When counter-revolution finally swept away the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries in 1989-91, imperialism was triumphant and joyfully declared the ‘death of socialism’. A deeply reactionary period was indeed ushered in, with wars in Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan and the wiping out of social gains in oppressed nations, former socialist countries and the imperialist heartlands alike.
Yet, despite this carnival of reaction, to paraphrase the anti-imperialist American writer Mark Twain, reports of the death of socialism proved to be greatly exaggerated. One of the most heartening features of the international situation at the start of the twenty-first century has been the great change that has swept over Latin America. A profound revolutionary transformation, that is still developing and gathering strength, has shaken the continent to its roots.
The region that US imperialism arrogantly proclaimed to be its ‘backyard’ for the best part of two centuries is increasingly defined by the emergence of new governments determined to assert their independence from the hegemonic empire to their north.
Some, such as the governments of Argentina and Brazil, seek to work within the existing political structures whilst implementing reforms favourable to working people. Others, especially Venezuela and Bolivia, have developed political leaderships that are increasingly determined to pursue the struggle to its logical conclusion, namely the overthrow of the capitalist system and the creation of workers’ states aspiring to socialism.
But what these diverse governments have in common may be summarised as:
A commitment to Latin-American independence and a rejection of especially US imperialist interference in their affairs;
A commitment to anti-imperialism in international affairs generally, laying stress on unity and cooperation with other developing countries throughout the world; and
The pursuit of economic policies that both enhance national independence and benefit working people.
These common points have proved sufficient for them to forge a united front among themselves, which, in turn, has proved to be one of their greatest strengths. And, together, they have decisively smashed the attempted isolation of the heroic island of Cuba, which for long years defiantly held aloft the banner of socialism single-handedly in the Americas, and which the United States had foolishly thought would fall into its lap like an over-ripe plum once the fraternal aid from the Soviet Union was no longer forthcoming.
The revolutionary process in Latin America has given renewed hope and inspiration to anti-imperialist and progressive people worldwide, inspiring them in their own struggles.
At the same time, Latin America is in urgent need of the broadest possible international solidarity, as imperialism and its local stooges are by no means reconciled to their losses in the region. Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Ecuador have all faced violent and extra-legal attempts to reverse their democratic and revolutionary gains; attempts which have only been thwarted through the support and courage of the poor, the great majority.
A key part of such international solidarity must be to refute the lies spread about the progressive governments, to tell the truth, to highlight their achievements, and to let their leaders speak directly and for themselves. With his new film, Oliver Stone, one of the greatest US film directors of his generation, has made an immense contribution to this vital work.
South of the Border, which goes on general release in the UK on 30 July, lets Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader, and his fellow presidents in the region, speak directly to a global audience. Originally conceived as a portrait of the Venezuelan leader, it was with Chávez’s encouragement and help that Stone took off on a continental tour that also saw him interview the presidents of Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador, and finally Cuba’s Raul Castro.
As Oliver Stone put it:
“Leader after leader seemed to be saying the same thing. They wanted to control their own resources, strengthen regional ties, be treated as equals with the US, and become financially independent of the International Monetary Fund. Based on our experiences in Iraq, Americans must question the role of our media in demonising foreign leaders as our enemies.” (Oliver Stone: ‘The truth about Hugo Chávez’, guardian.co.uk, 3 September 2009)
Indeed, the first part of the film is dedicated to highlighting that demonisation of Chávez and his fellow leaders, with copious examples of hostile press coverage and the often hysterical misinformation and lies of such TV stations as CNN and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox.
For those who know the first thing about South America, some of this propaganda is not simply crude but laughable. But we are made aware that it is, in fact, deadly serious, not only because many people do not know what is happening in South America, but also when we are reminded of the crucial role played by the reactionary media during the attempted overthrow of Chávez in 2002, when the revolutionary leader was held prisoner for several days and narrowly escaped being murdered by US-backed fascists.
Having seen the lies spread about the new generation of Latin-American leaders, the first ever to truly represent their peoples, it is all the more inspiring to then hear from them direct.
And we do not just hear them speak of their struggles and aspirations in the abstract, we hear of the sufferings and torture that were once the lot of Bolivian President Evo Morales and Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, along with their families, and we see them with their base, the people who are the real motive force for the revolutionary transformation that the leaders represent – workers, farmers, soldiers, indigenous peoples and the poor.
There is humour, too, be it in President Chávez’s attempt to recreate an incident from his childhood, on a visit to his old home, when a small bicycle proves unable to support the president’s considerable frame, to the interview with President Rafael Correa, when the Ecuadorian leader insists that the United States is quite welcome to have a military base in Ecuador – provided that Ecuador can have a military base in Miami.
Stone is not a Marxist or a socialist. In his own words: “I’m a benign capitalist.” But in making this film he has rendered a huge service to the Latin-American revolution. It is, in Chávez’s words, “a splinter in the eagle’s talon”.
International solidarity with Venezuela and the other progressive states in Latin America remains vital. On 19 June, the Financial Times reported on an interview with Chávez as follows:
“I ask him about relations with the US, which were terrible under George W Bush. Has there been an improvement under Barack Obama? ‘In some cases, the relationship is worse,’ he says, pointing to a recent expansion of the US military presence in Colombia, which has exacerbated regional tensions following a tense stand-off between Colombia and Venezuela two years ago. ‘The seven bases are a threat not only to Venezuela but to all of South America. I do not perceive any positive change with Obama.’” (‘When Hugo met Oliver’)
From Friday 30 July until late August, South of the Border, is on show at the Empire Leicester Square and will be touring other cinemas round London and across the country. Full details of screenings may be found at dogwoof.com/featured/south-of-the-border-in-cinemas-july-30. If your local cinema isn’t on the list, ask them to consider showing the film. Or if you would like to host your own screening, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is not often one gets the chance to hear some of today’s finest revolutionary leaders in their own words on the big screen. Don’t miss it – and take your family and friends.