets should be setting examples and making sure they get every side to the story. Not even taking the time to interview and give a voice to the other side of the argument feeds into a biased narrative that only benefits the United States’ agenda over Latin America.

When people read the news about my country, they’re always perplexed. They cannot believe that that kind of stuff actually happens.

And I have to keep repeating, over and over and over again: “It’s not as bad as they make it seem.”

Categories: Opinion.

Miranda is from Guatemala. She's currently in LA pursuing a degree in journalism with a minor in cinematic arts. She's the editor for the International Desk at USC, and she's passionate about underreported stories about Latin America. She also enjoys binge-watching TV shows, running and writing, writing, writing.