Alborada founder and co-editor Pablo Navarrete on ten years of independent coverage of Latin America’s politics, media and culture
Latin America has witnessed tumultuous changes since Alborada began in 2009. Back then, you had the so-called ‘pink tide’ of leftwing governments in power in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia. More than a decade later, of these three, only Venezuela still has a leftwing government; and the raft of progressive reforms being enacted by many of the region’s governments in 2009 have since stalled or been reversed. The reasons for this are manifold, but US government-supported coups and ‘parliamentary coups’ in Bolivia and Brazil and broader policies of regime change and destabilisation against governments Washington disapproves of, have been critical – spearheading a reactionary turn that is intent on destroying the gains of the many for the benefit of the few.
Alborada was born in July 2009 with a documentary screening at the University of London on the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil. Since then, from our base in London, Alborada has highlighted from a leftwing and progressive perspective many of the critical issues and debates affecting the continent to an English-language audience. In 2020 the MST, Latin America’s largest social movement, continues to be an inspiration and lies at the forefront of the resistance to the illegitimate far-right Jair Bolsonaro government.
I founded Alborada to coincide with the release of my first documentary Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela in August 2009 which explored Hugo Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela. February 2009 had marked ten years since Chávez assumed office and his government’s ‘Bolivarian revolution’ to bring radical change to Venezuela had caught the imagination of the Left across the world. I decided to make the film after returning from living in Venezuela in 2007.
My own decision to spend a year and half in Venezuela between 2005 and 2007 stemmed from my desire to see for myself what kind of political process was unfolding in the country. My parents had been forced to leave Chile after the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende and I had been going to Venezuela from the UK since an early age to visit other exiled members of my family. After completing a Masters degree in Latin American politics, I was curious to see for myself what exactly was going on in Venezuela that had so provoked the ire of the US government and the Western political and media classes.
I found a country in the midst of intense changes, with a new constitution heralded for its progressive content. The constitution included rights to traditionally excluded and exploited groups such as Venezuela’s indigenous peoples, giving them a greater say in the political process. Change wasn’t just taking place in spheres of high government. At a grassroots level there were government-supported community radio and television stations being run by young people; neighbourhood assemblies that discussed how to transfer power to the people; government-subsidised supermarkets in the poorest neighbourhoods (where articles of the constitution were explained in cartoon form on the packaging); and a plethora of free cultural festivals and debates about socialism on the streets of the country’s capital Caracas and across the country. All this felt like being transported to another planet, one where social justice and human dignity were a priority.
I also had the privilege of working with the great Australian journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger, on his documentary The War on Democracy, which exposed the US government’s refusal to allow Latin American governments that challenged its dominance the right to live in peace. This experience allowed me to explore both sides of the class war unfolding in a country in which Chávez had said the aim was to build socialism for the 21st century.
My time in Venezuela marked me profoundly and the disconnect between what I saw and what I read and saw in Western corporate and state-supported media outlets, shocked me. These distortions were brought into even sharper focus when compared to the relative media silence to the government-supported atrocities being perpetrated in neighbouring Colombia. The then far-right Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe was a key US and UK government ally receiving billions of dollars of US ‘aid’, yet this received little media scrutiny. Particularly in comparison to the wave of negative press about Venezuela. This helped clarify to me what the real motives of the Western media were was the central driver that lead me to create Alborada.
Alborada is an English-language platform that seeks to both provide fairer coverage of the processes taking place in Latin American countries such as Venezuela, and give due importance to the human rights violations taking place in Western-friendly governments in the region.
The starting point for the journalistic ethos that drives Alborada is to challenge the pro-corporate and neoliberal government-friendly media narratives that dominate English-language reporting on Latin America. In doing so, we highlight the hypocrisy of dominant Western political and media classes when it comes to vilifying official enemies of rich and powerful countries while ignoring or hardly covering the crimes of their allies. I take inspiration from this quote by the Indian writer Arundhati Roy: ‘There is no such thing as the voiceless, only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.’
This is not to say that leftwing and progressive governments in the region should be free from criticism; in fact, providing a platform for responsible critique and debate which reflects a plurality of progressive perspectives is certainly something Alborada has done and plans to continue doing.
I am proud of what Alborada has achieved in these ten years. It has managed to intervene in debates about Latin America at crucial moments, offering an alternative to dominant views on some of the critical issues affecting the region. Documentaries by Alborada Films have been shown around the world, from US universities such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia, through film festivals in Italy, to grassroots screenings in countries like India, Hong Kong, and Paraguay. In London, thousands have attended our events. There is so much more to do to make sure we build on our ability to offer perspectives rarely found in the mainstream.
With the world ravaged by war and reactionary politics, the road ahead can appear very bleak and the fight for a fairer world harder than ever.. Alborada will continue to play its part and will always be on the side of those struggling for social justice in Latin America. The election of progressive governments in Mexico and Argentina and the ongoing resistance by grassroots sectors in Latin America to the rightwing resurgence, shows that hope lies on the horizon.
We want to grow as an instrument that can challenge narratives that serve the enemies of progressive change. Alborada has done this for a more than a decade now and to build on what’s been achieved so far, we need your support. We want to place Alborada at the heart of progressive English-language debate on Latin America. By supporting us, you play an important role in shaping this debate. The communist Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a great supporter of the Allende government butchered by US imperialism, once wrote: ‘You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.’ Forward until spring arrives.
This article features in a new digital magazine published to celebrate ten years of Alborada. To get your free copy click here.