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RN You have made three films on Latin America, two of them on Fidel Castro. What motivated you to make this new documentary about Latin America?
OS Also don’t forget about ‘Salvador’ in 1986. That was about El Salvador, in Central America, which was a tragedy. So I went back, I like Latin America; I view South America as the underdog in this situation. As a moviemaker I tend to make movies about people who don’t get a fair shake. I think it’s wrong what’s going on. I met Chavez for the first time in 2007, then I went back in 2008 and he said don’t take my word for it, go and talk to my neighbours. I did. We met seven Presidents in six countries. I said, what’s all the fuss about? Why are we making such a stink about Chavez? There is something going wrong. When the United States gets so self-interested in destroying somebody, which has happened repeatedly in South America and Central America, there is some motivation. We are looking for that motivation.
RN The mainstream US media has been rather critical about your film. Are you surprised about this?
OS No, I’m surprised we were able to take it as far as we have. People will see the movie. There will be an uphill battle, because when the New York Times says don’t see this movie they are lobbying against it.
TA That also has an opposite effect. A lot of people will say, the way these guys are writing about the movie means there is something fishy here. It encourages people to see it.
RN It’s more worrying when the Village Voice is so negative.
OS The Voice for years has been doing that. They are not a liberal organisation in my mind. I think that they are pseudo-liberals. You can get into a whole argument about what it is to be a liberal, or a progressive in America. It’s nitpicking. Nitpicking.
RN So it’s like The Guardian here in relation to Venezuela?
TA The Guardian correspondent in Venezuela lives in the leafy suburbs of eastern Caracas and his reporting from Venezuela is totally biased.
RN You seem to be fascinated by the charisma of the Latin American ‘caudillo’, leaders such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. But Latin America is also the birthplace of social movements that have for a long time been fighting for change. How do you see the dynamic relationship between the two, between the leaders on the one hand and the social movements on the other?
TA These leaders will not be in power were it not for the social movements. There is a link between the two. The social movements in Bolivia helped create the Movement for Socialism, the party of Evo Morales that propelled him into power. The big social movements against the IMF in Venezuela that led to the massacre, the ‘Caracazo’, in which three thousand people were killed produced Chavez. The same movements occurred in Ecuador, in Paraguay. So I don’t see a big divide. Each depends on the other. This divide largely exists in the West where the social movements have died out because they weren’t able to achieve anything. There is hardly a social movement left now in Western Europe. A country like Italy, which had huge social movements – now all gone. Whereas, in South America, one reason they have lasted is because they have managed to achieve something, not a huge amount, but structural reforms to the system.
OS I would add, not only do I like ‘caudillos’ or strong men, that’s not the same as a dictator, he [Chavez] has obviously been elected. I much admire Nestor Kirchner, an intellectual with volition to do something. Because intellectuals tend to get lost in their will power. Kirchner was strong enough to carry through a reform based on his thinking on economic reform. He is a shining example of a hero to me. He said, himself, in the documentary, my friend Hugo should consider a successor, because too much of one man will backfire and I think that is the problem that Hugo is going to face. He’s too much in the news. He is too controversial. They are making an argument about Hugo Chavez, instead of the argument about right versus left in Latin America.
RN In your film you also portray Lula, which doesn’t have the same left wing credentials as the others, but in terms of international politics, in terms of integration in Latin America is very important. It seems that some people on the left sometimes lose sight of the big picture, of where things are going in the continent.
OS Yes, that’s why I urge you, that’s why I keep saying to people: think of the big picture. You guys get lost in these details and you end up eating each other up.
RN Why do you think a person like Chavez projects such a bad image in the United States, while Presidents like Uribe, who are actually, allegedly, involved in drug-related paramilitarism in Colombia, with human rights violations on a scale unparalleled in Latin America, gets such a good press?
TA Because Colombia and Uribe are allies of the United States, work with them, have participated in US-initiated actions in the region and so that’s fine. It was always thus in the past. Why did they topple Allende? Why did they support Pinochet? That policy, in a different way, is still going on. Chavez they hate because not only does he attacks them frontally, but he is also the elected president of a country with the largest oil reserves in the continent, and that oil means a lot to them. As many of their journalists say, if Chavez was in Paraguay they wouldn’t hate him so much. But the reason they hate him is because he is using the oil, and he is using it against them, and he is helping to give oil to some of the other Bolivarian republics. The Cubans were kept going when they did a trade of oil for doctors, and that they hate because it’s broken the isolation of the Cubans, and they help each other, they want to speak with one voice. That’s what our film shows, that’s never happened before. For the first time, leaders who disagree with each other have united and have said to the United States enough- this far and no further, we are not going to back down.
Roberto Navarrete is an editor of www.alborada.net, a website covering politics, media and culture in Latin America.
South of the Border is released in UK cinemas on Friday 30 July
The Tipping Point Film Fund will hold a screening of South of the Border (including a panel discussion entitled: Radical Latin American leadership – what’s to be afraid of?) on Friday 30 July at 6:30 PM (details here).