Oliver Stone on Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, and Hugo Chavez

The Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 2010 | Go to article overview

Oliver Stone on Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, and Hugo Chavez


Oliver Stone talks about his two latest films, "South of the Border" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."

Oliver Stone is the director of some of Hollywood's most famous films, from "Platoon" to "Wall Street" to "JFK." Last week he sat down in the Los Angeles offices of his production company, IXTLAN, to talk with Global Viewpoint Network editor Nathan Gardels about his recent documentary, "South of the Border," and his upcoming release, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."

"South of the Border"

Nathan Gardels: As you show in your recent documentary, "South of the Border," US diplomacy and the American media have reacted with general hostility to the empowerment of the poor and indigenous in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and, to some extent, in Brazil. Why is that?

Oliver Stone: I suppose it comes from the old imperial impulse of the US toward Latin America going back to the Monroe Doctrine, Teddy Roosevelt, the protection of American business interests, and support for military dictators throughout the cold war. The US remains hostile to anyone on the left coming to power in their "backyard," anyone who thinks the resources of a country belong to its people.

As Argentine president Cristina Kirchner points out in the film, for the first time since the Spanish Conquest, Latin America's leaders look like the people they govern. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was raised in poverty. Bolivia's Evo Morales is an indigenous Indian labor leader. [Brazil's] Lula was a labor union leader who was not well educated. All three of these men were imprisoned at various times.

For the first time in modern history, much of South America is beyond US control, with the notable exception of Colombia under [Alvaro] Uribe, who has allowed seven US bases in the country. That is a big deal for the rest of the countries.

It is also beyond the influence of the US-dominated IMF [International Monetary Fund]. In 2003, the IMF had [more than] $20 billion in loans outstanding to Latin American countries. Today, it's about $1 billion. Lula tells in the film how he resisted the IMF's effort to get him to roll over Brazil's loans. He wanted out of the dependence.

The US media tend to ignore the fact that so many of the poor today are better off than under previous regimes. From 1980-2000 when neo-liberal policies reigned, growth was dismal, the gap between rich and poor grew far larger. Yet, until the Wall Street- induced recession, growth has been high across the region under this new breed of leftist leaders. From 2003-2008, for example, Venezuela's economy nearly doubled in size. After [former Argentine President] Nestor Kirchner got rid of the IMF loans [after he came to power], unemployment dropped from 20 to 8 percent, and the economy grew 63 percent over 6 years.

Criticisms of Venezuela

Gardels: Yet, key figures of Latin America's left are also critical of Chavez, Morales and the rest. Jorge Castaneda, Mexico's former foreign minister, divides Latin America into the "irresponsible" left of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Argentina and the "sensible" left of Brazil and Chile.

His worry is that the "irresponsible" left's anti-globalization, populist spending policies, in the mold of [mid-20th century Argentine President] Juan Peron, will lead Latin American back to the old cycle of inflation, stagnation, personalist authoritarian rule, corruption and disillusion. Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso has the same worry: "A country has to make a living in a globally competitive environment," he says. "Building prosperity requires caution and patience. It requires time. Populism is a short cut that doesn't work."

Indeed, today inflation in Venezuela, at 30 percent, is the highest in Latin America. The credit markets also rate it among the highest risks globally to default on its debts.

Is there anything to these criticisms in your view? …

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