In his wild pursuit of notoriety, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez is leaving no stone unturned. Hollywood filmmaker Oliver Stone has landed in Caracas with all his technical paraphernalia in order to start a film about the leftist paratrooper who has managed to squander some $700 billion in ten years, without improving — and in fact producing — a marked deterioration in the quality of life of Venezuelans.
Stone follows in the tracks of Danny Glover, who received $18 million from Chavez in 2006 to produce a film ostensibly about the life of Haitian 19th century leader Toussaint Overture but surely designed to enhance, by association, the political significance of Hugo Chavez’s so-called revolution. He also follows Sean Penn (see “Letter to Sean Penn”), who has been in Venezuela several times, traveling around the country while 14,000 Venezuelans die violently every year, many at the hands of Chavez police forces.
Fidel Castro’s increasing political irrelevance has shifted Hollywood’s attention to Hugo Chavez as favorite dictator. Stone, Penn, Spacey, Glover, Belafonte, to name the better known Hollywood visitors, have gone down south, often in Venezuela’s government aircraft, to pay their respect to the Latin monarch and, hopefully, to benefit from his largesse with public funds.
Stone visited Venezuela twice before. The first time, in 2006, he went determined to make a film about the brief ousting of Hugo Chavez from power in 2002, but this deal fell through. He returned in late 2007, when the release of three hostages of the Colombian narco-guerrillas, FARC, into Chavez’s hands was announced. Stone went to the Colombian jungle, ready to film the moment. Battling the mosquitoes for days, together with Argentina’s former president Nestor Kirchner, they finally became convinced the hostages would not be delivered as promised. One of the hostages, a ten-year-old boy, had been let go months earlier without the knowledge of FARC’s top brass. The whole operation aborted and became a public relations fiasco for Chavez, forcing Stone to return to Hollywood empty-handed. Upon his return, he said: “FARC [the narco-terrorists] is fighting back as best it can and grabbing hostages is the fashion in which they can finance themselves and try to achieve their goals… I think they are heroic to fight for what they believe in and die for it, as was Castro in the hills of Cuba."
This time around, Stone is hoping to have better luck. He is following Chavez everywhere with his cameras: a medical center in a poor section of Caracas, a corn-processing plant in Chavez’s native state of Barinas, a visit to an animal husbandry center to inspect six calves recently imported from Cuba, all in the last few days. Barring unexpected circumstances, the world can expect to see Stone’s version of the Chavez saga sometime soon.
Stone has long favored dictators. In 2003, he produced a highly laudatory documentary on Fidel Castro, “El Comandante,”that has never aired in the U.S. since its production coincided with the execution by Castro’s Cuba of three young Cubans caught trying to escape the island. In 2007, Stone made a proposal to Iran’s Ahmadinejad to make a documentary about him. The Iranian response was less than polite: “We refused this proposal because Stone is part of the Great Satan." Stone replied by calling Ahmadinejad an “inept and rigid ideologue,” quite an abrupt change in his previously sugary opinion of the Iranian leader.
Stone, a brilliant filmmaker, has been a controversial figure for some time. A former cocaine addict, he admitted to “feeling horny” about killing a Vietcong soldier during the Vietnam conflict. His adoration of dictators is, apparently, just one of the several manifestations of his troubled personality.