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FILM REVIEW: "Mi Amigo Hugo"

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Oliver Stone tells a portion of Hugo Chavez's story in the 2014 documentary "Mi Amigo Hugo,"
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FILM REVIEW: Mi Amigo Hugo by Oliver Stone (2014) Telesur

A charismatic and witty “man of the people,” the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is lovingly remembered in a documentary – Mi Amigo Hugo (My Friend Hugo) - released earlier this year on Venezuela’s Telesur channel.

Stone (Talk Radio, The Doors, Natural Born Killers) is well-known for his love of the people and politics of Latin America. This really took off for Stone in the 1980’s while filming Salvador (1986) with James Woods playing journalist Richard Boyle who is covering the brutal right-wing takeover of El Salvador, as Marxist guerillas fight to keep the junta at bay. It was at that time that Stone really began looking at American intervention in Latin America and the negative effects it has had, as it has with the toppling of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, right-wing dictatorships, U.S.-trained death squads in places like Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador (thanks for nothin', School of the Americas), drug importation by the CIA and on and on. It's happening to this very day. I go to for a lot of great reporting on Latin American affairs. 

Anyway, Stone’s career as a filmmaker has been a decidedly controversial one. He has been unafraid to embrace issues that have upset the status quo and certain “sacred cows” in American society, from the aforementioned conspiracy-laden JFK to the corrosive nature of unbridled capitalism in Wall Street to the pain caused by our leaders in the Vietnam War (Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July).

As Stone has aged, however, his work has remained pretty bold (save for the recent World Trade Center and W., where he cooled off a bit) with his 2003 documentary on Cuba’s Fidel Castro (Comandante) and 2009’s South of the Border, where he talks to left-leaning South American leaders, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez – the same Chavez who humorously noted that he could still smell the “sulfur” at the lectern, following President George W. Bush’s UN visit. Chavez, of course, called Bush “The Devil.”

And perhaps he wasn’t far off, considering in 2011, Chavez a powerful leader in an oil-rich country - was afflicted with a fast-acting cancer that would take his life in March 2013. Immediately after Chavez’s death, theories suggesting he was murdered by the Yanqui CIA swirled across the Internet, with the vice-president, Nicolas Maduro (now the nation’s president and a fervent chavista), telling the media beloved leader and comandante was “poisoned by dark forces that wanted him out of the way.”  

So, including footage of his visit with Chavez four years earlier, along with footage of friends, family, Venezuelan intellectuals and Latin American politicians, Stone captures the essence of s determined strongman who was unafraid to confront his enemies – including the United States.

Through archived footage and Stone’s own film coverage, Mi Amigo Hugo captures a warm, funny and thoughtful Hugo Chavez. One who loves multiple cups of coffee, gets few hours of sleep, rides bicycles, hugs children and appears to have a genuine love for the Venezuelan people – particularly those who are downtrodden and forgotten.

A fervent anti-fascist and anti-imperialist, Stone is in Chavez’s corner all the way (as the film’s title suggests - they were friends). When he addressed the media after South of the Border came out, he said: “Look, he was democratically elected and if continues to be popular, he’s welcome to it.” Stone says that in Venezuela, as in European countries and elsewhere, a constitutional referendum allowed Chavez to be leader of Venezuela for multiple terms.

Says Stone, addressing the media: “Instead of making criticisms of Hugo Chavez, which seems to be a sport, look at the positive changes that have happened economically in all of South America because of Chavez, (Argentina’s) Kirchner and all these people. Think about the poverty in Venezuela that existed before Chavez. Think about all the deaths and the murders. Think about what’s happened. Look at the misery that South America went through at the hands of the United States. Think about that!”

Chavez/Maduro lieutenants are interviewed and admit that there has been right-wing sabotage of oil refineries and more, to make the effective, socialist government look bad. Stone gets Maduro to admit that they had recently nabbed 3 CIA agents trying to sabotage Venezuela’s electrical grid. They've done this before and will ikely do it again, at least until a U.S. puppet government is established in Caracas.

Chavez’s death was gleefully reported by America’s dominant right-wing media (Fox News and others), who note that Chavez “has been a thorn in the United States’ side for some time” and the classless, rabid, right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin minces no words by saying she hopes Chavez is “choking on sulfur” and “rotting in hell right now” saying that Chavez turned Venezuela into a “socialist hellhole.” Naturally, all those same reactionary voices are saying the same thing about Stone and this film, saying the filmmaker is a "dupe" and a "propagandist" for an unreconstructed Red with too much oil on his hands. How many of those voices, one wonders, have actually been to Venezuela and seen what populist Chavismo has done for that country.

What those clips, in Mi Amigo Hugo reveal is the absolute hate that many in the bourgeois U.S. power structure have for world leaders who help their own people and tell the rest of the world to take a long walk off a short pier. Throughout the film, images of 19th century Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar - a hero to Chavez and the Venezuelan people - are everywhere.

As I write this, Venezuela Analysis is reporting that President Maduro has created an anti-corruption force to tackle that serious problem in the South American OPEC nation – a nation, we should remember, that supplies America with 14 percent of its oil.

Is the film perfect? No. But it is heartfelt. The editing could have been a bit crisper and the delivery a bit more powerful, but Oliver Stone does want to remind people what Hugo Chavez's leadership meant to him and the Venezuelan people. 

Mi Amigo Hugo features English dialogue from Stone and only Spanish (no subtitles) from Chavez, Maduro and the others. We hope Stone will release a version of the documentary with English subtitles, so those interested in learning the truth about Hugo Chavez and his embrace of the Bolivarian revolution.

You can watch Mi Amigo Hugo in Spanish/English on YouTube here.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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