JUAN GONZALEZ: Today we spend the hour south of the border on the political changes that are sweeping across South America.
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone has taken on three American presidents in JFK, Nixon and W. A Vietnam War veteran, he was decorated with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. As a filmmaker, he’s tackled the most controversial aspects of the war in his classics Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. He looked at the greed of the financial industry in the Hollywood hit Wall Street, and the sequel, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month.
Well, now the acclaimed director of films like Salvador, Comandante and Looking for Fidel, returns to Latin America. In his latest film, releasing this week in the United States, Oliver Stone takes a road trip across South America, meeting with seven presidents from the continent. Here’s the trailer. It includes Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Argentine president Cristina Kirchner and her husband, former president Néstor Kirchner, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.
OLIVER STONE: Who is Hugo Chávez? Some believe he is the enemy
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN: He’s more dangerous than bin Laden. And the effects of Chávez’s war against America could eclipse those of 9/11.
OLIVER STONE: Some believe he is the answer.
MAN ON THE STREET 1: [translated] I am with you, Chávez.
MAN ON THE STREET 2: [translated] Hello, President.
OLIVER STONE: But no matter what you believe, in South America he is just the beginning.
GEORGE TENET: Venezuela is important because they’re the third largest supplier of petroleum.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] Bush made a plan: first, Chávez, oil; second, Saddam, Iraq, oil.
PRESIDENT CRISTINA KIRCHNER: [translated] For the first time in the region, the leaders look like the people they govern. If you go to Bolivia and look at the face of Evo, the face of Evo is the face of a Bolivian.
OLIVER STONE: Could we say the goal of presidents of the region would be to own their own natural resources?
PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] The only thing I want is to be treated as equals. I personally have no interest in fighting with the United States.
OLIVER STONE: Rafael Correa is now being cast as one of the bad left.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] With all due respect, knowing the North American media, I would be more worried if they spoke well of me.
REPORTER: Today, the Argentinian president, with concern about US trade policy, seemed in no hurry to embrace his American counterpart.
NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Bush told me the best way to revitalize the economy is war and that the United States has grown stronger with war. Those were his exact words.
NARRATOR: This summer, take an incredible look at an extraordinary movement.
PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] For the first time, the poor are treated like human beings.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] And perhaps this is one of the things that keeps us going—the optimism, faith and hope, and the concrete evidence that we can change the course of history. It’s possible, Oliver.
NARRATOR: South of the Border.
OLIVER STONE: I’m just curious. How many sets of shoes do you have?
PRESIDENT CRISTINA KIRCHNER: [translated] They always ask questions like this to women. I don’t get it. They never ask a man how many pairs of shoes he has.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was the trailer for Oliver Stone’s South of the Border. It’s being released this week in New York. South of the Border—the leftist transformation in the region might be ignored or misrepresented as nothing but anti-Americanism in the mainstream media, but the film seeks to tell a different story—released in Latin America earlier this month, opening here in the United States this week.
Award-winning director Oliver Stone joins us here in New York. And we’re joined by the acclaimed writer and activist Tariq Ali. He co-wrote the screenplay for South of Border with Mark Weisbrot.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Oliver Stone, welcome for the first time to Democracy Now!
OLIVER STONE: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you here. Talk about why you chose to make this film.
OLIVER STONE: It chose me. I do feature films most of the time, but I do—I’ve done six documentaries and work—this is my fourth one. And it gets right to the point. You know, with a film, you take a year. It’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of actors, costumes, scripts. This is a much simpler way of going about it, and it keeps you humble. It keeps you in the field.
I’ve been going down to South America off and on for twenty years. I did Salvador there in 1985 with—about the Central America situation. I was shocked, what I saw. I just—I had been back from Vietnam for about fifteen years at that point, and I saw all these American soldiers down in Honduras, you know, fighting against the Nicaraguan government. I saw them in Salvador, and I saw them in—a form of them—in Costa Rica. I was shocked. And from that thing, I went back and saw Chiapas. I saw Commander Marcos. I rode with him a bit in the jungle. And then I went down there to Cuba. I had problems with Cuba, because my films were censored here. They were not shown. One of them was not shown; Comandante was taken off the air. It was shown in Europe. And then, so, Chávez—
AMY GOODMAN: Where wasn’t it shown?
OLIVER STONE: It was not shown on HBO. It was pulled from HBO. It was promoed, and then it was taken off the air two weeks before.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
OLIVER STONE: Because that was after 9—it was after that sort of that mindset of post-9/11, you know? There was a lot of hysteria in the air, and Castro had just arrested hijackers. They’d been in confrontation with Bush. So HBO kindly told me, you know, “We’d like you to complete the film and go back and ask him some other questions.” I said, “No, this is my film. This is the way it’s finished. I’ll go back, and I’ll do another film called Looking for Fidel,” which we ended up doing. So I asked him a lot of hard questions on Looking for Fidel, which was aired. But they never aired the—it’s a heartbreaking story for me, personally, as a filmmaker, because I really put a lot of effort into it. It’s a ninety-minute film. It’s played all over the world, except here.
So, Chávez was sort of a natural, because he was such a demonized, polarizing figure. But when I met him, he was not at all what I thought, you know, what we made him out to be. So I went on from talking to Hugo. He suggested, you know, “Go talk to other people in the region. You know, don’t believe me necessarily.” So we went around, and we talked to seven other—eight other presidents—or seven other presidents in six countries. And we got this amazing unity in referendum saying, like, hey, these guys are changing the way Latin America is, and we don’t know this story in America, when you think about it, except Peru and Mexico—well, Peru and Colombia really are the two American allies in the region. So what struck me as a news, as something that’s historic, is that I’ve never seen these countries in South America, in a sense, unified by an idea of reform at the same time, because in the past, when Chile or Argentina or Brazil happened, we picked off the reformers one at a time, because they only happened—they didn’t happen in a unity. And this is the first time I’ve seen that since—what, since Bolívar, maybe. We haven’t—you know, going back to 1820s.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, what struck me also was, I think, the way you were able not only to present their viewpoints, in terms of how they saw the changes in Latin America, but also humanizing them, because for an American audience, the image of Hugo Chávez, of this firebrand, and then you have him on a bicycle in his—riding around in the yard of his former home, breaking the bicycle. And then—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I thought the most comic line in the whole film was when, after breaking the bicycle, he says, in Spanish, “Whose bicycle is this? I guess I’m going to have to pay for it.”
OLIVER STONE: He’s not rich. His father is not rich, and he was also a military man. And he comes from a poor family. And he is what he is. He works for the people. I’ve never seen a man work so hard. I mean, he really cares. So do all of them, by the way. Every single one of them I met was elected duly, democratically, which Americans don’t know. And they serve the people, unlike a lot of the oligarchs and dictators who ruled prior and we supported. But we’re against these people. That’s what amazes me. Why is our—what is it about America that makes—needs enemies and makes enemies out of these people who are reformers in their country? Whether it’s Allende or the people in Argentina or Brazil, or Torrijos in Panama, or—the list is long. You know, why? Nicaragua.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You also center in on the IMF and the role of the IMF, which, again, most Americans know little about the operations of the IMF around the world. Yet, in most other countries in the world, the IMF is well known.
OLIVER STONE: Mark Weisbrot is with the Center of Economic Policy and Research, and he’s a co-founder of that, and he brought that element into this. It’s very important. And obviously Americans don’t care about economics as much; it’s hard to follow. But Mark points out that in the 1990s, there was about $20 billion in loans from the IMF to Latin America. Now there’s about a billion, which is interesting. They got rid of it, as Kirchner, Néstor Kirchner of Argentina, is a real hero here. He did technically default on the IMF, but then he paid them off. And he defaulted on the corporate bonds, which was a big scandal, but yet Argentine economy, which was predicted to be a disaster, improved radically. So did Chávez’s economy for six years. I think the gross national product went 90 percent up, up 90 percent. Poverty was cut in half. So all these changes in all these countries have been positive since the IMF is out. They don’t want our money. They don’t want the loans. It’s important.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go right now to a clip of Hugo Chávez talking about oil.
OLIVER STONE: Chávez’s reforms provoked fierce resistance from the country’s oligarchy.
OLIGARCHY MEMBER: We have a government that lies. They’re all a bunch of liars.
OLIVER STONE: They control the Venezuelan media and used it to foment opposition. They also mobilized support within the military and received help from the United States and Spain.
GEN. CAMACHO KAIRUZ: [translated] I think the most reasonable thing for the President and his cabinet to do is resign voluntarily or disappear from the country.
OLIVER STONE: A businessman, Pedro Carmona, was chosen to be the new president. He supposedly flew to Madrid to be measured for a presidential sash.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] The coup against Chávez had one motive: oil. Bush made a plan: first, Chávez, oil; second, Saddam, Iraq. The reason behind the coup in Venezuela and the invasion of Iraq is the same: oil.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Oliver Stone, talk about how the US media portrays Chávez.
OLIVER STONE: Well, all you have to do is go to YouTube, and you’ll see. I mean, we put in the movie, it’s hysterical and outrageous. And by the way, mainstream—Washington Post, New York Times—it’s awful. I mean, it’s almost as if the New York Times guy—Simon Romero is his name—he sits there for years, and he’s a sniper. He doesn’t say one positive thing. It’s like every week or two he has to file his story, make it negative. It seems like that’s a directive. And he goes out—I mean, you read this stuff. All of it—and he never goes to the other side. He never gets the other side of the story. And he gets very complex little incidents, and he builds it up into this madhouse. It seems like it’s Chile again, like Allende. It’s like the economy is crashing. And the contrary is true. I mean, it’s a very rich country. It’s a regional power. It’s got, apparently, $500 billion—5,000 billion barrels of oil in reserve. It’s a major player for the rest of our time on earth, as long as we go with oil. You know, they’re not going to go away. So, Brazil and Venezuela.
And that raises a whole interesting thing about what recently happened in Iran, you know, when Lula from Brazil went over there with Turkey, Erdogan. That was a very interesting moment for me and for Tariq, because I grew up in the ’50s, so did he, and we remember the neutral bloc, remember the—remember Nehru and Nasser and Sukarno and fellow in Cambodia.
TARIQ ALI: Sihanouk
OLIVER STONE: Sihanouk. I mean, there was a bloc of people who used to say, “Hey, this is what we want. This is not what the United States wants.” And they were a mediator, a third rail between the Soviets and us. That’s gone in the world, and people don’t seem to realize it who are growing up. So when Lula did that, I couldn’t believe the outrage by people like Tom Friedman attacking him. And it was disgusting, I thought, really disgusting, because he never presented the point of view of Brazil and Turkey, which are major countries, huge powers, regional powers.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the New York Times, of course, before that trip, was blasting the possibility of Lula being able to negotiate any kind of arrangement and basically saying he was naive, he was out of his league. And Tariq, your response? The impact of that deal that was brokered by Turkey and—
TARIQ ALI: Look, I mean, everyone was surprised in the West, that how dare these countries have the nerve to go over our heads and negotiate an independent deal with Iran. But this is what the world once used to be like. No one accepted US hegemony unquestioningly, as many of the Security Council members do. The other point is that Brazil was very courageous to do this, Lula particularly, because Brazil has been trying to get a Security—permanent Security Council seat for a long time, and they’ve now jeopardized that process. They will never be allowed it. So they did it for good principled reasons, showing the world Iran is prepared to do a deal; it’s you who don’t want to do it, because you’re permanently under pressure from Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back. Our guests are Tariq Ali—he co-wrote South of the Border—Oliver Stone is the Oscar award-winning director and screenwriter. His latest film is South of the Border, and he also has Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps coming out. That’s Wall Street 2. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Oliver Stone, who has done this new film that’s coming out this week in the United States called South of the Border. Tariq Ali co-wrote South of the Border. And we want to turn to the Brazilian president, Lula da Silva, talking about Brazil.
PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I learned as a trade unionist that one only respects someone who respects themselves. I personally have no interest in fighting with the United States. The only thing I want is to be treated as equals. When I met with the head of the IMF and paid off the debt in full, he did not want me to pay the debt. He said, “Don’t worry about the money. We can roll it over. Keep the money.” We paid off the IMF. We paid off the Paris Club. We do not owe anything to anybody. And now we have $260 billion surplus. I am truly optimistic.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president. Oliver Stone uses the clips to talk to us. Now we’re going to say that right on the air, what you’re saying about Lula da Silva, about Chávez, and now they’re covered and how they’re censored in various ways.
OLIVER STONE: You go.
TARIQ ALI: Well—
AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali?
TARIQ ALI: Why? Why does this happen? That’s the question we have to ask. Why are these people so hated by the mainstream media in the United States? And the answer is simple: that they present an alternative. What they’re doing is using their wealth, especially the oil wealth of Venezuela, to bail out the poor. Here, it’s the rich who are bailed out by taxpayers’ money. In South America, it’s the poor who are bailed out by the wealth, which they regard as owned commonly by the people.
And they were the first countries to attack neoliberal economics, which collapsed in Wall Street in 2008. The whole Wall Street system collapsed. These guys had been doing it for ten, fifteen years previously. So none of them were surprised by the Wall Street crash, because of what they’d been doing. So we should look at them as pioneers. Hey guys, you were the ones who taught us that this could happen in Argentina, in Venezuela, and later Brazil, Ecuador.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Oliver Stone, we’re going to play a clip, when you were interviewing Néstor Kirchner. And you see him as a real hero in this, even within the pantheon of these leaders, because he actually stood up directly to George Bush at a summit, an important summit a few years back in Argentina, over this issue of neoliberalism.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah, not only him, but he’s also now the president of UNASUR, which is the union of these countries. This is a new deal. And it’s not just him, but he led—he was the first one to say no to the Western neoliberal economics. And he actually was—they were predicting disaster. There had been like four or five Argentine presidents right before him, one after another. And he lasted. And he brought the country out of this horrifying cycle, and it prospered enormously, up until recently, with the—the world recession has put some of these countries, no question.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But let’s take a look at that clip of Kirchner.
OLIVER STONE: Were there any eye-to-eye moments with President Bush that day, that night?
NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] I say it’s not necessary to kneel before power. Nor do you need to be rude to say the things you have to say to those who oppose our actions. We had a discussion in Monterey. I said that a solution to the problems right now, I told Bush, is a Marshall Plan. And he got angry. He said the Marshall Plan is a crazy idea of the Democrats. He said the best way to revitalize the economy is war and that the United States has grown stronger with war.
OLIVER STONE: War. He said that?
NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] He said that. Those were his exact words.
OLIVER STONE: Was he suggesting that South America go to war?
NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Well, he was talking about the United States. The Democrats had been wrong. All of the economic growth of the United States has been encouraged by the various wars. He said it very clearly. President Bush is—well, he’s only got six days left, right?
OLIVER STONE: Yes.
NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Thank God.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That was former President Kirchner. And these comments of President Bush that he says about the United States growing strong through war, I don’t think that’s ever been reported anywhere.
OLIVER STONE: Well, it goes to the heart of the issue. And, you know, we know it, but we sound jaded when we say it. But why do we all—why does America go to war? I went to Vietnam. We went—right after that, we didn’t—I made three movies about it. And then we went back to Panama. We invaded Panama, Grenada, then we went into Iraq twice and now Afghanistan. I don’t get it. And there has to be a reason for all this corporate march to war. Why do—and the press supports it. And we saw it in Iraq most vividly. It was very depressing to be a Vietnam veteran at that time. And now we’re seeing it again with Iran and with Afghanistan, the support of this war. I don’t—there’s no sense to it, because we don’t resemble the Afghani or the Vietnam average person. Our soldiers have to go. If they’re going to go there, they’ve got to stay. That’s all there is to it. They’ve got to become citizens of Afghanistan. That’s the only way they’re ever going to make it. They’re not. There’s no way we’re going to say, and they know it. And as long as they know we’re leaving, I don’t see any victory, any exit, any exit strategy at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go, since you talked about your time in Vietnam, to one of your most well-known films, a clip of Platoon.
SGT. BARNES: What about the [bleep] rice and the weapons? Who are they for? An OVC? That [bleep] knows what I’m saying. He understands. Don’t you, pop?
ACE: Goddamn right, he does.
SGT. BARNES: [inaudible]
JUNIOR: He’s lying through his teeth! Come on!
TONY: Waste the [bleep], then see who talks.
SGT. BARNES: OVC! Where’s OVC?
LERNER: He doesn’t know anything.
VIETNAMESE VILLAGE WOMAN: [speaking Vietnamese]
LERNER: He swears he doesn’t know anything. He hates the NVA, but they come when they want, and they just take the place over.
SGT. BARNES: What’s the [bleep] saying?
LERNER: I don’t know. She’s going on about why are we killing the pigs, their farmers. They’ve got to make a living. All that kind of [bleep].
SGT. BARNES: Jeez!
SOLDIER: Shut up!
SGT. BARNES: [shoots village woman] You tell him he starts talking, or I’m going to waste more of them. Tell him, Lerner!
LERNER: [speaking Vietnamese]
VIETNAMESE VILLAGE MAN: [speaking Vietnamese]
ACE: Sir, let us in on this, alright?
AMY GOODMAN: A scene from Platoon.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Oliver Stone.
OLIVER STONE: I don’t get it. I think—I mean, we trashed Vietnam, I mean, completely. We didn’t even recognize it for so many years after the war. We did the same thing to Iraq. I wouldn’t want to live in Iraq. I mean, they call it democracy? That’s not democracy. It’s the same thing over and over. Why? Why does—I see all the—I don’t watch TV as much as a lot of people, but what I see is people all get on the air, they talk about our discretionary spending, they talk about the Tea Party people, they talk about education, cutting this, this—I don’t get it. Why, if the majority of our discretionary spending is Pentagon—it’s like a trillion dollars, with a shadow budget in there, a trillion dollars a year, that’s most of the discretionary spending in this country—why is it going to war? If we’re in such bad shape, why are we not taking care of ourselves? Why is Obama embracing this?
And why is Clinton down in Latin America, when I’m there, trying to separate these countries? And we’re still doing the same thing. We’re trying to divide one country from the other. She goes to Bolivia—she goes to Ecuador. She goes to Argentina. She tries to separate them. She’s trying to pull Brazil away from Venezuela. It doesn’t work. They’re together in this. This is the first time—I repeat, Amy—the first time in our lifetime that I’ve seen these so many countries in Latin America together, with the exception of Peru and Colombia.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to talk about Colombia in a minute, but Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, on this issue of war and, of course, the statement that President Bush made, which to me was startling, is, in essence, when our government goes to war, not only does it spend huge amounts of money that it turns over to the contractors who assist the war, but also technological development always increases sharply, sponsored by the government. And then, after the war, these same companies then use the new technological development to open up new arenas of business. So, in that sense, I think Bush was talking about how war—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —forces the productive forces ahead and allows capitalism to continue to exploit.
OLIVER STONE: It’s a hard way to die.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Tariq?
TARIQ ALI: Well, no, that—he was very honest. The thing is that Bush used to spell it out straight, which is why people didn’t like him that much, because he just said it. I mean, often what he said was true from his point of view, and from the point of view of the corporations. He didn’t wear a mask. He didn’t use emollient words, which is what happens now.
But the other thing I was thinking, as we were just seeing that clip from Platoon, is, why isn’t there a movie like that about Iraq now? I mean, quite a lot of the movies we are seeing, the Iraqis don’t appear. And yet, we know what has been done to Iraq: a million have died. A million Iraqis have died since the occupation. But we don’t really get a glimpse of them. So the enemy is dehumanized, or that they’re all Muslims and so it doesn’t matter if we kill them—after all, they did 9/11. And all this rubbish that goes on endlessly to misinform the public, that’s what we’re seeing.
AMY GOODMAN: Before you leave, Oliver Stone, I wanted to ask you about the sequel you’ve made to your hit Wall Street. It’s called Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. This is a famous clip from the original Wall Street, featuring Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko.
GORDON GEKKO: Point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed—you mark my words—will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: So, is Gordon Gekko making another appearance?
OLIVER STONE: The film is, you know, a visit to another planet. It’s twenty-three years later, that Wall Street has become worse. We know that. I mean, millions of dollars have become billions of dollars. The currency is now completely inflated. And the values are the same. The bank—but the big difference is the banks are doing it now. I mean, it’s not the hedge funds, it’s the banks. And they overloaded, and we all overloaded, but the banks led the charge, and the government allowed it to happen. But we know the story. I don’t want to go there.
The movie is a movie, and it’s fun, and it’s got five people in it who are—it’s a triangle, essentially, between Gordon and his daughter, Carey Mulligan, and her fiancé, Shia LaBeouf. And Josh Brolin and Frank Langella play mentors to Shia LaBeouf. It’s a fun movie, but, you know—and in that transaction, you come to this—for me, what’s the essential question: what is your life about? Is it going to be about money, or is it going to be about love? Is it going to be about family values and things that matter, human values, or is it about money?
It’s like South America. It’s the same thing. And the Wall Street guys, I mean, the big guys, you know, they’re part of the IMF, International Monetary Fund. They’re part of the whole deal, which is, make loans to people, get them on the hook, get them into—they’re drug addicts—keep them to be drug addicts, keep people stupid, and make money. Nothing has changed since my father’s day, and he started in 1930s.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did he do?
OLIVER STONE: He was a broker.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Wall Street, you thought, was a warning to people.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet you attracted people to Wall Street.
OLIVER STONE: It was a melodrama about financial movies, which had not been made in this country. As he said, why don’t they make a movie about Iraq? They were not making any movies about financial situation. Now they have it wall to wall on TV. I’m glad, but it’s not really dealing with the fundamental issues. It’s about the surface: who’s making money, who isn’t, right? Who’s a big star, who isn’t? All these CEOs make the magazine covers. I think that’s pretty vile, considering that in the old days, when I grew up, if you had a lot of money, like John Rockefeller, you kind of like hid. You know, you always tried to do—tried to stay low-key. But now it’s gotten insane. There’s a scene in the movie with a thousand billionaires are listed. A thousand billionaires—can you imagine that? You grew up when, what, there were four or five billionaires in the world. It’s unfortunate.
But it ties into the whole thing. It’s organic. Latin America comes from Wall Street, too. Wall Street, you know, you could say—I’m sure Tariq could make a better argument—runs the world. Wall Street, the pharmaceutical lobbies, the oil lobbies, they run our government. We should consider, in the wake of this spill, perhaps doing something about nationalizing our own government and trying to get the profits back to the people, because Latin America has shown us that they care about the people more than the profits. And they’ve done well with the people. We haven’t.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And through all of these films now that you’ve made over decades, the overriding message that ties them together in terms of what your artistic vision is?
OLIVER STONE: Well, I believe in—movies have to be fun. You’ve got to go and have a—you know, if you can take the JFK story and make it exciting, I mean, that may be not—that’s good. I mean, it makes people interested. A new generation looks at it. Wall Street‘s the same thing. It makes them interested in what’s going on in the world. That’s all I can do. Documentaries is another form of filmmaking.
AMY GOODMAN: The five million-dollar question on JFK today, your thoughts on his assassination?
OLIVER STONE: Listen, I think JFK is a much-maligned president, but I think he really changed in 1963. I stick to the—and, by the way, James Douglas has a new book. McGeorge Bundy came out recently. Gordon Goldstein, I believe is the name, wrote a wonderful book about Bundy. He said I was all wrong. Kennedy wanted to pull out. He confirms what McNamara said. In ’63, Kennedy wanted out of Vietnam. He wanted to make a deal with Cuba, with Castro. And he wanted—he certainly—the most important thing was he had a détente going with Khrushchev. All these things ended when he was shot. And Johnson, whatever they say, went the other way completely, 180 degrees.
AMY GOODMAN: And who you think killed him?
OLIVER STONE: The motive is in that answer.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Oliver Stone. Tariq, you’re going to stay with us. Tariq Ali—
OLIVER STONE: Thank you, Amy, thank you, Juan, for having me. I’d love to come back some day.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much, and good luck with South of the Border.
OLIVER STONE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re staying with Tariq Ali. He’s a well-known writer and activist, co-wrote South of the Border, Oliver Stone’s film that’s opening this week. And we want to stay on this film. We want to go to Ecuador, to Oliver Stone speaking with Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa.
OLIVER STONE: Where are you with the United States?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] We love the United States very much. I lived there. I studied there. We love the people of the United States very much. But obviously, the US foreign policy is questionable. That’s why when they want to pressure us to maintain their military base in our country, a foreign base that they don’t pay anything for, either, and they accuse us of being extremists because we don’t want the base—if there’s no problem having foreign military bases in a country, we set a very specific condition: we would keep the North American base in Manta, provided they let us put a military base in Miami. If there’s no problem with foreign bases, then we should be able to have one over there.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa. Tariq Ali?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, you know, what can one say? He says, “When the American media attacks me, I know I’m doing right.” And that is a view which large numbers of South American leaders have now. The fact that they are traduced, denounced in the mainstream media in this country doesn’t bother them so much. You know, Hugo Chávez says if the New York Times started supporting me, I would be very surprised. So, outside the United States, and probably for large numbers of people inside it, as well, the media is now a central pillar of the needs of the state and the government and what it does. I mean, that whole thing during the Cold War, when diversity and diverse voices were allowed on the networks and in the press, that’s gone now. They’re very blatant about it. And no one takes it too seriously. I mean, it’s irritating, and sometimes it’s slanderous, but it’s not a surprise.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Tariq, I’d like to ask you, because you were there when a lot of these interviews were conducted with these various presidents. And obviously, while they’re all united around a new independent role, they have considerable differences among themselves, in terms of what are the proper approaches or strategies on a variety of issues, certainly between Lula and Hugo Chávez or the Kirchners. Could you talk about that some?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think you’re absolutely right, Juan. I mean, Lula’s economic policies are very different from those of Chávez and Morales. He decided soon after he came to power that he couldn’t basically dismantle the neoliberal system. It was too much, and he thought it was safer to go that way. So, essentially what they did was a few cosmetic things, not unimportant, by giving subsidies to the poor, which is important, but they didn’t touch the system. And I think that has been a problem for some of his supporters. However, in terms of foreign policy, Lula made a big break. He said Brazil will no longer be used to demobilize countries like Venezuela or Bolivia. We will not participate in destabilizing them, in demobilizing those people. And he told that very clearly to the United States. Don’t even try and do it. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that these people do, but it’s their right to do it. And that, for South America, marks a big leap forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened in Colombia, the election.
TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, Colombia, it’s just now beyond a joke, really. It was bound to happen. Uribe couldn’t stand again, for constitutional reasons, and he’s put in his minister. The guy largely responsible for the repression, the guy largely responsible for supervising some of the death squads, the guy totally in the pocket of the US embassy, is now president of Colombia. Colombia is the big US base in South America now. Peru, to a lesser extent. Colombia is the big base. This is where money is being poured in. This is where US military bases are being built. And Correa recently, the president of Ecuador, made it very clear. He said to the Colombians, if your troops ever come into our country again, like you did once before, for whatever the reason, we are going to fight back, so don’t do it. And this is from Correa, who is regarded by the State Department here as the more reasonable of the Bolivarian leaders. He is warning the Colombians about this. So Hillary Clinton’s trip to try and divide them from each other really backfired. It’s not going to work, because South America has changed.
AMY GOODMAN: The new foreign—the new president of Colombia will be the former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos.
TARIQ ALI: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, in the film, you deal with all of the new presidents, but then you go back to Raúl Castro of Cuba and one of the, I think, first interviews that Americans have seen of Raúl Castro after he replaced Fidel as the president of Cuba. Let’s go to that clip.
PRESIDENT RAÚL CASTRO: [translated] The Cubans are the heirs of the liberators of the Americas, starting with Bolívar, Sucre, Toussaint L’ouverture, the Haitian, the first and only successful revolution led by slaves in the history of the world. We are the heirs of some of the more recent battles of other companions who have fallen, like Che Guevara. Now some are young, like President Correa and President Chávez. But each one is learning their own identity and finding their own identity within the continent.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Raúl Castro. And by the way, Tariq Ali has written the book Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, about Evo Morales, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. So what do you think of Raúl Castro and where Fidel Castro fits into this picture?
TARIQ ALI: Well, Fidel was, you know, I mean, an iconic leader, still is. And even people in South America who hate him know that he is one of those figures produced in South American history once or twice maybe in a hundred years. So that will never go.
The interesting thing now is what will happen in Cuba. And this is literally a million-dollar question. Which way are they going to go? The US has certainly not made any conciliatory moves, though there were a lot of hopes that Obama would do it. But as in every other thing, the continuities between Obama and the Bush administration are more striking than any breach. So, the Cubans could go the Chinese route, keeping the party in power, opening up the economy. It’s very difficult to find out, penetrate what is being discussed at the upper levels.
However, what is not difficult to see is that the Cuban social services—their medicine, their education—is now helping the whole of South America, Amy. It’s quite—you know, this is what is very noticeable, that you have Cuban doctors now in most South American countries, helping the poor, setting up clinics, and often going to, you know, parts of Africa, as well, and doing the same thing, and training people. And the Cuban medical university has got people from all over, including hundreds and hundreds of Venezuelan kids from poor families. I remember when I was in Havana, and they took me to the school. And there were some Afro-American kids from the United States learning to be medical students. And I said, “How do you guys find it here?” And they said, “We’ve never known anything like this before. We would never be able to get this education in our own country.” And the government here was aware of it, because Colin Powell exempted these students from the boycott. So they know that what the United States can’t do, this tiny little island is doing.
So there are lots of good things to be understood and learned about Cuba, which, I mean, I’ve always said that the Cubans and the Venezuelans could learn a lot from each other. The Venezuelans could learn on how to produce a social infrastructure that serves the people, and the Cubans could learn that having critical voices in a country is not always harmful. It keeps you on your toes, and it makes you more alert.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Let’s go to a clip from Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo from the film.
PRESIDENT FERNANDO LUGO: [translated] It hasn’t been easy to create change in this country. Here, there’s a group which has historically been privileged in the government with the country’s resources. We want to be consistent with the theory of liberation theology. If there are going to be the privileged, then it has to be those who in the past have been forgotten: the indigenous, the landless, the uneducated, the sick. Those are the ones who need to be the first priority. We are committed to honesty, transparency, and to give back dignity to our institutions, and with much more social justice.
AMY GOODMAN: The Paraguayan president Lugo. The significance of this priest-turned-president?
TARIQ ALI: Well, the significance is that Paraguay is a country which has essentially been a one-party state for so long that people forgot when it was anything else. And the stranglehold of this party and the country’s rich prevented anything from coming up. And then you have this priest, you know, a bishop who sort of was later discarded his bishop’s frocks, leading the people, fighting for the poor, and actually winning an election.
And I think one reason that happened is because of the changes taking place elsewhere in South America. I remember I was giving a talk in Porto Alegre at one of the World Social Forums, and sitting in the sixth row somewhere was this priest from Paraguay, which was Lugo. And later on, he told a friend of mine, “Oh, I know him. I heard him speak at Porto Alegre.” So, the mixture that was South America helped propel him to power. And people felt confident. They think, if they can do it in other parts of South America, why can’t we? So he was an incredibly popular figure. And as I must say, the scale of his victory stunned us, because we thought they might rig the elections or do something. But the mood was so overwhelming and the number of poor who turned up to vote was so huge that they couldn’t do it. So it goes to show that the collective spirit of South America, which we haven’t seen for a very long time, which the Cubans in the ’60s and ’70s were hoping for, you know, OLAS and this and that, is now coming to fruition. For how long, we don’t know. But ’til now, the US hasn’t been able to turn that tide back. And with allies like Colombia, it is very unlikely that they will. And had they not rigged the elections in Mexico, we would have had a different president there, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Before you leave us, Tariq, we wanted to go to another continent. We wanted to talk about Afghanistan and Pakistan. You are from Pakistan.
TARIQ ALI: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: Your latest book is on Pakistan—you’ve written many—the book called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power. What do you think of Obama’s war now in Afghanistan and what’s happening in Pakistan?
TARIQ ALI: Look, if you look at Obama, that on all the other foreign policy shows he basically continued with Bush’s policies. Let’s be blunt about this. In Afghanistan, he went beyond Bush. He escalated the war. He went along with this policy of the surge. And he ordered more drone attacks on civilians in Pakistan in his one year in office than Bush had done during his last term. So, for the people of that region, Obama’s presidency has been a total disaster. And it’s not working. If you read the reports coming out of Afghanistan, they’re losing more people. There are more casualties. More Afghan civilians are being killed. They have a puppet leader, Karzai, who’s developing his own sort of dynamic, because he’s grown very wealthy through corruption and thinks that he has genuine support. Puppets sometimes have these illusions. And he can’t be got rid of, because they’ve got no one to replace him. So they are really stuck in Afghanistan. And if—and they’re deficient, as we know, within the US military-political establishment on this war. And the ones who are saying that this is an unwinnable war are absolutely right. It’s a stalemated war. They can’t win it unless they destroy half the population of the country.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the impact on Pakistan of the continued drone attacks and the continued secret war going on in Pakistan?
TARIQ ALI: Well, this is it. They’ve been—the drones have been killing civilians. I mean, I point out that the day that the tragedy happened in Tehran and that young woman Nehda was killed—accidentally, it so happens, but she was killed, which was terrible and a tragedy—we had a moist-eyed president in the White House talking to the media on what a terrible tragedy that was, and the same day, a drone attack in Pakistan killed fifteen innocents, mainly women and children, who didn’t even make it onto the news bulletins. So that is what people see. And then, why are they surprised that people are so hostile to the United States in that part of the world?
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll have to leave it there, Tariq Ali, British Pakistani political commentator, historian, activist, filmmaker. He co-wrote the screenplay South of the Border. His latest book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.