At the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in 2009, I remember asking renowned writer and activist Tariq Ali, during a Q&A after the screening of the film “South of the border” he’d helped Oliver Stone create - whether in the spirit of the “enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend”, he and Stone had jettisoned objectivity in their uber-respectful, often fawning conversations with the leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia and other “Bolivarian” countries of Latin America.
Ali responded that the film’s intention was to redress imbalances created by the US propaganda machine, exemplified by Fox News and its incessant smear campaign against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in particular. The film actually begins with a montage of Fox’s accusations against Chavez, including labelling him a dictator and a new Hitler, among other equally colourful and by and large inaccurate descriptions.
My question to Ali was, despite the ludicrousness of the accusations of the other side, did a film which never once challenged its subjects, which included Presidents Correa, Morales, Chavez and Lugo, not smack of being a form of counter-propaganda? While acknowledging my point with poise, he claimed a film showing the “other side”, an alternate narrative, was necessary.
Also in attendance at the festival, seated in front of me at the screening, was a group of Venezuelans promoting the film clad in red, their necks wrapped and shoulders draped in Palestinian keffiyehs, handing out flyers promoting their government and also keen to educate festival goers about their President’s defiance against Yankee imperialism, his criticism of Israel, his leadership of the global “Left” and unequalled support for Arabs and Muslims worldwide.
I had wondered whether the stateless, occupied Palestinians would feel supported, or exploited, by seeing this and I never quite understood the word “demagoguery” before this, although I thought this came quite close to illuminating the concept for me.
Now, as a defiant and delusional Muammar Gaddafi continues his attempt to ride out an historical avalanche of people-power in his country, the champions of the Bolivarian “Left” in Latin America have been conspicuously absent in their support for the people of Libya.
As my colleague Gabriel Elizondo recently pointed out, tiny Nicaragua has rushed to show solidarity with the man who has given it over $300 million and who still claims, “they love me, all my people are with me” despite losing almost every town and city in his country barring the capital, to the protesters. Protesters - he claims - who are being drugged by “Osama bin Laden” who has put “things in their Nescafe”. Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega said Gaddafi is ‘waging a great battle’ for his country.
Prior to February 28 there was still room for doubt as to the extent of Hugo Chavez’s support for Gaddafi. He had refused to openly weigh in on the issue, and the only evidence for his support had been a tweet of his saying “…viva Libya and its independence! Kadafi is facing a civil war!!”
Even that was open to interpretation. However, his latest take on the crisis has been unequivocal, "A campaign of lies is being spun together regarding Libya...I'm not going to condemn him. I'd be a coward to condemn someone who has been my friend."
“The US government is behind the campaign.”
And as the Associated Press reported, while Chavez noted that numerous countries have condemned Gaddafi for cracking down on Libyans who have risen up against him - "Maybe they have information that we don't have," he said.
Chavez furthered his argument by saying that imposing a no-fly zone over the country, which protesters have been crying out for, was a sign that U.S. officials were preparing to invade Libya.
Presumably he’d missed the testimonies of the two Libyan air-force pilots who defected, and landed in Malta, after refusing orders to bomb protesters in Benghazi.
Undoubtedly, there has been some last-minute face-saving from the United States, Britain, France, Italy and many other nations over their obscene double-standards over Libya over the past decade.
In an all too often seen cycle of realpolitik - oil deals trumped ethics and cooperation over weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and migration issues served to whitewash a sordid past.
Muammar Gaddafi’s “rehabilitation” (maybe after a Nescafe addiction?) in the eyes of the so-called International Community was complete (see my take on that term here).
Undoubtedly too, despite growing opposition to his rule, Hugo Chavez’s alternative financial model in his country, has had some tremendous benefits for his citizens, evidenced by the literacy and other social programs, designed to uplift the poor and crucially - financed by oil wealth.
He has kept American and economic neoliberal influence at bay, and strong evidence has suggested US fingerprints on a coup attempt against him in 2002, despite being Venezuela’s democratically elected President.
A changing world
But the man who models himself on Latin America’s liberator Simon Bolivar, and projects himself as an heir to his legacy (and sometimes to Fidel Castro’s) - is finding himself in a changing world.
He may see himself as a leader of the global “Left” - but what left is he claiming to lead?
The enemy-of-my-enemy “Left”, of hollow, mud-slinging slogans, in support of anything or anyone who claims to oppose imperialism in all its forms in this Yankee-dominated world, no matter how monstrous his policies?
Or a principled “Left” based on respecting the values entrenched in the universal declaration of human rights, democracy and most importantly, the “Left” which places it’s support squarely on the part of the people tormented, rather than their tormentor.
Chavez’s open support for Gaddafi (who he presented with a replica of one of Bolivar’s swords in 2009) despite his outrageous disregard for his own people, disturbingly intent to “open the arms depots” and let his country “burn”, rather than listen to the demands of Libyans, at this crucial point in the history of the region - sounds vacuous and adolescent.
In fact, it’s starting to sound like he’s been drinking some of that hallucinogenic Nescafe that Gaddafi was talking about...