“Venezuelans oppose Chávez attempt to nationalize private food company” is the headline over a Washington Post story about the disastrous socialist economic policies of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The article is about the employees of the company who “oppose the government intervention because they think workers have fared badly at nationalized companies, where they have faced reduced wages and been unable to bargain collectively.”
These kinds of stories are appearing more frequently, as it is getting tough for the media to ignore the popular opposition to the Marxist Chávez regime. This is why it is so bizarre for Hollywood director Oliver Stone to be releasing his pro-Chávez documentary at this time and speaking utter nonsense about the would-be dictator on programs such as CNN’s Larry King Live.
As AIM editor Cliff Kincaid reported in a recent column, Chávez’s policies are so atrocious, in the realm of economics and human rights, that the Socialist International (SI) has seen fit to denounce him. The SI reports that Chávez is mismanaging the economy, destroying human rights, and threatening peace in the region.
In perhaps the most blatant indication of how badly things are going in Venezuela, the oil-rich nation is suffering rotting food in warehouses and the government is staging raids to seize food supplies that are not rotting. It is more evidence of how “21st Century Socialism,” as Chávez calls it, is proving to be just as much of a failure as the older version. Sector after sector is being taken over and devastated by the incompetent and/or corrupt Chávez regime.
But thanks to the media, some of the truth is starting to get out!
Last month Reuters had a devastating piece about the deteriorating situation in Chávez’s modern Venezuela: “Mountains of rotting food found at a government warehouse, soaring prices and soldiers raiding wholesalers accused of hoarding: Food supply is the latest battle in President Hugo Chávez’s socialist revolution.” It points out that in oil-rich Venezuela, food prices have increased by 41% in the past year, during an already deep recession.
But Oliver Stone makes the rounds of American TV, sounding, well, stoned on Chávez.
However, despite his many media appearances, the public reaction here has not been overwhelming. Cliff watched the film in Virginia in a movie house that had seats for 300 but only 15 people showed up. When I saw it in the same theater, there were a total of six people.
U.S. Media Wake Up
The real surprise has been the critical reporting that is being seen more regularly in the major media. The New York Times went so far as to run an article documenting some of the misinformation about Venezuela found in Stone’s “documentary.”
The Chávez campaign against the media is a logical topic. This is where, of course, we would expect some coverage. After all, American reporters should naturally have some sympathy for their colleagues “South of the Border,” which is the name of the Stone film.
But in Stone’s film, reporters here and abroad who report critically about Chávez are the villains. Stone attacks Fox News almost as much as he does the Venezuelan media.
The situation under Chávez is dire. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “The principal owner of Venezuela’s last remaining opposition television station has fled the country, as President Hugo Chávez continues to ratchet up the pressure on his rivals months ahead of crucial September legislative elections.” This is part of a pattern carried out by Chávez to help stay in power.
The article said that Guillermo Zuloaga, the principal owner of Globovision, was arrested last March “for saying on a television show that the nation lacked freedom of expression. But he was released after an international outcry.”
In recent years, Chávez “has moved to take over the airwaves, opening a plethora of state-run channels that give the president fawning coverage.” He forced the biggest and most outspoken broadcaster, RCTV off the air and off the cable systems by not renewing its license.
“Other TV broadcasters, cowed by the government, softened their coverage of the government,” according to the Journal. “But Globovision has remained the exception, infuriating Chávez officials.”
In another surprise, The Times has also reported in detail on Cuba’s growing influence in Venezuela, and Chávez’s efforts to suppress any opposition media there. The paper reported that Cuba has a growing military force inside Venezuela to help create an internal force structure to control the increasingly unhappy electorate, and to preserve Chávez’s socialist regime.
The Times said that “In a rare public critique, a former aide to Mr. Chávez has lambasted the role of Cuban advisers in delicate areas that he says include military intelligence, weapons training, strategic planning and the logistics of Mr. Chávez himself, who often travels on a Cuban plane.”
“‘We are at the mercy of meddling in areas of national security by a Cuban regime, which wants Chávez to remain in power because Chávez gives them oil,’ the former aide, Antonio Rivero, a brigadier general who retired this year, said in an interview.”
“The Cuban advisers are there to exert pressure,” he added, “and they often claim to speak on the president’s behalf as if they were his emissaries.”
According to the Times article by Simon Romero, “Mr. Chávez has already taken steps to politicize the armed forces, culling hundreds of officers deemed disloyal and promoting those who support him. He changed the army’s name to the Bolivarian Armed Forces, and at military functions requires soldiers to shout the slogan ‘Homeland, socialism or death!’”
The Times makes it sound, with good reason, like a fascistic military force paying homage to a deadly ideology being promoted by a power-mad ruler.
Stone Sees No Evil
Nevertheless, Oliver Stone’s so-called “documentary,” which premiered in Venice last year, makes Chávez out to be a victim of Yankee imperialism, while at the same time a liberator to his population and a force for good in Latin America. It is laughably absurd.
Though Time magazine liked parts of the film, it concluded that it was “amateur night as cinema, as lopsided and cheerleadery as its worldview.” In other words, the film is reminiscent of a Nazi or Soviet propaganda film.
As my colleague Cliff Kincaid said, after seeing it, “One would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to notice the heavy-handed propaganda, which is extreme to the point of being embarrassing.”
But rather than be embarrassed over the finished product, Stone is going on various TV programs defending Chávez and his film. He was on Larry King Live, joined by Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, who said the propaganda film “should be mandatory viewing for every high school senior in the United States.”
Connie Mack, the U.S. Representative from Florida, was on as well, to provide a counter view—and a few facts.
Here is part of that exchange between King and Stone:
KING: This is a documentary that’s pro- Chávez. Is there anything in it that is critical of him?
STONE: Yes, quite a bit actually. There’s 20 percent of it is filled with anger at him. We show some of the Venezuelans. We show certainly the American media goes crazy about him. They have distorted the truth.
KING: Do you like him?
STONE: Personally, very much, like you do, I saw –
KING: You have to. He’s hard not to like as a person.
That 20 percent Stone refers to is meant to marginalize and ridicule Chávez’s opponents, not to present their views in a balanced fashion. In fact, the popularity ratings for Chávez have fallen below 50 percent, similar to the fate of another leader on the world stage.
Stone mentioned his three other documentaries, two on Cuba’s long-time Communist dictator Fidel Castro, one on the now deceased Palestinian terrorist and the other on the head of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat. These are people who Stone finds worthy of his praise, as he thinks they are all “demonized” by the U.S. government and media.
And this is where Stone is perhaps at his worst—in defending the suppression of private and independent media, here and abroad. In fact, Stone himself in the film denounces the “private media” in Venezuela when these news organizations and outlets are struggling for their very survival and under constant threat when not actually being taken off the air or abolished by the regime.
Even Larry King, with an obvious understanding of what freedom of the press is supposed to mean, balked at this ruthless approach. After Stone defended Chávez shutting down media in Venezuela for “calling for the overthrow of his government,” King replied that you can do that in our country. Here was their exchange:
KING: He [Chávez] comes down tough on free media, though. You wouldn’t call this an absolute democracy, would you?
STONE: Every democracy is relative, but on the other hand any dictator would not tolerate the degree of opposition in the media. It’s very vocal. It’s like Fox News on steroids down there. You have no idea what it’s like. I mean, they insult Chávez every day, the newspaper headlines, plus the TV stations. Except when you call for the overthrow of the government and that’s when he got upset. And in our country we wouldn’t allow that. We wouldn’t allow that –
KING: Oh, you could call for the overthrow of the government.
STONE: No, you can’t.
KING: You couldn’t?
STONE: It’s called the Fairness Doctrine. It used to exist, and it still does. There’s such a thing as hate speech. You cannot do that in this country.
With these comments, Stone has demonstrated his ignorance on this subject. The Fairness Doctrine required balanced coverage and no longer exists. It was abused, however, by Democratic Administrations which sought to use it to suppress speech by conservatives.
While there is such a thing as hate speech, it is not illegal in this country, except if it can be viewed by law enforcement as integral to a physical assault. What’s more, “hate speech” has become a catch-phrase that is used mostly by the liberals in this country to label things said by conservatives. As such, it has become another effort to intimidate and silence.
When Stone said “You cannot do that in this country,” he must have meant calling “for the overthrow of the government,” rather than hate speech. He may have been referring to the support of some media figures for a 2002 coup against Chávez, but we can now see, in retrospect, that the removal of the would-be dictator would have saved the people of Venezuela—and indeed, the people of the world—from the impact of a dangerous despot. And we do not know, at this point, what he will do next.
It is, of course, perfectly legal to call for the overthrow of the U.S. Government, as evidenced by the proliferation of Marxist and Communist groups which do so. It only becomes illegal when the talk is translated into action that involves force of arms and imminent criminal conduct.
But this talk from Stone about hate speech and so forth was extremely odd, to say the least. A movie fantasizing about the assassination of President Bush was not only allowed, but praised by many on the left.
Demonstrating that his pandering to communists knows no bounds, Stone’s film also includes a kid-glove interview with Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and current dictator of Cuba, who took over in 2008 after Fidel suffered failing health.
For his part, Larry King had interviewed Chávez last September, an interview that included this exchange about Castro:
King: Your friendship with Fidel Castro, very close?
CHÁVEZ: Profound, very, extremely close. He’s like a father to me, like a father, a political father. I admire him enormously. He is one of the greatest men of the 20th and the 21st century of this hemisphere and of the world.
KING: And he is a communist.
CHÁVEZ: And what’s wrong about that?
KING: You’d like – you’re not a communist. You don’t support.
CHÁVEZ: I am a socialist. Now, I prefer him as a communist than to the capitalist. I have friends who are capitalists. I’m not going to condemn them because they are capitalists.
Oliver Stone’s praise of despicable characters such as Chávez and Castro shows that he is blinded by his ideology, and demonstrates his failure to use his great talents on behalf of those suffering under these regimes.
In April I interviewed Maria Conchita Alonso for AIM’s Internet radio show, “Take AIM,” in order to provide quite a different version of what is happening.
Ms. Alonso, a former Miss Venezuela, became a popular actress and singer in Latin America and then in the U.S. In March she wrote a public letter to Sean Penn for his public comments in praise of Hugo Chávez. Alonso, who was born in Cuba, but fled along with her family from the Castro regime, to Venezuela, where some of her family still resides, had a lot to say about both countries and how the media and Hollywood portray them.
Ironically, Stone used her image in his documentary, speaking on the Fox News Channel, when he was highlighting what he viewed as wild and erroneous anti-Chávez rhetoric on American television. What he should have done was research her well-founded charges and information.
“We left Cuba because my parents didn’t want us to be brainwashed,” Ms. Alonso told AIM, “which is what they do in Communist countries, and it’s what they’re now doing in public schools in Venezuela…So you can imagine what—for me it’s hard, but it’s even harder for the generation of my parents and grandparents because they’re going through this a second time.”
Alonso also pointed out in her letter to Penn that he, Penn, has a Jewish father, and that Jews are oppressed in Chávez’s Venezuela. Alonso also asked why he has a “fascination with a government that has overtly stated its hatred against the Jewish community worldwide, to the extent that the State of Israel condemned anti-Semitic attacks in Venezuela? Do you think it’s fair that many Jewish-Venezuelan families have emigrated because the Chávez government robbed their personal files when their temples and offices were under attack in 2008?”
Chávez makes no secret of his ties to Iran and Syria, and his contempt for Israel, saying that “Someday the genocidal state of Israel will be put in its place, in the proper place and hopefully a real democratic state will be born. But it has become the murderous arm of the Yankee empire—who can doubt it?—which threatens all of us.”
You can listen to the entire interview or read the complete transcript here.
Connie Mack Offers a Dose of Sanity
Fortunately, Rep. Connie Mack of Florida was also on the Larry King program, expressing disbelief over Stone and Ventura’s praise of Chávez. Rep. Mack, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, brought up Chávez’s support for terrorist groups, ties to Iran and Cuba, and drug trafficking. Stone’s reaction was either to deny it or to defend Chávez. Connie Mack offered to show evidence, but Stone was not interested.
Mack’s office provided AIM with a Congressional Research Service report titled “Latin America and the Caribbean: Illicit Drug Trafficking and U.S. Counterdrug Programs” from April 2010, which stated that “As U.S. counternarcotics cooperation with Venezuela has diminished since 2005, Venezuela has become a major transit point for drug flights through the Caribbean—particularly Haiti and the Dominican Republic—into the United States as well as to Europe.”
Mack’s office also produced a press release from 2007 following passage of a bipartisan House resolution “expressing the House of Representatives’ growing concerns over the national security implications regarding Iran’s growing relationships in Latin America.”
As we have seen—and the media are now reporting—Chávez has close ties to Iran and is trying to help spread Iranian influence throughout the region. He also supports the terrorists in Colombia.
In another media appearance, Stone was on Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, again singing the praises of Chávez. Maher, wanting nobody to think he opposed what the regime in Venezuela is doing, chimed in with the politically-correct statement that “I’m not anti-Hugo Chávez. I believe as you do that we have demonized him.”
But what if he is being demonized for good reason? What else explains his single-minded devotion to spreading the failed ideology of Marxism around the world in the name of anti-Americanism?
Maher went on to say, “I understand what you’re saying about Hugo Chávez, because America always does seem to need an enemy.” He asked Stone why that is, and Stone rambled on about all the terrible things America is supposedly doing in the world, and then added, “Since we became unilateral, since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has dictated the terms around the world.”
Except that, in the case of Obama, as Stone himself acknowledges in the film, there seems to be an understanding between the U.S. President and the Venezuelan ruler. Obama has agreed not to do anything to help the cause of freedom in Venezuela. Stone calls that “destabilizing” Venezuela.
If Maher had bothered to take a cursory look at the stories about what is really happening in Venezuela, as reported even by such establishment organs as The Washington Post and The New York Times, he would understand that the people of that country are suffering greatly, and that Chávez is producing that suffering, perhaps deliberately.
Chávez is, in short, a dangerous tyrant who threatens the security of the United States.
Stone is correct that “private media” can sometimes behave irresponsibly, but the private media that should be held to account in this case include a director in Hollywood and a personality on HBO who apologize and even defend an ideology that has throughout history produced only more misery, suffering and death.
But Stone and Maher are apparently too “stoned” on Chávez to see the truth and reality on the ground in Venezuela.