Leopoldo López, a right-wing opposition leader in Venezuela who supported the military overthrow of the democratically elected government there in 2002, complains about my film (South of the Border), saying "Mr. Stone argues that the assault on human rights is of secondary concern."
But my film argues the opposite. It's just that the "assault on human rights" in Venezuela has come from the right, from Mr. Lopez and his allies. One of the first decrees by the coup government that Mr. Lopez supported was to abolish the elected Congress and the Supreme Court. Protesters were shot, and officials of the constitutional government arrested. And the victims of political violence to this day in Venezuela are also victims of the right - mostly poor peasants organizing for land reform, killed by landowners. The struggle in Venezuela is not so much about one man, President Hugo Chávez, as the right would have us believe. It is a political battle between the left and the right. Not surprisingly, as in the rest of South America, it is the right that has the ugly record on human rights and issues of democracy. And it is the right that represents the rich -- López was former mayor of one of the wealthiest areas of Caracas -- against the majority of the people, much as in the United States. Mr. López offers a "Tea Party" view of Venezuela, in which everything that is wrong with the country is the fault of the left government, and Chávez -- like Obama for the Tea Partiers -- is a "dictator." López is very selective in his use of statistics. He does not tell the reader that since the Chávez government got control over the national oil industry, poverty has been cut in half, extreme poverty by more than 70 percent, and thousands of doctors added to the public sector now provide health care for the poor. Some of his statistics are misleading. For example, the 650 percent increase in prices he refers to is an average of 19 percent annual inflation. This is high, but much lower than the pre-Chávez years, where inflation passed 100 percent in 1996. Most importantly, it is real economic growth, not the price level, that matters; and inflation did not prevent the country's record growth from 2003-2008 that cut unemployment in half and pulled so many people out of poverty. Most Venezuelans are better off since they have a government that decided to use the country's oil wealth for the benefit of the majority. That is why Chávez has been re-elected twice, each time by a larger margin. As Mr. López's opposition colleague Teodoro Petkoff has acknowledged, the Venezuelan opposition pursued a "strategy that overtly sought a military takeover" from 1999-2003. It is that right-wing strategy -- which has been supported from Washington -- that has presented the biggest threat to democracy and human rights in Venezuela.