Sticks to the Facts, and Shows Loyalties Towards Dictators

A disturbing review of the Oliver Stone film “South of the Border.”

Here, Stone sticks to the facts, and makes it quite clear where his loyalties lie, namely, with Chavez in Venezuela, with Castro in Cuba, with Morales in Bolivia and with other South American leaders of populist movements. Why? Because he ostensibly admires how these freedom fighters have somehow managed to break the cycle of exploitation of their countries’ people and natural resources for the benefit of white Western nations.

Over the course of the film, Stone not only narrates, but interviews 7 democratically-elected presidents in order to highlight how they ascended to power as a consequence of a mandate from the majority. Ad infinitum, he drives home the point that we aren’t dealing with dictators or strongmen as is often suggested by the mainstream media so fond of vilifying these working-class heroes.

Hugo Chavez jails judges that make decisions he dislikes, prosecutes dissenters, and controls broadcasters.  He’s being sued for “terrorism, torture, violation of human rights, and crimes against humanity”  by a man who tried to counter the state-approved media and expose corruption, and was forced to flee and rely on the U.S. for asylum.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reports:

In the report, the IACHR identifies a series of issues that restrict the full enjoyment of human rights. Among other issues, the IACHR analyzes a series of conditions that indicate the absence of an effective separation and independence of the public branches of power in Venezuela. The report finds that not all individuals are ensured full enjoyment of their rights irrespective of their positions on government policies. The Commission also finds that the punitive power of the State is being used to intimidate or punish people on account of their political opinions. The Commission believes that conditions do not exist for human rights defenders and journalists to be able to freely carry out their work. The IACHR also detects the existence of a pattern of impunity in cases of violence, which particularly affects media workers, human rights defenders, trade unionists, participants in public demonstrations, people held in custody, campesinos (small-scale and subsistence farmers), indigenous people, and women. 

And so on. 

As for Castro, here’s what Human Rights Watch said upon Fidel’s resignation:

For almost five decades, Cuba has restricted nearly all avenues of political dissent. Cuban citizens have been systematically deprived of their fundamental rights to free expression, privacy, association, assembly, movement, and due process of law. Tactics for enforcing political conformity have included police warnings, surveillance, short-term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically motivated dismissals from employment.

Cuba’s legal and institutional structures have been at the root of its rights violations. The rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and the press are strictly limited under Cuban law. By criminalizing enemy propaganda, the spreading of “unauthorized news,” and insult to patriotic symbols, the government curbs freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. The courts are not independent; they undermine the right to fair trial by restricting the right to a defense, and frequently fail to observe the few due process rights available to defendants under domestic law.

“Since Fidel Castro first turned power over to his brother, the Cuban government has occasionally indicated a willingness to reconsider its approach to human rights,” said Vivanco. “But so far it hasn’t taken any of the steps needed to end its abusive practices.”

Wikipedia has an entire page, with sources, devoted to “Censorship in Cuba,” in addition to its page on “Human Rights in Cuba.”  (Wiki’s not a good primary source, of course, but if you check the links, they provide a wealth of sources that are generally accepted as reliable.) 

I’ll admit that I don’t know much about Bolivia or Morales, and my research suggests that he doesn’t belong with the other two.  But he’s only been president for a few years, and hasn’t had time to amass the totalitarian power of Chavez and Castro, so perhaps time will tell.  But I am not criticizing Stone for liking Morales. 

Per the review, Stone’s love for these enemies of freedom is based on the fact that they were “democratically elected.”  Even if that is really true (This Wikipedia page has a number of links that question the legitimacy of Chavez’s election, and it is well known that Cuban elections are largely meaningless), an election is certainly not free and democratic when media and information is controlled with an iron fist.  Saddam Hussein was “democratically elected,” too.  That didn’t stop him from being a dictator of immense evil.  Ask an actual Cuban who has escaped to America about life under Castro-  it’s not pretty.  (Miami has plans to throw a rockin’ party when Fidel finally kicks it; real mandate from the people there.)

Oliver Stone is a very accomplished filmmaker.  He is not a dumb man, so I can only assume that he knows of the human rights abuses under Castro and Chavez and simply doesn’t care.  Perhaps he believes that artists of his prestige would be rewarded under such a system (provided they toe the government’s line), perhaps these men fawn over his work in such a way that strokes his ego in just the way he needs, perhaps he is as bloodthirsty and totalitarian as the men he admires.  Either way, the way that Stone thinks is not in line with American values, nor are they compatible with freedom.  Stone’s work has been influential; it is important to know what he values when we consider it.

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