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Illustration: Dante Aguilera for GIJN



Investigating in Audio: Nine Standout Podcasts from Latin America

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For a long time, investigative journalism in Latin America was dominated by traditional media platforms and aimed at a niche audience who enjoyed longform stories about corruption, bribery, and impunity scandals.

The job of telling these stories often fell to investigative teams from independent outlets, who felt compelled to strike a deal with a major newspaper, television, or radio station in order to widely publish their work. As a result, big investigations were forced to compete for space and attention in an already crowded news ecosystem. Sometimes, they got lost in oblivion.

When podcasts entered the space, they were predominantly about entertainment and celebrity gossip or talk shows more akin to a conversation between friends, and had little to do with journalism.

But things have changed. Latin American investigative journalism has adapted to new formats, expanded its audience, and has found a way to talk about complex subjects in mass-media formats. What’s more, Latin American podcasts manage to mix traditional reporting with one of the continent’s oldest genres: narrative journalism. Two styles once believed to be antagonistic, combined.

Here, we have selected nine standout investigative journalism podcasts broadcast in the past few years from across Latin America. They recount and re-examine key events, give voice to the victims of violence and repression, and explore the lives of messianic politicians. One even shares the dark plans of a drug lord in his own words.

Retrato Narrado (Narrated Portrait) / Spotify Studios and Revista Piauí 

Country: Brazil

Carol Pires is a journalist who has collaborated with investigative teams at outlets like The New York Times, and is also a screenwriter who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Edge of Democracy.”

Image: Screenshot

Her expertise in covering Brazilian politics led to her creating Retrato Narrado, a podcast that delves into the history of Jair Bolsonaro, a retired military veteran and the former president of Brazil.

Through interviews with his neighbors, former colleagues, and government officials, and by reviewing historical documents dating back to the military dictatorship, the podcast explores the origins of the controversial right-wing politician. How did a resource-poor candidate, the same man who designed his campaign T-shirts himself, end up becoming president of the largest Latin American nation?

Pires manages to reconstruct notable moments in his rise to power, such as the time back in 1988 when Bolsonaro flew a kite filled with electoral pamphlets from a building’s rooftop. The goal was to reach a nearby army base, since after all, his first backers were from the military, like himself.

Después de Ayotzinapa (After Ayotzinapa) / Adonde Media and partners

Country: Mexico

Image: Screenshot

Kate Doyle, an analyst on US policy in Latin America for the pro-transparency nonprofit National Security Archive, is well-known for her work on the construction of historical memory and for spearheading the declassification of official documents. Thanks to her, citizens in Latin America have been able to fill the voids left behind. This is also how Doyle and the reporter Anayansi Díaz-Cortés managed to reconstruct — through previously unpublished testimony of family members, witnesses, retired police officers, and interviews with the former case prosecutor — the story behind the kidnapping of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico.

In this podcast, Mexican journalist Olivia Zerón narrates the disappearance of those students, the Mexican government’s failed investigation into what happened to them, and the parallel research conducted by international experts that revealed that the truth was yet to be told.

¿Quién Mató a Anna Cook? (Who Killed Anna Cook?) / Podium

Country: Chile

For five years, Chilean journalist Rodrigo Fluxá and his team analyzed 400 pages of official documents, gathered audiovisual files from across the country, and carried out 100 interviews to try and answer the question: who killed the DJ Anna Cook?

Image: Screenshot

Ana María Villarroel González — who used the stage name Cook — was admitted to a hospital in Chile on August 2, 2017, after spending a night with friends at the house where she lived. She was taken to hospital by her landlord, who said at the time that he didn’t know her real name. Despite the mysteries surrounding her case, the investigation was initially closed having concluded that her death was due to an overdose with no third parties involved. The story created controversy in Chile, with some fearing her death was a hate crime targeting Cook, a lesbian, with others criticizing what they saw as the failure of the justice system to mobilize in cases like hers.

This podcast reconstructs, through conversations between a journalist and her editor, Cook’s last hours, what she was like, and delves into the key people in her life. They even managed to interview, for the first time ever, three of the people involved with the case, to try and understand what happened to the 26-year-old artist.

Sin Control: El Universo de Javier Milei (Out of Control: The Universe of Javier Milei) / El País and Anfibia

Country: Argentina

Juan Luis González, a political journalist and writer at Argentina’s Revista magazine, recalls his first contact with Javier Milei in 2021, when Milei was just a member of the national legislature who admitted to talking to his dead dog. But despite his eccentricities, Millei was also, step by step, building a new right-wing movement in a country that lived through a far-right military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Image: Screenshot

In 2023, González published his book “The Madman” (“El Loco”), an in-depth investigative story delving into Milei’s world. With him leading the investigation, El País and Anfibia created the podcast Sin Control: El Universo de Javier Milei. Through the testimony of Millei’s friends, militants, political adversaries, and specialists, and by analyzing the politician’s speeches, the podcast reveals how a candidate known for going viral on TikTok managed to create a digital following that ultimately propelled him to the presidency and Argentina’s Casa Rosada.

La Casa Blanca: Destilando Amor (The White House: Distilling Love) / Wondery

Country: Mexico

In 2016, news broke that the mobile phone of the Mexican reporter Rafael Cabrera may have been targeted by Pegasus spyware. Pegasus, which can monitor calls, text messages, track a user’s location, and collect passwords and other data, was developed by Israel’s NSO Group, then a contractor for the Mexican government.

Image: Screenshot

Years earlier, Cabrera had published an investigation revealing the biggest corruption scandal related to then-president Enrique Peña Nieto. The so-called Casa Blanca, or White House, investigation, was a story about how the president and his wife, an actress on Mexico’s biggest TV station, had acquired a luxury home.

Peña Nieto has denied the accusation of spying on journalists. But years on, Cabrera decided to take up the story again in the podcast La Casa Blanca, where he exposes the business deals, allegations of corruption, and the contracts that link the former president’s political party, Partido Revolucionario Institucional, with the NSO Group. The result is a non-fiction story beyond even the best screenwriter’s imagination.

Pablo Escobar: Escape de La Catedral (Pablo Escobar: Escape from La Catedral) / Spotify Studios

Country: Colombia

It was an anonymous gift and unexpected bounty: never-broadcast-before tapes recorded from spying on the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. These secret audio files, received by the production company Detective, contained conversations in which the notorious gangster revealed his criminal plans and chillingly displayed his cutthroat personality.

Image: Screenshot

Through the tapes and the investigation of journalists Patricia Godoy, Meño Larios, Diego Olivares, and Héctor Sarasti, Escobar can be heard in his own words, ordering assassinations. “We need to burn down the houses of the rich,” he would tell his collaborators in his nasal voice, issuing instructions to hit the military, attack the police, judges, and journalists.

This story takes us back to Colombia’s turbulent 1980’s, a period when commercial planes were shot down, politicians murdered, and Escobar infamously escaped from La Catedral, the prison where he was incarcerated after being captured. This podcast is available in English and Spanish.

El Ropero de mis Abuelos (My Grandparents’ Wardrobe) / Radio Ambulante

Country: Paraguay

Olinda Ruiz’s memories of her grandmother aren’t happy – she recalls a cold and racist woman who would tell Olinda to wear long sleeves to stop her from tanning. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Image: Screenshot

Thanks to the investigative work of journalists Cecilia Diwan and Aneris Casassus, this podcast is anchored by an intimate interview with Ruiz, who discovered a terrible family secret thanks to a university project.

After a visit to the Museo de las Memorias in Paraguay, a building that had once been a clandestine detention center, Ruiz discovered that her grandfather, Julián Ruiz Paredes, had worked as a torturer during the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner.

But this story is also about the archives that Ruiz discovered in her grandmother’s closet after her death, which revealed that she too had been an accomplice. The testimonies of survivors of the regime, Ruiz’s mother, brother, and others involved make this investigation perhaps the most emotional of all those on our list.

O Caso Evandro (The Evandro Case) / Projecto Humanos

Country: Brazil

Image: Screenshot

In April 1992, a little boy, Evandro Ramos Caetano, mysteriously went missing in Guaratuba, along the coast of Paraná. Days later, his body was found, but the child’s hands and feet had been amputated and several of his organs were missing. The Brazilian media and the authorities were quick to assume his death was the result of a religious ritual.

The city’s First Lady and her daughter were eventually accused of the crime, after a family member — a former police investigator — accused them of kidnapping and murdering the boy. These accusations were based on speculation, and it would later be revealed that the ex-cop had long-running personal and political disputes with the family. Nevertheless, Beatriz Cordeiro Abagge and her mother, Celina Abagge, were still prosecuted, and infamously branded “the Witches of Guaratuba.”

O Caso Evandro is the result of tireless work by journalist Ivan Mizanzuk who, through the podcast, revisited the investigation. In 2019, after four years working on the story, he obtained mini-cassettes revealing that the suspects in the case had been tortured in custody and forced to take the blame for the crime. In 2023, thanks to Mizanzuk’s work uncovering these tapes, the verdicts were overturned.

Bukele: el Señor de los Sueños (Bukele: The Man From Los Sueños) / Radio Ambulante

Country: El Salvador

This podcast is the result of over 30 interviews and from combing through hundreds of hours of archival material and countless documents. In it, journalists Gabriel Labrador, Silvia Viñas, and Eliezer Budasoff explain who Nayib Bukele is and how a young mayor from a town on the outskirts of the capital became the president of El Salvador. How did Bukele put in place an authoritarian experiment, with draconian security policies enacted at unprecedented speed? This question is answered through flawless investigative work in a podcast that also analyzes how the millennial candidate became Latin America’s youngest president in 2019 and managed to get himself re-elected in 2024 despite critics arguing that his country’s constitution prohibited it.

Laura Sánchez Ley is a Mexican journalist specializing in transparency, security, and the declassification of documents. She is the author of “Aburto: Testimonios desde Almoloya” about the man who went down in history after being convicted for the 1994 assassination of a Mexican presidential candidate. She is currently focused on the project Archivero which aims to open up government case files.

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