Oliver Stone’s New Documentary Explains Progressive Governments in Latin America, Exposes Adversarial Media Bias

Stone takes us on a somewhat bewildering tour of South America, as viewers are provided two starkly different portraits of Latin American contemporary history as it unfolds. He does this by juxtaposing two diametrically opposed viewpoints: that of private media outlets in both the U.S. and in Latin America and those of leaders in the region, those responsible for creating the “pink-tide.”
Oliver Stone chose Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, as the final destination for his whistle-stop promotional tour for his film “South of the Border” (Al Sur de la Frontera).

Movie posters plastered on Buenos Aires building sites depict a stylized map of the South American subcontinent in red. The red subcontinent is an allusion to the “pink tide,” so-called for the encroachment of a series of center-left presidents and their mixed economies on capitals throughout the region. The stylized red triangle is shown gripped from above by the black talon of an imperial eagle, which represents Washington’s historical interference in the region. The U.S. director met with President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner at a private screening in the presidential palace on June 3. That night Stone shared his documentary with an invitation-only event in the capital’s national public cinema “Cine Gaumont.” The film was released to the Buenos Aires public the next day.

Stone takes us on a somewhat bewildering tour of South America, as viewers are provided two starkly different portraits of Latin American contemporary history as it unfolds. He does this by juxtaposing two diametrically opposed viewpoints: that of private media outlets in both the U.S. and in Latin America and those of leaders in the region, those responsible for creating the “pink-tide.” As if to emphasize the message of the film, private mainstream outlets were conspicuous in their absence at the documentary’s release in Buenos Aires. However, Argentina’s principle daily newspapers were present with Stone in the presidential palace earlier that day. Never missing a chance to criticize the centre-left government of Fernandez de Kirchner, both of the national dailies, El Clarín and La Nación, passed comment on Stone’s interviews with the President Fernandez de Kirchner. El Clarín is the Argentine daily with largest circulation, part of the multimedia conglomerate Grupo Clarín[1] (Argentina’s Globovisión[2]), while La Nación is considered Argentina’s New York Times. Both papers demonstrate distinctly anti-Kirchner viewpoints. Clarín referred to Stone’s jocular question as to the size of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s wardrobe, La Nación simply spoke of the president’s role as “Oliver Stone’s actress.” Failure to treat the launch of the film as a gala event worthy of attention is less than surprising considering Stone’s film is bitingly critical of Latin American private media and their protection of the status quo.

South of the Border explores seven nations through the eyes of their populist and popular presidents: Chávez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, Kirchner and Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina, Lugo in Paraguay, Correa in Ecuador, Lula in Brazil and Raúl Castro of Cuba. The film portrays this vast and diverse sub-continent taking tentative, but hopeful steps toward political unity. One shining example has been the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), an intergovernmental body modeled after the European Union that integrates economic and security cooperation in the region. UNASUR has been effective in preventing coups and civil wars in Paraguay and Bolivia respectively, and continues to push for justice and accountability concerning last year’s military coup d’état in Honduras – something Washington is currently trying to undermine by attempting to insist that Honduras be re-admitted to the Organization of American States.

In the film we are first treated to US television anchors having difficulties pronouncing the names of their southern neighbors coupled with their reactionary counterparts in South American private media. Stone then presents this same history by means of interviews with the protagonists themselves. The film’s presidential interviews are disarmingly frank, allowing with discussions of coup attempts, internal social policy and relationships with their neighbors in the North.

Beginning his journey in Caracas, 2001, Stone selects media coverage demonstrating the pan-American nature of the anti-Chavez perspective. Using many of the same images used in the Irish film “The revolution will not be televised,” Stone’s editors interplay reactionary coverage on Fox News with Caracas networks such as Globovision’s[3] supportive coverage of the live coup d’état taking place in the streets outside. Private media was the only media available during the coup as the national T.V. channels had been taken off air. Using interviews and media clips, Stone examines the role of the Caracas private media in promoting, indeed manufacturing support for the coup in the streets. His film dissects distorted footage of shootings which lead the T.V.-viewing public to believe that the massacres in the streets were anti-Chávez protestors being shot by Chávez supporters, when the truth was quite the opposite. The victims were Chávez supporters assassinated by anti-Chávez sharpshooters hidden in Caracas skyscrapers. Stone intersperses documentary footage with Hugo Chavez’ personal accounts of his own kidnapping and final triumphant return to the Caracas presidential palace “Miraflores.”

Stone places the 2002 coup in the historical context showing another failed Venezuelan coup ten years earlier in which Chavéz himself was the protagonist. Both coups failed but both strengthened Chávez’s position. In 1992 Chávez led a military coup d’état against Venezuela’s president Carlos Andrés Peréz. The coup failed leaving Chávez doing jail time. Stone shows the famous footage of Chávez on national television calling on military still loyal to the coup to lay down their arms; the coup has failed “for now!,” he said. The charismatic young military officer became an instant star. When he was released from jail he quickly became a successful presidential candidate winning his first election just four years later in 1998.

The rest of Oliver Stone’s documentary film gives the neophyte a crash course in the South American pink tide. One possible criticism of his whirlwind tour across South America is that Stone presents a somewhat simplified and homogenized view of the complex reality that is Latin American politics. However, the presidential interviews are revealing and Stone’s media analysis is at once penetrating and illuminating.

Stone’s film is a must see for those whose interests lie south of the border.

This documentary film was co-written by the political scientist Tariq Ali, an editor at New Left Review, and by the U.S. alternative economist Mark Weisbrot of the Washington D.C.-based economics think-tank, The Center for Economic Policy (CEPR). Ali is a British commentator on Middle Eastern and international affairs who recently wrote “Pirates of the Caribbean, Axis of Hope” Verso 2007. Weisbrot, is co-author of; “Neoliberalism, Globalization, and Inequalities: Consequences for Health and Quality of Life”, “The Scorecard on Development: 25 Years of Diminished Progress” and “Social Security: The Phony Crisis.” The movie is now released in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

The author Tony Phillips is an alternative economist and journalist in Buenos Aires Argentina. He is editor of the online magazine www.DensidadRegional.org.


1. Site of the Grupo Clarin network of publishing companies: http://www.grupoclarin.com/
2. Globovisión is featured in the film “South of the Border” as one of the private media groups in Caracas which supported the military coup against President Hugo Chávez Frias.
3. A local Venezuelan media outlet that, like many, openly supported the coup.