Sunday, June 03, 2018

South of the Border

By the end of the twentieth century the United States became head of international politics establishing its neoliberal ideology at a global scale. Western capitalism apparently buried the ideals of a once expanding communism (and socialism) which influence in the Americas only remained in Cuba, which the United States made sure to block and isolate from the rest of the world system. Nevertheless, as the classic liberalism revived with neoliberalism, in the same way the old and feared socialism is comes restored and stronger with the name of “The Socialism of the Twenty-first Century”. Oliver Stone’s South of the Border (2009) is a documentary that recounts the realities of five countries that have turned their traditional right-wing politics to a charismatic left-wing revolutionary mandate of “the people.” The socialist leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador share their opinion of the effecto of United States foreign policy on their countries and how their new movement in the protection of the most vulnerable groups (the poor, the indigenous and the worker) represents independence and real progress for all Latin American societies.

The documentary starts with a recollection of North American news that talks about Hugo Chavez’s “dictatorship” in Venezuela. Stone puts together media reports depicting Chavez’s government as a threat to the United States and all the Western democratic system like Cuba once was. However, by travelling to Venezuela, experiencing the life of its people beyond what is presented on the screen, and personality interviewing Chavez, the narrative of the documentary leans to left to supports the truth that is being hidden by the media (media that is probably influenced by people or corporations that protect American neoliberalist interests). There are very few personal comments from the director about the ideology since providing Chavez with an open floor to criticize U.S interventions in Latin America is more than self-evident support to the new ideological wave developing in most countries south of the U.S-Mexico border. In addition, the only times the United States’ perspective or comments on Latin American left-wing governments are shown, they are considered overreaction resulting from national security paranoia, conspiracy theories, or justification for controlling the region and its natural resources such as the Venezuelan oil.

Stone problematizes and to some extent destroys the idea that everything happening south of the border (politics, economy, culture) is the same. Chavez, for example, created policy that would benefit the lowest economic classes in the country and that meant using Venezuelan oil in Venezuela and for Venezuelans (cutting the supply to the United States). The Bush administration considered Chavez’s national policy dangerous for democracy and threatening for his government, creating tension between the two countries. When other of South America joined the new socialist movement, the United States unsuccessfully conspired to take their governments down because they were all the same as Venezuela, thus more anti-US leaders, less resource-access. On the other hand, we hear interviews from each socialist leader, Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Lula Da Silva in Brazil, the Kirchner couple in Argentina, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. Each of them is intentionally shown very different materially, and ideologically speaking. Chavez with a military background, Morales a coca-grower indigenous, Lula a metalworker and labour union member, the Kirchner shown in their elegant house, and Correa with a revolutionary discourse. Each country has a different history and experiences different realities, but they all have been subjected to and exploited by American neoliberalism.

Cuba comes back to the story. For the Bush administration, Cuban communism might not be a threat or influence in the United States anymore, however, it could have influenced other Latin American countries. In contrast, how the other five countries of the documentary are portrayed, there is no support to Cuba or any of its policies. The interview with Fidel Castros’ brother is included to clear the misconception that the Socialism of the Twenty-First Century is the same as communism. In numerous occasions each president is asked whether the Cuban communism is the “grandfather” of their projects (since the “father” would be Venezuelan Chavismo) or at least it has inspired them, but the answer is clear: no, they share ideology and their projects seem to follow the same pattern, but socialism developed independently.

The last part of the documentary summarizes all the encounters with the socialist leaders, the paranoia and sensationalism of American news, and Latin America’s history of struggles due to indiscriminate foreign intervention in their politics. In addition, possible unfolding of the socialist wave of South America is discussed. Nowadays, this discourse could need upgrades, but by that time Obama represented hope and openness to new ideas that could clear Bush’s intolerance and reconstruct alliances with Latin America. Stone not only supports this new social and political movement, but he suggests that its expansion to northern countries in Latin America has shown that an historical change is starting.

Political changes like this new form of socialism that has decreased poverty, has increased technological and social development, and has stood up against neoimperialist forces to protect their sovereignty might be something that the United States is lacking. Latin America is portrayed as a victim of US foreign policy, powerless in the face of the economic and political control the United State has over most international organizations. Latin American politics are the result of the direct and indirect oppression, and socialism re-emerges within those conditions and to change them in favour of its people.

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