The War on Democracy by John Pilger
Tonight, ITV1, 11-12.40pm
I had read some reviews of John
Pilger’s latest documentary, ‘War on Democracy’ and expected it to be gripping,
but nothing could have prepared me for the totally inspiring piece of cinema I
was privileged to see. I knew it concerned US Imperialism’s role in attempting
to crush any leftward movement in Latin American countries and it was very
effective in doing this, but my lasting memory of the film will be the courage
that ordinary working people showed in trying to reclaim democracy in their
land and, in some cases, actually moving towards socialism.
The most obvious and recent example to begin with is, of
course, Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez. This section of the film included
interviews with Chavez, as well as Venezuelans, both poor and panic-stricken
rich! It also covered the attempted coup of 2002 and America’s involvement in
trying to remove the democratically-elected government.
The interviews with workers and their families were hugely
enlightening, as we could see the enormous support for socialist measures and
the high level of political understanding born out of the struggles of recent
years. One scene really stood out for me. This was when the crew were film
local adult education classes and they showed one student who was learning to
read and write at the age of 95! I felt moved and humbled.
Although the gains for workers were evident, it was also
obvious that much remains to be done and Pilger pointed out to Chavez the
grinding poverty he had witnessed on the road into Caracas. This, in many ways,
was the core of the film, because Pilger went on to show all the Anti-Chavez
propaganda on the television – which is
still in the hands of the capitalist class. It really made the point
effectively that you can’t remain in a halfway position in a socialist
revolution indefinitely – or counter-revolution will raise its ugly head.
This, of course, is what happened in 2002 when the
opposition to Chavez briefly seized power on the pretext that Chavez supporters
had opened fire on supposedly innocent protesters – a stance that was
conveniently repeated on US television The film brilliantly used the footage
which showed that it was in fact opposition snipers on a bridge above the
workers supporting Chavez, who had actually opened fire – in order to provoke
The film went on to make abundantly clear America’s
involvement. It showed memos, which had passed between US operatives and
opposition leaders concerning the planning behind the coup and also the receipts
for millions of dollars from the ironically-named ‘Endowment for Democracy’ to
the coup leaders.
Clearly, US imperialism could see the effect a successful
socialist revolution would have on the rest of Latin America and they had
intervened to protect American capitalist interests – as they had done so many
times before. However, as we know, they did not reckon on the resilience and
fighting spirit of the working class, who marched in mass demonstrations until
Chavez was released and re-instated.
The rest of the film dealt with these other incursions
into countries which were moving in a direction at odds with America’s model
for democracy (where have we heard that before?) Chile was the most notable
example, where the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende was
overthrown in a CIA-inspired coup on America’s other 9/11 – the one its
freedom-loving presidents don’t like to talk about – September 11th
In a very moving interview, Pilger spoke to one of the
survivors of the massacres, which took place most notably, in the football
stadium in Santiago, in an attempt to wipe out Allende supporters. The woman
described the horrific fate of two of her friends who were executed, both of
them pregnant, one close to giving birth.
Pilger then went on to interview the Head of Latin
American operations for the CIA in the early 1980’s. The man struck me as a
complete psychopath, although maybe that was a necessary qualification for the
job. He disputed the numbers that had died, saying they had been exaggerated
and, anyway, if America had to torture or execute to protect its national
security, then so be it. Sounds familiar?
went on to hail Chile as a shining example to the rest of Latin America,
praising the ruthless dictator, Pinochet for the ‘economic miracle’ achieved
using the economic theories of Milton Friedman (you know, Maggie Thatcher’s
hero!) The film showed the centre of Santiago today and it could have been a
wealthy finance capital anywhere in the world – so maybe Friedman had been right!
Sadly no, because we were then taken to the shanty towns on the outskirts,
where we met a young couple, desperately worried that their week old baby would
not survive the cold, as they were living on the streets. Some miracle. I
wanted to weep.
The film came to an end where it began, with Chavez, who
seemed genuinely committed to moving towards socialism – but he needs to have
faith in his working class – and they need an organised, revolutionary
leadership. Chavez finished by quoting Victor Hugo and I’ll paraphrase by
saying it was along the lines of ‘An idea only has currency when its time has
come.’ Clearly the time has come for the ideas of socialism to spread
throughout the continent of Latin America.
The War on Democracy will be shown on ITV1 at 11 – 12.40pm tonight.