“Brothers or Others?” Building Opinions of Latin American Migrants in Uruguay

Background: With the Latin American political crises, Uruguay has seen a sharp increase in immigrants and refugees over the last year. A country mostly of European migrants’ descendants, one proud of its migrant history and known for its human-rights based migratory policy, presumption was that Uruguay was a haven for forced migrants. It was perceived that Uruguay’s Syrian Refugee Program failed in 2016/17 because the refugees were an anthropological misfit for Uruguayan society. However, recent Venezuelan, Dominican and Cuban immigration shows Uruguayan xenophobia to ‘brothers’ as well. Better qualified Venezuelans are subject to social rejection, while Dominicans and Cubans are associated with pressures on social services and criminality. Uruguayan memory of its 1973 dictatorship and associated emigration is very fresh in collective memory, but media fail to connect similarities between Uruguayan history and current realities of Latin American countries. The migration process faces a governability crisis, and both, the current government and opposition, seem reluctant to address the issue of immigration, public opinion of migrants and migration, in their debates or public communication. Thus, the media and its presentation of immigrants are highly subject to editorial alignment of media organizations. In absence of active, positive opinion-building or communication from political leaders, the Uruguayan society is taking its cues from media to build its opinions. Objective: The paper analyzes the coverage of immigrants and migration in leading Uruguayan press, its contribution to opinion building and the possible role media could play in changing poor public opinion of immigrants and assisting integration efforts. Methodology: This research paper will compare Latin American immigration coverage to Uruguay, in 3 newspapers supported by different political parties, over a period of six months in 2017-18, when forced migrants’ numbers were greatest. Comparative framing and priming will be combined with John Galtung’s “Peace Journalism” perspective, to see where media takes inflammatory and provocative stances. Interviews with editors, reporters, public opinion-building experts, refugees and social anthropologists, representatives of political parties, and government departments managing immigration, will also be included.

Maria Ahmad /Universidad de la Republica del Uruguay