Tariq Ali: “The World Can Learn From Latin America”:

Tariq Ali is a British-Pakistani historian, novelist, filmmaker and political campaigner. He first achieved prominence in the UK when he led the massive anti-Vietnam War demonstration in London in 1968. He is an editor of ‘New Left Review’ and the author of over a dozen books – including “Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis Of Hope” (2006) ,an account of  the rise and spread of  Venezuela’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’. He also wrote the script for Oliver Stone’s latest documentary, ’South Of The Border’, about the ‘sweeping changes’ taking place across the region .In this interview with ‘Expressnews’, he emphasizes  that the United States “should not be underestimated. They have not ‘given up’ on Latin America.”

‘South Of the Border’ was screened for the first time at the Venice Film Festival on September 7th 2009. President Hugo Chavez attended the premiere where, according to CBS news, he received “a movie star welcome”. Oliver Stone had, he told the throng of reporters , “captured Latin America’s re-birth with his cameras and genius”. Stone himself has been unequivocal about his objectives in making the film. He interviewed not just Chavez but also the leaders of Brazil (Lula da Silva)  Bolivia (Evo Morales), Argentina (the Kirchners), Paraguay (Fernando Lugo), Ecuador (Rafael Correa) and Cuba: “They all seemed to be saying the same thing: They want to control their own resources strengthen regional ties, be treated as equals with the US and become financially independent of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)”. The film has already been dismissed by ‘Time’ magazine as a “lopsided, rose-coloured portrait of Chavez which overlooks his record of human rights violations and suppression of opponents”.

Oliver Stone was wounded twice in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star for Valour. He has won  three Academy Awards (for ‘Born On the Fourth Of July’ & ‘Platoon’),an Oscar for writing ‘Midnight Express’ and directed many other highly-rated films such as ‘Wall Street’ starring Michael Douglas. Despite this impressive track record, he is well aware that the documentary is likely to encounter distribution obstacles in the US.  As he recently told the ‘Reuters’ news agency “ Most films that deal honestly with Central or South American issues run into this logjam. It’s an American complex about the backyard, the south. It’s been going on for a century. Why do we make enemies?”

Tariq Ali acknowledges that ‘South Of The Border’ could face similar problems in the UK.  Depending on current negotiations, it could be shown at the London Film Festival in October. If it isn’t, then “we’ll organize a special screening at Bolivar Hall or some other location familiar to the Latino population here”. He points out that, though Latin Americans are obviously a key audience “ What is going on in Venezuela is of great interest to the Arab countries, China and other parts of Asia”. He is confident that the film will be seen around the globe: “ Its not just about Chavez:  There are momentous shifts occurring in Latin America. Europe and the rest of the world can learn lessons from them”. He accepts that the continent is polarized, that the ‘pro-oligarchy wing’ there won’t like the film, others will and maybe there are people in between who are not yet sure one way or the other: “There’s no middle ground in Venezuela, but this is now increasingly true throughout the region.” In Mexico the mainstream media “Gives an incredibly hostile coverage of Chavez. Who knows what impact the film could have?”.

Tariq Ali got involved in the documentary when Oliver Stone contacted him after reading ‘Pirates Of the Caribbean’ (also available in Spanish from the European Bookshop: 5 Warwick Street,London W1B 5LU: Tel: 020-7734-5259) His first visit to South America was in 1967 as part of a commission to attend the trial in Bolivia of Regis Debray , the French intellectual who was  convicted for being part of Che Guevara’s guerrilla group but released in 1970 after pressure from international figures such as President De Gaulle, Pope Paul V1 and the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Tariq Ali has returned frequently to the area, especially during the past ten years and has seen for himself “The massive social movements from below”. The oligarchies, when challenged “ Responded with repression. New political forces then emerged to take them on”. He considers that in today’s world, it doesn’t matter if you are elected democratically: “If you then carry out a radical programme, ‘they’ treat you as if you are a dictator, because only one set of political and economic rules is really encouraged, permitted and praised.

The new US President’s performance has, in his opinion, been “weak”. The State Department (under Hillary Clinton) prevailed in Honduras and the White House couldn’t do anything about it. “What Obama has not understood is that the way to fight (the anti -healthcare lobby) is not to make bland, anodyne speeches on TV and demonstrate what a good conciliator he is but mobilize his support in the streets like the extreme right is doing”. He also regards President George Bush Snr as having been tougher on Israel than Obama so far. The US distinction between the ‘good’ (Lula da Silva) and ‘bad left’ (Chavez) is “rapidly fading”. Lula has annoyed the multi-national corporations by announcing that 50% of the ownership & profits from Brazil’s newly-discovered oil reserves will go to the State for investment in health and education – so he may soon be re-classified as “the-not-so-good-left”. Finally: “People who thought that with the collapse of the Soviet Union the US Empire would cease to exist have had a bit of a shock. There are now more US military bases  in different parts of the world ( for example, in Colombia) than during the Cold War. Unfortunately, the US is still very dominant both militarily and ideologically”.


Filed under: Politics | Posted on October 6th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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