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"South of the Border" Documentary Film Review ( 0) Printer friendly page Print This
By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III). Exclusive to Axis of Logic.
Axis of Logic
Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010

It is no surprise that a documentary film that reveals the idiocy and hostility of mainstream media would be trashed by, you guessed it, mainstream media, including (at least this time) The New York Times' cultural section. If you want to get a good introduction as to what is happening in Latin America, as well as hear from the leaders themselves, this is certainly a film worth seeing.
One of the opening segments portrays, with The Daily Show comedic flair, the buffoonery of Fox-TV News. A newscaster (who happens to be a stereotypical blonde bimbo) reports that Evo Morales, the first Indigenous President of Bolivia, chews "cocoa" every day, and is perhaps an addict. Seconds later, her male co-newscasters tell her it is "coca" -- and they all chuckle at what it would be like to chew cocoa, as in Swiss Miss.
Coca is a natural herbal stimulant and an integral part of the Bolivian culture; cocaine, on the other hand, is made from processed coca. From this vignette, one can glean how mainstream news attempts to twist the facts, in this case, like saying that if Obama went to Dunkin' Donuts every day, he would be addicted to amphetamines.
Meanwhile, on Pachamama (the Bolivian word for Mother Earth), Oliver Stone's "South of the Border" gives an up-close-and-personal look at Latin American leaders, with an emphasis on Hugo Chávez, who is typically demonized by the Western media and US government, yet is extremely popular with the Venezuelan people; his numerous re-elections proving he is not a dictator.
Towards the end of the film, Stone asks Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, if the bad press from North America bothers him. With a twinkle in his eye, Correa says he would be more concerned if they spoke well of him.
Because of the various, mostly Fox and CNN news clips, it is all the more refreshing and revealing to hear from the actual elected presidents themselves, emphasis on "elected." The film features: Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Lula da Silva (Brasil), Cristina Kirchner (Argentina) and her husband and ex-president Nestor Kirchner, Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), and Raúl Castro (Cuba). Getting to know these people is not only educational, it also helps toward better understanding and deciphering the daily news. (Since this reviewer's seeing the film, Correa of Ecuador has survived a coup attempt, and Brasil has a presidential runoff on October 31, for Lula's replacement.)
"South of the Border" is an important documentary because, along with global Indigenous and Tribal rights, one of the most interesting places on the world's political scene is South America. (Stone focuses on South American countries, plus Cuba, thus the broader term, Latin America.) The governments represent a kind of democratic-socialistic-communalism inspired by Simon Bolívar. The phrase "communal ownership" would get many a 'northerner' to proverbially scratch their head. And, as the title suggests, the movie is aimed at changing the perspective of those north of the border
A fascinating book, "New World of Indigenous Resistance: Noam Chomsky and Voices from North, South, and Central America," looks into "comunalidad" and "interculturalidad," basically untranslatable words, hence the book's exploration of what they mean to the people in real life. It would be, perhaps simplistic, but not inaccurate, to say that much Western culture focuses on the advancement of the individual, whereas south of the border people grow up with an inherent sense of community. In the book, Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez writes, "From the Andean point of view, community is understood as "allyu," a collectivity made up of human beings but also of the world beyond humans, that is, nature and the deities." This equates to a kind of holistic consensus. Of course, in the USA section of Turtle Island, the numerous American Indian Nations and Tribes, provide good cultural examples of "comunalidad."
The following quotes help to put the current phase of the Bolivarian Revolution in perspective: "Though a devout Catholic, he [Bolívar] was one of those Latin American heroes who refused to accept the reactionary tendencies of his Church... In 1829  Bolívar wrote: "I have achieved no other good than independence. That was my mission. The nations I have founded will, after prolonged, and bitter agony, go into an eclipse, but will later emerge as states of the one great republic, AMERICA."1
This present era, as the film depicts, is seemingly a large part of the forming of this "one great republic."
There are a few violent scenes, for example, clips of a media-fueled coup against Chávez, which, by the way, he has survived in spades. Squeamish viewers may want to avert their gaze on some of the riot-protest scenes.
One of this reviewer's key learnings from the movie is the awareness that Venezuelan soldiers, refusing to act upon the government's violent bidding, helped foster the Bolivarian Revolution by transferring their allegiances to Chávez. Are not soldiers the key middlemen in so-called theaters of war?
Though not quoted in the film, at The First World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (WPCCC), which took place April 19-22, 2010, near Cochabamba, Bolivia, President Evo Morales pointed to the seriousness of the Global situation, saying (translation), "We have only two roads, Mother Earth or death. Either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies."2  Coming from the typically diplomatic and non-confrontative Morales, this says a lot.
Oliver Stone offers his opinion on this topic by saying that there are two forms of capitalism, predatory and benign. Perhaps a benign capitalism, making its decisions WITH Pachamama, can help the people of the world avoid demise.
Chávez tells Stone that the main reason for what has happened in Iraq and with Saddam was "petróleo!," which Venezuela also happens to have a lot of. Could this be the reason for the North American media's demonization of the Venezuelan President? Chávez describes Venezuela's overall Movement as a "peaceful revolution, but armed," which this reviewer interprets as a kind of 'prepared for self-defense in case it is needed' stance.
Via Stone's mostly casual and affable interviews, one can learn much. Nestor Kirchner (Argentina) emphasizes the communal aspect by saying that the face of the leader equals the people. And Cristina Kirchner (Argentina) affirms this, saying, "For the first time in the region, the leaders look like the people they govern."
Raúl Castro deferred a kind of elder statesmen role that Stone tried to put on Cuba, by replying that each leader, each country has its own power, its own guide, though they are all connected.
Correa, who has refused renewing the lease of Washington's Manta air base, said that the only way the US could keep their military base in Ecuador, is if Ecuador were allowed to have one of its own in Florida.
An example of "comunalidad" in action is in Venezuela where community councils receive government money and can do with it what they want, for example, updating sewer systems. This level of trusting the people speaks volumes and is akin to one of the Taoist guidelines of Lao-Tzu, which, to paraphrase, says that a good leader allows the people to feel as if they are taking care of themselves.
At the particular theater where this movie-goer saw the film, there was a brief introduction by Bart Jones, journalist and author of "Hugo!: The Hugo Chávez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution." Jones mentioned Simon Bolívar as a guiding light of the region and Movement, and traced one of the origins of modern corruption, in Venezuela, to around the year 1920 -- when oil was discovered. Jones has eight years of experience as a foreign correspondent for AP and lived in Venezuela while working on his book.
"South of the Border" was written by Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot, so you can explore other works by these writers to learn more. In the film, Tariq Ali mentions that he wonders if the Hispanic population in the US will eventually be influenced by what is going on in Latin America.
In sum, Oliver Stone's presentation paints the rosier side of the region, but there is much to be rosy about. Some might think the movie is a simplistic rebuttal to the corporate-political-media's propagandizing of many of the Latin American leaders. In a way, it is, yet this reviewer thinks it a necessary and positive rebuttal, helping educate people outside the region as to what is really going on. Chávez is credited with helping to lift many people out of poverty, though there is much more work to do along these lines. Cutting down the crime rate is another area needing attended to, according to Jones.
The interviews and thus the sum total of the documentary transcend the simplistic good vs. evil theme, because the viewer, as witness, is left to make his/her own decisions. And by witnessing the body language and facial expressions as the words are spoken, one can get a more direct impression than is typically doled out via sound bite. "South of the Border" will certainly give you something to chew on. 
  1. "The Secret Destiny of America" by Manly P. Hall, which includes quote from Simon Bolívar, by Gerard Masur.

  2. "Bolivia hosts alternative summit on people and Mother Earth" by W. T. Whitney Jr.

For more go to the official South of the Border Website



Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a frequent guest poet and essayist on Axis of Logic. He is a writer, small press publisher, and Turtle Islander. His work has been published worldwide and his most recent publication is the 2011 Haiku Calendar which lists holidays from as many cultures as he could find out about. You can contact him via his literary website.


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