Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Interviewed by Pablo Navarrete
"......PN: Could you begin by telling us what your new film ‘The War on Democracy’ is about?
JP: I happened to watch George Bush’s second inauguration address in which he pledged to “bring democracy to the world.” He mentioned the words “democracy” and “liberty” twenty one times. It was a very important speech because, unlike the purple prose of previous presidents (Ronald Reagan excluded), he left no doubt that he was stripping noble concepts like “democracy” and “liberty” of their true meaning – government, for, by and of the people.
I wanted to make a film that illuminated this disguised truth -- that the United States has long waged a war on democracy behind a facade of propaganda designed to contort the intellect and morality of Americans and the rest of us. For many of your readers, this is known. However, for others in the West, the propaganda that has masked Washington’s ambitions has been entrenched, with its roots in the incessant celebration of World War Two, the “good war”, then “victory” in the cold war. For these people, the “goodness” of US power represents “us”. Thanks to Bush and his cabal, and to Blair, the scales have fallen from millions of eyes. I would like “The War on Democracy” to contribute something to this awakening.
The film is about the power of empire and of people. It was shot in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, and the United States and is set also in Guatemala and Nicaragua. It tells the story of “America’s backyard,” the dismissive term given to all of Latin America. It traces the struggle of indigenous people first against the Spanish, then against European immigrants who reinforced the old elite. Our filming was concentrated in the barrios where the continent’s “invisible people” live in hillside shanties that defy gravity......
President Chavez talks about building "socialism of the 21st Century" in Venezuela. To what extent do you think this project is different to the socialist experiences in the twentieth century?
In the time I spent with Chavez, what struck me was how unselfconsciously he demonstrated his own developing political awareness. I was intrigued to watch a man who is as much an educator as a leader. He will arrive at a school or a water project where local people are gathered and under his arm will be half a dozen books – Orwell, Chomsky, Dickens, Victor Hugo. He’ll proceed to quote from them and relate them to the condition of his audience. What he’s clearly doing is building ordinary people’s confidence in themselves. At the same, he’s building his own political confidence and his understanding of the exercise of power. I doubt that he began as a socialist when he won power in 1998 – which makes his political journey all the more interesting. Clearly, he was always a reformer who paid respect to his impoverished roots. Certainly, the Venezuelan economy today is not socialist; perhaps it’s on the way to becoming something like the social economy of Britain under the reforming Attlee Labour government. He is probably what Europeans used to be proud to call themselves: a social democrat. Look, this game of labels is pretty pointless; he is an original and he inspires; so let’s see where the Bolivarian project goes. True power for enduring change can only be sustained at the grassroots, and Chavez’s strength is that he has inspired ordinary people to believe in alternatives to the old venal order. We have nothing like this spirit in Britain, where more and more people can’t be bothered to vote any more. It’s a lesson of hope, at the very least."