Unashamedly in favour of opposing US domination of the Global South, the film exposes the role of the US media and takes a whirlwind tour of the continent, writes Matt Willgress.

Oliver Stone’s remarkable new film South of the Border seeks to set the record straight about Venezuela’s progressive elected government – led by Hugo Ch√°vez – and other social changes taking place across Latin America.

The film has received a virulently hostile response from the US capitalist media (those classed as ‘liberal’ and those less so). This reaction echoes the attitude of both the Bush and Obama administrations to developments in the region – developments which can be simply explained in one phrase: the threat of a good example.

Neo-liberalism rejected

South of the Border starts by clearly understanding the significance of Latin America’s role in the world at this time of global economic crisis. When neo-liberals were claiming their victory with the “end of history”, Latin America was the first continent – and Venezuela the first country – where the impoverished majority rose – in different forms and to different degrees- against neo-liberalism, the IMF and the World Bank and their ‘solutions’ which have devastated populations.

Stone’s film tells in depth the story of how people in Venezuela rejected their pro-US neo-liberal politicians, including the pivotal role of the tragic Caracarzo massacre. This ruling oligarchy left Venezuela with record levels of poverty and public services barely worthy of the name. It also features the mass movements against privatisation and for indigenous rights which propelled Evo Morales to power in Bolivia, the campaigns against the IMF in Argentina and ongoing resistance to US domination in Ecuador.

Media Misrepresentation and Venezuela

South of the Border’s release in Britain is perhaps most important in Britain and is a timely antidote to the many falsehoods that are regularly promulgated in the US, British, Spanish and other international corporate media. This is illustrated by a series of montages from the US media which display remarkable ignorance about the region the US has long considered its ‘backyard’.

In Britain so far this year media coverage has included false claims that Venezuela supports terrorism, is turning into a dictatorship and wouldn’t cancel Haiti’s debts. All these charges were proven to be totally false (the first two are again covered in Stone’s film), yet the corrected versions of events receive much less prominence than the original, dramatic accusations and assertions.

As National Assembly elections approach in September in Venezuela there has already been a stepping up of media distortions about Venezuela – designed by pro-US, right-wing opponents of the Bolivarian Revolution to de-legitimise the results and place a question mark over the fairness of Venezuelan elections internationally. Though as Argentina’s President Kirchner points out in South of the Border Chavez is one of the most re-elected Presidents in history!

The pro-US opposition boycotted the previous parliamentary elections in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the elections when it was clear they would not only lose but perform extremely badly. The opposition are taking part in this September’s elections, and will inevitably increase the number of their seats by virtue of this fact.

Yet this crucial background information will be absent or downplayed in the media ‘analysis’ of the election results, which will also ignore the role – so eloquently outlined by Stone – of this same opposition in repression and economic theft in the country historically, and the murderous US backed temporarily successful coup in Venezuela in 2002.

US Imperialist Eyes on Regaining Latin America

Stone comments in the film – and illustrates his point with numerous clips from Fox, ABC, CNN and others – that in the US a line is drawn between friends (for example, Blair’s Britain and Uribe’s murderous regime in Colombia) and enemies (Iraq, Iran and Venezuela). Enemies are then demonised in the media to prepare the ground for US intervention to impose domination. Stone clearly shows this with the most notorious example of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and complicity of the media in this lie.

The line is drawn according to acceptance or rejection of the US domination of their economies, and importantly, natural resources. As Chavez points out in the film the reason for US support for the coup against him in 2002 was the same as for military intervention in Iraq – oil. A similar reason – large gas reserves – can be found for the demonization of Bolivia.

The film ends with a cautious optimism about the positive attitude the newly elected Obama administration may take towards Latin America. Yet as Stone himself commented at the film’s premiere in July, in reality Obama’s administration has continued to do the bidding of the ‘empire’ in Latin America.

Firstly, last June’s events in Honduras demonstrated that the dark days of Augusto Pinochet and successful coups in Latin America against elected progressive governments were not over. President Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power and a de facto dictatorship put in place. This dictatorship then went on to hold “elections” under conditions of military rule and marred by violence – all recognised by the US, eager to have another neo-liberal government in Latin America and keen to maintain its military base in Honduras.

Indeed, Venezuela currently finds itself being encircled by 13 US military bases. 7 of these are in Colombia, which Stone illustrates clearly as the US’ “friend” in the region. Indeed, around the time the film was made, in April 2009, the US released its US Air Mobility Command document entitled Global En Route Strategy referred to one of these bases – in Palanquero – as having the potential to become a “co-operative security location” from which “mobility operations could be executed”, since “nearly half the continent can be covered by a giant C-17 (military transport) aircraft without refuelling” ie. “full spectrum dominance” of Latin America.

US claims that the new military bases are designed to combat drug trafficking and terrorism therefore hold little weight in a region whose history is littered with bloody interventions from their northern neighbour. Looking towards the Middle East shows for many in the region (and Stone himself) that the US’ appetite for intervention, including militarily, remains.

South of the Border illustrates the importance of the struggles in the region against US imperialism and the organisations it dominates – such as the IMF – and the ruling elites (both past and present) who support and benefit from its patronage at the expense of billions of oppressed people. In its whistlestop tour of the continent, the film therefore highlights key class and anti-imperialist struggles shaping the world in the 21st Century – a must see for all progressives.

•The Venezuela Solidarity Campaign will be organising events around the film across the country- more information can be found at www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk and some of these events are listed below:

Sheffield – Showroom cinema – 30 July – 7.05PM. More info here.
With Colin Burgon (VSC Vice-Chair & Labour Friends of Venezuela)

Oxford – Phoenix – 1 August – 6.30PM
With Francisco Dominguez (Head of the Centre for Latin American Studies, Middlesex University) and Doug Williamson (Unite GPM Sector, 2009 Solidarity Delegation member)

Greenwich – Picturehouse – 3rd August – 6.45 PM
With Alvaro Sanchez (Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) and Francisco Dominguez

Brixton- Ritzy – 5th August – 6.45 PM
With Alvaro Sanchez and Francisco Dominguez

Birmingham – Central Library Theatre – 6th August – 7.00 PM. More info and buy tickets here

With Francisco Dominguez

Brighton – Duke of Yorks – 7th August – 4.00PM. More info and buy tickets here

With Francisco Dominguez and GMB Southern Region speaker

Central London – Institute of Contemporary Arts – 11th August – 7.30PM
With Alvaro Sanchez and Francisco Dominguez

Liverpool – Picturehouse @ FACT – 19th August – 6.30PM
With Frank Hont (UNISON North West Region Secretary) and VSC Speaker tbc

York – City Screen Picturehouse – 23rd August – 8.30PM
With Sam Browse (Student Friends of Venezuela, 2009 Solidarity Delegation member) and VSC Speaker tbc

Hackney – Rio – 11 September – 1.15PM
With Venezuelan Embassy and VSC Speakers tbc