Much like its ideological counterparts at HispanTV (Iranian-owned) and Actualidad RT (Russian-owned), Telesur wraps its incitement into a sophisticated and slick twenty-four-hour news platform through its website, broadcasts, and social media presence. Though it is difficult to gauge its influence, numbers suggest that Telesur’s message is impactful. Telesur has two million followers on its Spanish X account, 117,500 on its English X account, and more than half a million on Instagram. Its YouTube account has over 1.7 million subscribers, with 100,000 new subscribers and almost 7.4 million video views since October 7 (It also posts its videos on the Daily Motion).
The network traditionally pushes out conspiracy theories, fake news, “whataboutism,” and disinformation that serve a common agenda: demonize the West, undermine the credibility of Western news outlets, paint Western leaders as hypocrites, and promote a narrative of global resistance against America and its allies. Aware that a worldwide audience of half a billion Spanish speakers—including almost sixty million in the U.S.—could be receptive to its anti-imperialist spin, Telesur began broadcasts in 2005. Since then, Telesur has routinely packaged its allies’ imperialism as resistance, their terrorism as anti-terrorism, and their authoritarianism as democracy. It has platformed conspiracy theorists, like Thierry Meyssan, the French author of the 2002 screed, 9/11: The Big Lie, the earliest 9/11 “truther” libel, accusing the United States of orchestrating the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. It has also peddled anti-Semitic tropes, insinuating that “the Zionist Lobby” manipulates and controls U.S. media, falsely accusing Israelis of trafficking children and Israel of supporting ISIS.
Telesur news coverage since October 7, then, is hardly surprising. However, it has gained a new obsessive intensity, broadcasting a daily media diet of hatred. In its breaking news report on Hamas’ October 7 massacre, Telesur news anchor described that morning’s atrocities as an operation by the Hamas “resistance movement” in response to “continued Israeli aggressions.” The broadcast defined the event as “a new stage in the Palestinian struggle against Zionist occupation.” It then showed its viewers a news segment produced by their Syria-based correspondent, which made no mention of atrocities or Israeli civilian casualties. Telesur’s initial denial and distortion set the stage for the ensuing news coverage, which amplified a pro-Hamas narrative.
For example, after Western media corrected their reporting about Palestinian claims that on October 17, Israel bombarded the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, killing 500 people, Telesur doubled down, relying on a report from Al Jazeera.
Opinion pieces have been even more inflammatory than news segments, consistently espousing bigotry. Telesur commentators have routinely compared Israel to Nazism, denying and, at the same time, justifying the October 7 massacre. On October 9, as the gory details of Hamas atrocities were emerging, a blog entry celebrated them as a “very special page” in the history of the great battles for freedom. On October 15, TeleSur’s special envoy in Lebanon wrote a column entitled “Agony of a macabre implant,” where, after defining Israel as a European colonial-settler “implant” and accusing it of committing genocide, he proceeded to dismiss Hamas’ atrocities, lamenting a “Western media narrative, which focuses on Hamas, and not on the unprecedented fact of the united action of all Palestinian resistance organizations.”
After denial comes the systematic demonization of Israel through the casual recourse to antisemitic tropes, with Israel described as a worthy successor of Nazi Germany.
On October 16, another blog post accused Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of pursuing a final solution in Gaza and pleaded that the international community should not allow “the Jews to continue murdering the Palestinians in their land.”
On October 21, another commentator evoked the old Antisemitic canard of Jewish control of world media to denounce what its author considered a global media coverup of Israel’s genocide in Gaza. Those controlling the “spiral of silence” in the mainstream media were, according to the author, “the transnational Jewish lobby.” On November 3, the theme of a conspiracy of silence orchestrated by Israel, the United States, and “the hegemonic media” recurred in another column. Its goal, thundered the author, was to enable Israel to turn Gaza into “a Palestinian cemetery.” The next day, Telesur published another blog post accusing Israel, whose creation the author described as the machinations of the “international Zionist oligarchy,” of committing “the third largest genocide in history.” And on November 7, Chilean columnist Pablo Jofre Leal (an author frequently posting on HispanTV as well and a government advisor to Gabriel Boric’s ministry of health in Chile) attacked what he labeled “the Ukraine-Israel national socialist-national Zionist alliance,” called the Hamas massacres a “legitimate action of the Palestinian resistance,” and described Israel’s response as a modern version of 1942 Wannsee Conference, the Nazi gathering that finetuned Hitler’s final solution.
Telesur, whose broadcast includes an English language channel and a Washington, DC, based correspondent, continues to spread misinformation and incitement through the ether, the internet, and social media. Washington, whose battle against disinformation has taken multiple steps to curb Russia’s and Iran’s misinformation channels in the anglosphere, seems mostly oblivious to Spanish language propaganda by Maduro’s Venezuela, despite its ability to shape public opinion in Latin America.
Downplaying the importance of the battle of ideas in Spanish will have long-term implications, especially in Latin America, where the Maduro regime continues to leverage a long history of anti-Americanism to its own advantage. Commenting on Russia’s Spanish language propaganda in Latin America, Southern Command’s General Laura J. Richardson recently said, “In 2020, Russia Today (RT)’s Spanish-language media outlets more than doubled their social media followers from 7 million to over 18 million. These disinformation campaigns are just one part of Russia’s broader efforts to influence national elections throughout the region this year.”
With much of the region’s political winds blowing leftward, the pro-Iran and pro-Hamas echo chamber of the Maduro regime should draw as much urgent attention from the White House and State Department as Russia’s disinformation does.
If Washington does wake up to the threat, it can take three initial steps to address it. First, it can slap sanctions against Telesur, much like it did against Iran’s Press TV, for its key role in supporting censorship and televising forced confessions, and Russian state-owned propaganda outlets for their role in Russia’s disinformation campaign. Second, it can lobby the telecom private sector to have Telesur de-platformed. Third, it can appeal to U.S.-based social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, X, the Daily Motion, and YouTube, to ensure they restrict Venezuelan regime disinformation.
The pro-Hamas, pro-Iran disinformation that Telesur spews daily is inflammatory, inciteful, and rife with antisemitic hatred. Telesur should be treated as a foreign state influence operation of the Maduro dictatorship for its continued rhetoric inciting hatred against Jews and driving global antisemitism. It should not be given free rein. Washington has sanctioned similar media disinformation campaigns before. Telesur should not be an exception.