When Hugo met Oliver

Oliver Stone’s new documentary, South of the Border, features new and emerging South American leaders from 7 countries that have nationalised their natural resources and “given them back to the people”. These leaders, in Stone’s portrayal, are champions of the poor and their rights having raised people out of poverty and improving living standards by using natural resources based income for pro-poor reforms.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday morning, Stone rejected the criticism that his documentary is “unrelenting positive” of Chavez who has a record of political intimidation domestically and maintains friendly relationships with some of the most oppressive regimes in the world including the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Libyan leader Colonel Muammer Gaddafi.

“Oliver Stone: South America ‘is marching to a different drum”, Courtesy: BBC

Criticizing mainstream media in the US, Stone’s documentary is a polemical piece seeking to redress the imbalance in the media coverage on the natural resource politics in South America showing how nationalisation of oil in Venezuela to government ownership of minerals in Bolivia has benefitted the poor.

“Let the man speak for himself because he doesn’t get airtime”

Stone asserts that Chavez’s efforts had reduced absolute poverty by half, and cut extreme poverty by 70% and increased literacy rates which Stone suggests is

“probably the largest transfer of knowledge in human history”.

On literacy rates, World Bank figures show that literacy rate did improve under his leadership, but only from 89.8% in 1990 to 95.2% in 2007. Hardly the greatest transfer of knowledge in human history, especially when compared  to China’s improvement – from 77.8% in 1990 to 93.7% in 2008.

Chavez is “always thinking about others”, going beyond his means to match Obama’s donation to Haiti after the earthquake, Stone informs us.

Many remain unconvinced of this economic prosperity without full political and civil liberties; the Organisation of American States released a strongly worded report condemning the use of state’s punitive power in deterring political protests, harassing journalists and human rights defenders working in Venezuela.

After the oil price collapsed, economic hardship has led to a decline in Chavez’s popularity ahead of the elections in September. There are allegations from human rights groups of political persecution by the state to suppress dissident voices.

Stone’s reply to this is remarkably dismissive. “You are nit-picking” he says.

Venezuela has an active media which criticizes Chavez’s policies roundly, and Chavez has been re-elected twice in transparent elections, he adds.


Matthew Garrahan: A chat with Chávez
Video: On the road with Oliver Stone
Slideshow: When Hugo met Oliver