On April 13, 2002, an event occurred in Venezuela which was as world-historical for South America as the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Eastern Europe: a U.S.-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela collapsed. The Bush Administration's efforts to promote the coup failed, in the face of popular resistance in Venezuela, and diplomatic resistance in the region.
The failure of the Bush Administration's effort to overthrow President Chavez was world-historical for South America because it sent a powerful new signal about the limits of the ability of the United States to thwart popular democracy in the region. In the years prior to the reversal of the U.S.-backed coup, popular movements in South America had suffered from a widespread "Allende syndrome": a key legacy of the U.S.-orchestrated overthrow of democracy in Chile in 1973 was the widespread belief that there was a sharp limit to the popular economic reforms that could be achieved through the ballot box, because the United States simply wouldn't allow formal democracy in the region to respond to the economic needs of the majority.
Following the reversal of the U.S.-backed coup, a succession of presidents were elected across South America promising to reverse the disastrous economic policies promoted by Washington in the region through the International Monetary Fund for the previous twenty years and to promote instead the economic interests of the majority: Brazil elected Lula in 2002, Argentina elected Nestor Kirchner in 2003, Bolivia elected Evo Morales in 2005, Ecuador elected Rafael Correa in 2006, and Paraguay elected Fernando Lugo in 2008.
The story of this dramatic transformation has been largely untold in the United States. Our major corporate media are largely uninterested in the freedom narrative of South America, because it's significantly a narrative of freedom from control by U.S. institutions, and because the battle is ongoing, as shown recently by Washington's fury at Brazil for working against a U.S. push for new sanctions against Iran, and by Ecuador's decision to recall its ambassador after Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
But on Friday, Oliver Stone's new documentary South of the Border opens in New York (currently scheduled screenings nationwide are here). In this movie, Stone tells the story that the U.S. media has missed. Because it's an Oliver Stone movie, and because it's being commercially distributed, there's a strong possibility that many Americans who are not connected to the alternative press could have the opportunity to see and hear this story for the first time.
Stone introduces us to leaders that most people in the United States have never had the opportunity to see speaking for themselves.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez explains the Bush Administration's effort to overthrow him:
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, who got his PhD in Economics from the University of Illinois, explains why he followed through on his campaign promise to get rid of the U.S. military base at Manta:
And Brazil's President Lula da Silva - recently vilified in the U.S. media for his efforts to mediate a deal between the U.S. and Iran on Iran's nuclear program, with pundits demanding that Brazil "get back in its lane" - explains that he has no interest in fighting with the U.S., but only wants to be treated as equals:
If many Americans get to see it, this could be Oliver Stone's most important movie in terms of its social impact, because it's forward-looking: it's a about a conflict that's going on right now and will continue in the future, pitting a South America that both wants to govern itself in the interests of the majority and speak its voice without fear in world affairs against the latter-day devotees of the Monroe Doctrine who want to keep the region subservient to the interests of U.S. elites.
One would have hoped that Americans who saw Stone's Vietnam movies - Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July - would be much more likely to oppose the imperial quagmire in Afghanistan. But with so much of the media under corporate control, we need popular documentaries that speak directly to the issues of the day. South of the Border speaks directly to the relationship between the U.S. and South America. If many Americans see it, it could help bring about a fundamental transformation in U.S. policy towards all of Latin America. Maybe, "sooner rather than later," as President Allende once said, we'll be able to look back at last year's U.S.-supported coup in Honduras and say with confidence that it was the last.
[Note: The film was directed by Oliver Stone, and co-written by Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot; Mark Weisbrot is president of the board of Just Foreign Policy, of which I am the policy director - see my bios at HuffPo and Just Foreign Policy. ]