There’s something happening in South American politics, and Oliver Stone likes it! Specifically, a number of leftist leaders have come to power within the past decade, many of them allied with or sympathetic to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, and Stone likes that, too. Anything bad you might have heard about him, well, that can just be dismissed as the fabrications of a hostile media. And those human-rights abuses? Stone’s voiceover has an answer for that, too: “‘Human rights’ has become a new buzz-phrase, much like ‘freedom’ was in the Soviet era.” And just look at all those average people rushing to hug Chávez as Stone and his cameras roll by. See, nothing to worry about!
The documentary South Of The Border finds Stone touring the presidential palaces of Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, and other countries. Shockingly, he finds a lot of leaders who are extremely happy to tell him how well things are going. Bolivia’s Evo Morales even plays soccer with him. And of Fernando Lugo, a former bishop, now president of Paraguay, Stone can only say this, “You are a very gentle man, and I think a very good man.”
Maybe he’s right. But those looking for anything that suggests the emerging leaders of South America are working toward—and achieving—anything but a classless utopia will have to search for evidence elsewhere. Stone’s film, more an act of boosterism than inquiry, is a tremendous missed opportunity. A lot of change is afoot in South America, most of it going underreported in America, and misrepresented by outlets with vested interests, like Fox News. But Stone uses Fox’s most outrageous claims as evidence of deeply ingrained prejudice against South America’s shift to the left. He ends the film in Cuba, wistfully—and confusingly—comparing Fidel Castro’s revolution to The Old Man And The Sea, and hedging his bets by drawing a distinction between “predatory capitalism” and “benign capitalism” before letting South Of The Border co-writer Tariq Ali rhapsodize about the revolution creeping into the United States, as arrows move from up though Central America and Mexico and into the Southwest like something out of a Republican nightmare. If it ever happens, our new leaders won’t have to look far for their chief propagandist.