Latin American Information Sources

Paulo Ramírez, News Research Library, El Mercurio, Chile
1998 SLA News Division Panel: "News Outside the USA".
Indianapolis, June 8, 1998

As professor José María Desantes stated some years ago, Hispanic-American countries com from a "tradition of secrecy", by which the information availability and management is a "learned behavior", and not a completely natural behavior neither in our public powers nor in the private sector. Here we have a recognition of something that has become one more of this years common places: information in power.

Maybe this is what explains the general distrust in front of the first steps of the Internet in our countries, especially those coming from the United States, with that broad and free availability of all kinds of useful information. For someone not used to this tradition of secrecy is hard to imagine the real emotion felt by many journalists when they discover information services on the Internet, particularly those that answer exactly the questions that they have in mind.

Most of our countries are seen as less competitive because of the bad quality of their statistics, and for the same reason it’s hard for international observers to get a common picture of Latin American development. And things only get worse when you enter the Internet: it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to use Newton N. Minow’s expression "a vast wasteland", to portrait Latin American useful information resources on the net.

Apart from the newspapers, some magazines, a handful of international organizations, some governments and a few companies, the "Latin American Internet section" (if something like that really exists) is still a huge collection of advertising brochures, in which the keyword is "presence": to have some kind of presence in the world wide web is seen by many governments and businesses as a sign of technological advancement that could bring advertising benefits.

If the Internet were the only problem, I wouldn’t be talking about a problem at all. Unfortunately, low quality information, and the lack of good methods for spreading it, is something that define our public sector and many public held companies (not to mention completely private companies). In Chile, for instance, the administration of President Frei started three years ago an ambitious project to put all the public sector on the Internet. If now you look at the results, it seems to have been successful, but that’s only an appearance, because most of them are almost empty: they have a home page with pictures of some of the officials, the logo of the service and a couple of phrases that announce the important things they do and the remarkable way in which they have done it. What produced this failure was not lack of interest (in fact, the greater enthusiast of the project developed during two consecutive years the official elections website, with such a success that it became the main source of information for every media. That person, by the way, if not in office any more). The problem is previous and deeper: we just do not have good databases, neither on the Internet nor on any other source (with, of course, a few exemptions, like the central banks, some stock exchanges, and a couple of vendors who sell commercial and financial information).

That’s why the best information sources for Latin America as a whole (which is the way most American media like to look at the region) can be found in the United States and in Europe. Probably the best source is the Economist Intelligence Unit, who sells on paper, on CD ROM, and through the web its Country Reports and Country Profile, with excellent data about Latin American countries. From my point of view, it’s the best source for analysis, particularly comparative analysis. And, of course, they know it, and make us pay for it.

The Library of Congress, in the US, has also a good service (the Country Studies/Area Handbook Program), just as does the Census Bureau in its International Database, as you probably know. If not, the URLs are: and

Anyway, it’s not impossible to find enough good websites to build this Top Ten List for Latin American information on the web:

Latin America on the Internet
The Top Ten List

  1. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

Addresses in the US: and

Publications, Research, Studies, Statistics, Projects, Information about ECLAC, Databases, News.

Examples of current information: Regional Short Term Indicators Data Base (Spanish Only); Statistical Annex, Report 1997, Foreign Investment In Latin America and the Caribbean (Spanish Only); Statistical Appendix, Preliminary Overview of The Economy of Latin America and the Caribbean 1997; Economic Survey of Latin America and the Caribbean 1996-1997.

  1. Red Mundo Latino

More than 800 newspapers and magazines, and probably the best path to get to most of Latin American media. The service also has a classification of the news services, including general press, society, economy, sports, computers, television, and radio.

Be aware that most of these news services are all-Spanish language, but some of them have a small section of news briefs in English.

  1. Inter-American Development Bank

Similar in general content to ECLAC website, IADB includes more sophisticated search tools and excellent databases developed by its Statistics and Quantitative Analysis Unit, "including up-to-date estimates of balance of payments, income distribution and non-financial public sector statistics. Many of them are revised on a monthly basis. It also has a Survey of Financial Systems of the Americas, "a compendium of legal, regulatory and institutional data on the financial markets of the region".

  1. Economatica, Latin American Financial Information

Historical and current database tracking pricing, company reports, and local news on nearly 1,000 securities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. Subscription based service. They also have a dial-up service, also named Economatica, with updated stock and financial data for every public held companies.

  1. EFEData

New database of the Spanish news agency EFE. It’s an all-Spanish language news service with an excellent coverage of Latin American countries. Subscription based service with completely reasonable cost. One of its best features is a biographical database, with thousands of world personalities, many of them from Latin America.

  1. Latin World

This is a complete directory of Internet resources on Latin America and the Caribbean. Classified by regions and countries, with links to many websites in and outside Latin America. Extracts of poems put the "sabor latinoamericano".

  1. Latin American Newsletters

Excellent for breaking news (particularly for economy and financial news), and a good option for purchasing information on Latin America, although it’s based far from the region –in London. The service offers CD’s and online subscriptions for intelligence products.

  1. Organization of American States

Basic documents, publications, speeches, and programs. Information divided by Issues (Integral Development, Democracy, Human Rights, Trade, Environment, and Education) and Major Challenges (Drugs, Corruption, Poverty, Land Mines). Particularly useful for research on drugs and trade issues.

  1. Latin American Information Center (LANIC)

Vastly known and extremely useful site of the University of Texas at Austin. Includes a country and a subject directory of websites, most of them based in Latin American countries. Better than Yahoo! and other search engine directories. 

  1. Political Database of the Americas (Georgetown University)

Database that provides documentary and statistical political information on Latin America, including constitutions, electoral laws, legislative and executive branch information and election data.

1998 News Divison Program
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