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Oliver Stone Responds to New York Times Attack
Posted on Jun 28, 2010
Editor’s note: For more from Oliver Stone about his new documentary and clips from “South of the Border,” click here.
The following letter was sent to The New York Times:
Larry Rohter attacks our film, “South of the Border,” for “mistakes, misstatements and missing details.” But a close examination of the details reveals that the mistakes, misstatements, and missing details are his own, and that the film is factually accurate. We will document this for each one of his attacks. We then show that there is evidence of animus and conflict of interest, in his attempt to discredit the film. Finally, we ask that you consider the many factual errors in Rohter’s attacks, outlined below, and the pervasive evidence of animus and conflict of interest in his attempt to discredit the film; and we ask that The New York Times publish a full correction for these numerous mistakes.
1) Accusing the film of “misinformation,” Rohter writes that “A flight from Caracas to La Paz, Bolivia, flies mostly over the Amazon, not the Andes….” But the narration does not say that the flight is “mostly” over the Andes, just that it flies over the Andes, which is true. (Source: Google Earth)
2) Also in the category of “misinformation,” Rohter writes “the United States does not ‘import more oil from Venezuela than any other OPEC nation,’ a distinction that has belonged to Saudi Arabia during the period 2004-10.”
The quote cited by Rohter here was spoken in the film by an oil industry analyst, Phil Flynn, who appears for about 30 seconds in a clip from U.S. broadcast TV. It turns out that Rohter is mistaken, and Flynn is correct. Flynn is speaking in April 2002 (which is clear in the film), so it is wrong for Rohter to cite data from 2004-2010. If we look at data from 1997-2001, which is the relevant data for Flynn’s comment, Flynn is correct. Venezuela leads all OPEC countries, including Saudi Arabia, for oil imports in the U.S. over this period. (Source: US Energy Information Agency for Venezuela, http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MTTIMUSVE2&f=A, and Saudi Arabia, http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MTTIMUSSA2&f=A)
3) Rohter tries to discredit the film’s very brief description of the 1998 Venezuelan presidential race:
“As ‘South of the Border’ portrays it, Mr. Chávez’s main opponent in his initial run for president in 1998 was “a 6-foot-1-inch blond former Miss Universe” named Irene Sáez, and thus “the contest becomes known as the Beauty and the Beast” election.
“But Mr. Chávez’s main opponent then was not Ms. Sáez, who finished third, with less than 3 percent of the vote. It was Henrique Salas Romer, a bland former state governor who won 40 percent of the vote.”
Rohter’s criticism is misleading. The description of the presidential race in the film, cited by Rohter, is from Bart Jones, who was covering Venezuela for the Associated Press from Caracas at the time. The description is accurate, despite the final results. For most of the race, which began in 1997, Irene Sáez was indeed Chavez’s main opponent, and the contest was reported as “Beauty and the Beast.” In the six months before the election, she began to fade and Salas Romer picked up support; his 40 percent showing was largely the result of a late decision of both COPEI and AD (the two biggest political parties in Venezuela at the time, who had ruled the country for four decades) to throw their support behind him. (See, for example, this 2008 article from BBC, which describes the race as in the film, and does not even mention Salas Romer: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7767417.stm.)
Rohter’s description makes it seem like Saéz was a minor candidate, which is absurd.
4) Rohter tries to frame the film’s treatment of the 2002 coup in Venezuela as a “conspiracy theory.” He writes:
“Like Mr. Stone’s take on the Kennedy assassination, this section of ‘South of the Border’ hinges on the identity of a sniper or snipers who may or may not have been part of a larger conspiracy.”
This description of the film is completely false. The film makes no statement on the identity of the snipers nor does it present any theory of a “larger conspiracy” with any snipers. Rather, the film makes two points about the coup: (1) That the Venezuelan media (and this was repeated by U.S. and other international media) manipulated film footage to make it look as if a group of Chavez supporters with guns had shot the 19 people killed on the day of the coup. This manipulation of the film footage is demonstrated very clearly in the film, and therefore does not “[rely] heavily on the account of Gregory Wilpert” as Rohter also falsely alleges. The footage speaks for itself. (2) The United States government was involved in the coup (see http://southoftheborderdoc.com/2002-venezuela-coup/ and below).
Ironically, it is Rohter that relies on conspiracy theories, citing one dubious account in particular that he argues we should have included in the film.
5) Rohter accuses us of “bend[ing] facts and omit[ting] information” on Argentina, for allowing “Mr. Kirchner and his successor — and wife — Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to claim that “we began a different policy than before.”
“In reality, Mr. Kirchner’s presidential predecessor, Eduardo Duhalde, and Mr. Duhalde’s finance minister, Roberto Lavagna, were the architects of that policy shift and the subsequent economic recovery, which began while Mr. Kirchner was still the obscure governor of a small province in Patagonia.”
This criticism is somewhat obscure and perhaps ridiculous. The Kirchners were in the presidency for five out of the six years of Argentina’s remarkable economic recovery, in which the economy grew by 63 percent. Some of the policies that allowed for that recovery began in 2002, and others began in 2003, and even later. What exactly are the “bent facts” and “omitted information” here?
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