JWR Articles: Film/DVD - South of the Border (Director: Oliver Stone) - December 31, 2010
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South of the Border

5 5
78 min.

CLS 1101
Systemic revenge of the “subservient”

Having been conquered, liberated, invaded, beaten, killed and “Christianized” for centuries, it is cheering to see the collective progress made by most South American countries in mapping their futures by governing themselves.

Who could ever have imagined how inspiring and prophetic Fidel Castro’s gutsy revolution would become more than 60 years after the little island that couldn’t took on one of the (then) two superpowers. Perhaps not coincidentally, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, other determined, energetic leaders took their Bolivarian roots more seriously and began the process of throwing off imperialist, economic yolks of foreign (nearly all of that U.S. driven/financed) intervention where “success” was usually measured by profits shipped north. Keeping the poor in dire straits (driven to seemingly perpetual despair by poverty and lack of education) guaranteed an uninterrupted flow of cash and cheap labour so long as political leaders (frequently aided and abetted by the military and the Church) did as instructed. A largely foreign elite (compared with the indigenous population) sucked greedily at the teat of the International Monetary Fund. Happily, the war on drugs provided the perfect cover/opportunity for various U.S. government agencies (notably the CIA and the DEA—Drug Enforcement Agency) to go about their business with little hindrance from their hosts. After all, bonuses were often at stake!

Long off the Christmas-card greeting list of Republicans and their media declaimers (with CNN and Fox leading the pack of selective history being broadcast 24/7), Oliver Stone’s sojourn throughout South America, interviewing eight presidents of the emerging continent’s New World is a fascinating chronicle of grit, determination and luck trumping bullies, moneylenders and outright liars.

To set the stage for his convincing thesis, some archival footage provides more than a hint of where this film will go: Michael Moore’s verbal whiplashing of Wolf Blitzer’s inability to wake up to—much less report—the obvious fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (just as Emperor Bush had no clothes) is momentarily funny then sadly depressing. The blatant opportunism of the U.S. government following the horrific 9/11 attacks forever stained democratically-elected representatives and the make-the-news-not-report-it media.

Little wonder the new wave of South American leaders views the media as its toughest opposition. Truly pathetic in that regard was the careful documentation of how an unknown sniper’s (overhead) bullets rained down death to both sides of an attempted coup in Caracas—only to edit the broadcast story in such a way that it appeared Hugo Chaáez’s supporters were pulling the triggers. In less than 30 seconds, any CSI newbie—these days—would see the fraud in that “news” coverage.

Clearly, Chávez is the poster president of his colleagues.

Stone employs his deceptively easy-going style and deserved notoriety as an independent thinker to gain access and the trust of these colourful leaders. The cameras provide glimpses not only of the personalities behind the headlines of change but also manage to demonstrate their collective secret to success: they are mightily loved by the majority of supporters who see them as one of themselves, not an elitist who knows better. The tour through Chávez’s “born in a mud hut” home (where his baseball pitching prowess is related—“He always wanted to win”—and his people skills fill nearly every frame) coupled with Bolivia’s Evo Morales deft soccer ball back-and-forth with Stone immediately establish a personal humanity that their stilted, brutal predecessors could only imagine.

In the “Don’t get mad, get even” category, Lula da Silva revels as he recounts paying off Brazil’s considerable debts to the IMF and Paris Club. His words ooze with justifiable pride. Then Rafael Correa’s perfectly logical suggestion “We’re fine with the U.S. keeping its military base in Ecuador so long as we can open ours in Miami” speaks countless volumes about the change in attitude and sense of self of these emerging economic powerhouses.

Finally, the film shifts intriguingly into—perhaps—a cautionary tale. What could happen in the United States when its considerable South American/Hispanic citizens begin to appreciate the success of their southern cousins? JWR

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