Global Media Perspectives on Panama

Global Media Perspectives on the Crisis in Panama
Edited by Howard M Hensel and Nelson Michaud
2011, Ashgate
299 pages, hardback

A KEY underlying theme in the foreign relations of Latin America and the Caribbean is US unilateralism deriving, for over a century, from dramatically skewed power. It is this unilateralism, and the US propensity to intervene in regional affairs from a position of unassailable power, that has shaped perceptions of the northern giant from the Rio Bravo down to Patagonia. Those perceptions and their many contradictions are an important element of our understanding of a broad range of discourses in Latin America from anti-imperialism and dependency to anti-Americanism. Those discourses are uneven, sometimes contradictory, and often coexist with pro-American sentiments. They are as hard to unpick as they are to explain, but understanding them is crucial if we hope to formulate well-informed opinions on foreign policy in the region. In no single instance have the many fault-lines in our understanding of anti-Americanism in Latin America and across the world come together better than in the invasion of Panama in 1989 at the very end of the Cold War, when a triumphant Washington began to assert itself as the only superpower left standing. This splendid collection edited by Howard Hensel and Nelson Michaud offers a comparative analysis of media coverage of “Operation Just Cause” around the world, and in so doing lays bare the challenges facing US press officers in their daily struggle to turn the tide of suspicion and unease about their government’s global ambitions. The book is divided into six sections, from the first setting the scene, to three sections exploring Soviet, Western and non-Western media perspectives, to two concluding chapters that look at the implications of this coverage for the US. Notable contributions include Sami Aoun’s examination of Arab media coverage of the event and Frederic Mayer’s work on how the Chinese media reported it. It is a little surprising that the editors did not include Latin American perspectives on the Panamanian intervention, although it is no surprise to learn that the invasion went down like a house on fire. But an analysis of the Latin American response would have revealed how media coverage fuelled a sea change in attitudes in the region at a time of great change when states such as Mexico were grappling with the implications for their sovereignty of the end of the Cold War and the prospect – or otherwise – of a new multilateralism. Nonetheless, this is an excellent book that makes a valuable contribution to the study of international relations. – GO’T