National Press Club

New Stone Film Seeks to Change Image of Chavez, South America

June 23, 2010

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“I’m not here to fight with you…well, maybe a little, but to shed some light on a great story taking place just beyond our borders,” said filmmaker Oliver Stone, in Washington to tout his new documentary, “South of the Border,” which opens in North America this week. The movie’s thesis: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is a good guy who only wants, like many of his South American peers, to peaceably lead their “democratic” nations.

Stone, a triple-Oscar winner whose films typically paint the dark side of U.S. foreign policy, glossed over questions about human rights abuses and press censorship, shifting the spotlight back to the United States at every opportunity. He said the U.S. press, even what he called the “liberal press,” has joined in a propaganda war against Chavez.

Calling for a “relativity index” that would compare the human rights abuses and oppression of free speech of all nations, he said that in Venezuela there is no “pattern of abuse — none — in what I’ve seen and read about.”

But in the U.S.-supported countries of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, “every day people are killed … reformers, people who want a better society… It never makes headlines here because we’re jaded about it. But if there were one murder in Venezuela, you bet it would be on the front page of every newspaper in the United States. That’s what I call relativity index. That’s what’s lacking: a sense of proportion,” he said.

It is impossible, Stone said, to hear other countries outside the United States express themselves, but the growth of regional powers is changing that.

“They are a voice, sometimes of sanity, in this world,” he said.

In the movie, the voices of the leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela, attempt to answer the questions: Is Chavez a threat to the United States? Is he more dangerous than Bin Laden, as cable news anchors and reporters say?

Of all the elected leaders of the world, Stone said, Chavez is one of the most vilified for essentially fulfilling his electoral pledges.

“We backed a coup against him but it failed," he said. "There was a tremendous amount of resentment against the United States.

“Is there any surprise that Chavez and his allies don’t like us, aren’t friendly to our press and our State Department?” he said, adding that the New York Times supported a coup to oust him.

Stone said he hopes the film will make North Americans rethink their “our back yard.”

“These countries share so many common goals. They all seek independence from the U.S. corporate and State Department interests. They want to control their own natural resources for their own people and they have a desire to shape their own political destiny,” he said.

The large South American countries are different from each other, but agree on the important things, he said.

“They want genuine independence, political independence, economic independence and want to use their natural resources to help their own people, help the poor because they had suffered the most,” he said.

“South of the Border’s” aim, he said, is to show a little bit of "Hugo," whom the press has branded as the “bad left.”

-- Terry Hill,