Last month, Oliver Stone’s “South of the Border” made its American debut. The documentary’s focus is Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who Stone believes has been cruelly demonized in Western media.
In the “documentary,” Stone offers absolutely no criticism of Chavez or the other six left-wing Latin American presidents he interviews. While he takes nothing the U.S. governments says at face value, the left-wing Latin American leaders can tell no lie, most especially Chavez.
For proof of the Western media’s perfidy in covering the sometimes clownish Venezuelan leader, Stone shows some loose-lipped cable news commentators calling Chavez a dictator. To a certain extent Stone has a point. Chavez is not a dictator — yet. But Chavez surely aspires to that position and plenty of people seriously doubt, including myself, whether Chavez would ever peacefully give up power.
And I think Stone must agree, even though he doesn’t say this outright, because of all the praise he throws at the left-wing leaders he interviews in his movie, he seems to suggest that Cuba is the ideal model. He even asks Cuban President Raul Castro if he believes himself to be the “godfather” of Latin America’s left-wing alliance.
Cuba, of course, is hardly the paradigm of liberal values and democratic institutions. It has been a dictatorship for well over half a century. For most of that time, Fidel Castro ruled the roost. For the last several years since Fidel has taken ill, his brother Raul has been in charge. As for freedom in Cuba? Let’s just say there aren’t too many Cuban Oliver Stones living in Havana making antagonistic films about their government.
But Stone is on a mission to whitewash Chavez’s moves toward totalitarianism. His clamping down on the media and nationalizations of private companies are enthusiastically justified. Don’t you know that the media stations Chavez shut down said nasty things about Chavez? And the nationalizations were necessary because of the legacy of Western economic imperialism. Chavez, we are told, is simply a man who wants the best for his people and his country.
After all, Stone has “never seen such energy” in a person. The director is awed that after he interviewed Chavez late into the night, he learns that Chavez supposedly went back to work afterward. And he is stunned to discover that Chavez spends his reading time imbibing dense policy books. Ordinary mortals read for pleasure. Chavez is too busy furthering the Bolivarian Revolution for such luxury.
Stone doesn’t even attempt skepticism in this film. Everything he learns from Chavez he takes hook, line and sinker. Left-wing Latin American leaders never do anything wrong. America is at fault for all of Latin America’s problems that exist today and perhaps have ever existed. Yada, yada, yada.
For much of the 20th century, especially during the Cold War, American leftists greeted each new communist dictatorship or left-wing insurgency with glowing support. Despite the destructiveness of these regimes to both human life and economic productivity, left-wing American politicians and Hollywood celebrities lent their moral support. This often took the form of the political journey to a communist society where the fat, naïve, gullible American would be given a “special” tour of the country where they would inevitably conclude that they had found utopia.