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The War On Democracy review by: Jamie Russell

From: Stefan
Sent on: Saturday, September 29, 2007 10:06 AM

The War On Democracy review by:

Pilger begins in Venezuela, where an eye-opening interview with charismatic President Hugo Ch?vez - America's current bugbear in the region - suggests that "a war is being waged against all of us". According to Pilger, America's distrust of socialist or (heaven forbid) communist governments in Latin America has led to anti-democratic initiatives. From Allende's Chile to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, popular movements not endorsed by the American Foreign Office have frequently been undermined. The reason? To promote American economic interests: "Whole countries have been privatised, put up for sale, their natural wealth sold for peanuts."

Pilger is no lover of America and it shows: this is an angry documentary and its thundering condemnation of US adventurism abroad is about as subtle as an anvil dropped from the Empire State Building. Still, there's no denying Pilger's conclusions, especially after revealing confrontations with ex-CIA chiefs highlight the contempt that many senior American figures have for democracy and the nations that comprise the USA's "backyard".

The talking head interviews are a joy to watch, full of sly wit and an indefatigable sense of purpose. Pilger's like a dog with a bone, hounding his interviewees until they yield up their innermost marrow. "That's just tough... like it or lump it," remarks former CIA chief Duane Clarridge when Pilger challenges him over America's destruction of democracy and its support of state terror in the shape of dictators like Pinochet. "In the CIA we didn't give a hoot about democracy," shrugs Clarridge in a sobering moment where the mask finally slips.
The political doublethink is endemic: Washington funds apparent anti-democratic forces through the so-called National Endowment for Democracy; one official claims that "just because we provided support to the [coup] plotters doesn't mean we made it happen". Pilger's brisk trawl through 50 years of history suggests otherwise. From Guatemala to Venezuela, America has been prepared to do whatever it takes to secure compliance: "No country can go its own way if it's not in the interests of the USA". The result, in countries like Nicaragua and Chile, was a war of terror: death squads, torture, state-sponsored rape, the permanent silencing of dissent.

One of the great coups of The War On Democracy is Pilger's candid interview with President Ch?vez, a past victim of American interference. It's a revealing if slightly back-slapping interview and it leaves us in no doubt about Pilger's personal bias towards the popular movements trying to stand up for themselves. With impressive access, Pilger charts some of the leader's new initiatives: literary programmes, free healthcare, people's rights printed on rice and soap packets. Yet he remains stolidly uncritical of the president's more obvious failings like his occasional willingness to bypass parliament.

It's a misstep in a documentary that might have had a broader appeal if it had been less partisan. Preaching to the converted, Pilger's rose-tinted endorsement of Ch?vez and other popular movements ends up painting the world in simplistic terms of good and evil. It's something he seems more than happy to indulge in: his occasional use of platitudes (like "People who can free themselves against all odds will inspire others") are scored to uplifting power ballads like 'Something Inside (So Strong)' or 'A Change Is Gonna Come'. Still, in his forceful renunciation of America's bullying tactics, Pilger deserves a place alongside the likes of Noam Chomsky, as one of the few intelligent voices willing to speak out against American imperialism.

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