Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone has made no secret of his sympathies for Latin-American, populist heads of state such as Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro — notably in South of the Border (2009). However, given staunch opposition to US foreign interventionism, he still received an invitation from the Future of Freedom Foundation to speak in a panel at the 2014 International Students for Liberty Conference.
The scheduling of this appearance, which went ahead as planned at 1 p.m. EST on Saturday, raised many eyebrows. Students for Liberty leaders from Latin America (EsLibertad), for example, wrote an open letter, calling on Stone to apply his same criticisms of authoritarianism to countries such as Venezuela and Cuba. They also called attention to the dire economic state of these nations and the hardship that compels so many people to leave for a stable future.
In front of an audience of approximately 300 — out of 1,600 conference participants — one EsLibertad executive board member, Luis Eduardo Barrueto of Guatemala, then had the opportunity to question Stone directly. His colleague, Antonella Marty, handed Stone a physical copy of the letter, as he said: “You are criticizing the overreach and the abuse of power and tyranny [of] your own government. Why and how do you draw the line in supporting other governments that do precisely that in other regions of the world, specifically those aligned with Socialism of the 21st Century?” (MP3, 7 minutes)
While there may have been some hope that Stone would temper his support for these regimes, particularly given censorship and police state violence in Venezuela over the past week, that was not to be. Rather, “Obviously, I don’t agree with you,” he said, and he upped his support for Venezuela’s rulers in particular.
South America has undergone a sea change away from being the US backyard to where it is actually independent, increasingly so. . . . You mentioned Venezuela. I am fine with all the political opposition to Chávez, as long as it’s done legally; there is a method by which you can protest — but now, the opposition is increasingly behaving like the Republican Party here in the United States, where is it is trying to block, criticize, destroy any attempt at negotiation or trying to do business and get on with it. . . .
The recent manifestations in Venezuela, of the students . . . it seems to be reaching a new kind of violence . . . There seems to be a desire to reach out, to kill, to create disturbances in the street protests; students go down, and one has to believe that something is behind it . . . but if the chaos descends, then it will look terrible, because the western media has been so against Chávez, and Ecuador, and Bolivia.
Frustrated with Stone’s response, which continued and went into detail, Barrueto sought to interrupt and correct him: “That is captivated by the Venezuelan government. It’s actually not true what you are saying.” However, Shelby Coffey sought to move the dialogue on to the next question.
Barrueto did, however, offer an interview with the PanAm Post, accompanied by Marty. His concern, he said, was the tacit support for the very violence he condemns when it comes from the United States.
Three people killed, 22 people hurt — just two days ago in the protests in Venezuela — and countless detentions are really not explained by the theory he seemed to be giving . . . He basically has been captivated by the discourse that a lot of these governments have, and they have had so much strength in the region, because the speech sounds really nice.
A fellow attendee and student from the University of Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala, Elfego Solares also signed on as a supporter of the letter. He acknowledges that it created a variety of reactions, but he believes some people experienced a paradigm shift and that Stone’s response undermined his credibility.
“[Stone] had the audacity to make it seem like we were exaggerating the reality that is lived in Latin America,” Elfego says. “Clearly, we did not even start to depict the horrors and effects of the regimes in our countries.”