Strenuous U.S. efforts to encourage free-trade agreements in Latin America would lead one to believe that the election of a pro-CAFTA Nobel Peace Prize winner in a friendly Central American country would merit an article or two in the main stream U.S. press. One would be mistaken.
Today former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias returned to power with 45% of the vote, enough for him to avoid a runoff. So far (I write this at 10:15pm) Reuters is the only English-language source covering the event, and I was only able to find that article after Googling Costa Rica in the news section. The very next article that sprang up was on luxury condos in Guanacaste.
Of course, anyone that can read Spanish could visit La Nacion (CR) for the latest results, if they were even aware that the election was taking place today. However, U.S. coverage of Latin America is dominated by Hugo Chavez’ latest antics and the threat of Daniel Ortega returning to power in Nicaragua.
One of the effects of 9/11 was that U.S. citizens began to notice the world beyond our borders, and to take a greater interest in foreign affairs. Though primarily focused on events in the Middle East, the consumption of public radio, international publications, and television coverage of world events skyrocketed, bringing new perspectives and information about world events to our living rooms. This also brought a hope, however tentative, that increased international awareness might make the U.S. a smarter nation that might develop a smarter foreign policy.
As I write this, the three headlines on CNN.com’s section for the Americas are ‘Brazil: 3 Crushed in Rush to Get Autographs’, ‘Washington: U.S. Kicks Out Venezuelan Envoy’, and ‘Venezuela: Hamas to Tour South America’. Apart from being almost comical, “The World’s News Leader” has demonstrated that U.S. public interest in Latin America is confined to the sensational. Perhaps if Arias were a militant leftist, or if the elections were marred by violence, CNN would find it fit to cover. As it stands, the U.S. public will remain unaware that a successful election in a marvelous Central American country just changed the course of that region’s history.