As investigations continue on the Russian government’s attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, new elements are emerging that allow us to gauge the magnitude of this intervention. One of these is the revelation of the House Intelligence Committee that Russian agents bought thousands of Facebook ads aimed at the Latino community. These ads were intended to intensify racial tensions in the country.
Sadly, foreign electoral interventionism is not new. The United States has a long history of attempts to influence presidential elections in other countries– 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to research by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University.
The expert says that this number does not include coups, nor the efforts to change governments after the election of candidates who did not agree with U.S. interests, as was the case in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile in the 1970s and 1980s.
Meanwhile, Russia tried to influence 36 foreign elections since the end of World War II, according to Levin’s data. This means that from the middle of the 20th century until the arrival of the new millennium, these two powers intervened in some presidential election in approximately one of every nine countries in the world.
One might think that this interventionism was limited to the Cold War (1947-1991) during which capitalists and communists sought to join allied governments; but history reminds us otherwise.
At the beginning of the 20th century, before the existence of the Soviet Union, there were the widely documented “banana wars,” a series of military occupations, police actions, and economic interventions by the United States in Central America and the Caribbean. The goal was to have governments that favored U.S. business interests.
Between 1903 and 1937, there were shameful incidents of interventionism orchestrated by the United States, such as the separation of Panama from Colombia, and the coup in Honduras at the request of the United Fruit Company so that the corporation could save taxes with a “friendlier” government.
In her book “Hard Choices,” former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that her office influenced Honduran politics so that the elected candidate, Manuel Zelaya, did not return to the presidency after the 2009 military coup. This generated institutional instability and gave way to a new era of repression and anarchy.
In 2016, it was the Russians who sought to alter the political landscape by exploiting the prevailing prejudices and division in the United States. According to a USA Today analysis, Russian agents developed and purchased about 3,500 Facebook ads related to immigration.
These ads were directed at two groups: first, users who had shown interest in Latino culture with messages in favor of immigration, and second, users who supported the anti-immigrant policies of Donald Trump. Most of the ads were published after the election and were seen millions of times.
The best way to avoid being a pawn in the chess game of obscure political interests is to be well-informed. People who use critical thinking and who are aware of what is happening in their community and in the world will be less susceptible to falling into the trap of manipulators.