Watching – War on Democracy

It has been a year long in a course in study of public policy. Its been a busy year of working and studying and falling fatally ill. This trimester is a little easy and I am trying again to write and share my thoughts and experiences on issues of public concern.

As a part of the course one has to see, read and question the aspects of local and international politics and policy making. The dynamics involved in it.  For this purpose I am now seeing the documentary- War on Democracy. The movie is about what has United States of America done to its neighbors – Venezuela, Chile , Bolivia ,Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador from 1950s until early 2000s.

Had it been a year ago, I would have say crying wondering why would innocent people get killed in the larger politics of greed in this world. A question that begets answer of “collateral damage” from people who work at the upper echelons of any nation. I would have found it insensitivity and outrageous and disturbing. But having spent a whole year looking at issues after issues, I feel as much value emotions have in addressing a problem passionately, there is a place for strategic thinking which may or may not provide logically correct answers/solutions. So now I am looking at this documentary with these pair of dry eyes.

John Pilger interviews several ex-CIA agents who took part in secret campaigns against democratic countries in the region. He investigates the School of the Americas in the US state of Georgia, where Pinochet’s torture squads were trained along with tyrants and death squad leaders in Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil and Argentina.

The film unearths the real story behind the attempted overthrow of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in 2002 and how the people of the barrios of Caracas rose up to force his return to power.

It also looks at the wider rise of populist governments across South America lead by indigenous leaders intent on loosening the shackles of Washington and a fairer redistribution of the continent’s natural wealth.


The documentary has a strong case to make. But the clips of the documentary seem to show clips that fit the narrative John Pilger wants to show us. I am not trying to make the point that the USA’s intervention here was in anyway benovalant. If anything it was clear display of vested interest. The installation of dictators , coup against  Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or the  killing of Salvador Allende of Chile have happened under their purview. The historical documents from CIA show the clear hand of Americans in it.

The point on Chicago boys, the loot of the Bolivians, the privatization of every service in Bolivia is all real, relevant and important. There are few points I would like to make about such documentaries. The ones that describe and delve into any problem in depth. They are good in bringing forth the issues none of the mainstream media ever cover. They give the perspective of the people who go through these policy interventions. Be it the effect of Washington Consensus   or the complete ostracization of Cuba or the experimentation of Chicago boys on real people of these countries. This perspective is very important, rather one of the most important perspectives in  understanding the cascading effect of any national or international policy or intervention. The documentary in the end shows how Venezuela and Bolivia now are doing well for themselves because of the people’s movement against the exploitative “empire”. Quite a relief.

But is the other side of the story of greed and a want of a new age empire ( like the imperial form). Is the narrative that simplistic?

Let us assume that is to be the case. In the world scenario where this empire seems to be so powerful does a country confront it with raw courage or it plays strategically so that it does good for its own people? Playing strategically is what is required. And thats politics right? It is not about confrontation of the wrongs in a simplistic manner, but to play the dirty game of politics and get what a nation wants. The virtues of equality, liberty and freedom etc  are  things a nation can bestow upon “its own people”.  It can not expect another nation to bestow it upon the world.

Nations, the minute nationality is ascribed to any individual, there comes into existence  “my people” and “others”. Nationstate is the status quo of the world order today. And wellbeing of economic kind is the only understood wellbeing in todays times. In the documentary the Bolivian hill people ask, if we were so rich with gold and silver, why are we beggars now. Why  are we so poor now. As much as one wants to glorify and romanticize simple living and living in sync with the nature, the times have forced people to seek economic wellbeing to meet their daily needs. Given these two basic premise, it will be foolish for any nation to believe or to think another nation will want to be benevolent towards them. Every nation state is always working for its own interest. May be its own rich people’s interest in some cases (That,the disparity within a nation is a topic of discussion for a later time).

The portrayal of one country as evil and another as a the victim seems to be inherently problematic. The victimized nation has to grow and to oust the evil in a strategic manner. It will be good to see documentaries and read books/ papers which show how did Venezuela come out of the coup and how are they now – as a nation and with respect to their economic status. What were the ways and means adopted? There is no doubt that, the background information on how a powerful nation interfered is as much necessary information. But a more nuanced narrative that covers aspects of more constructive aspects of such struggles ( like that of Venezuela and Chile)  especially emphasizing on  -how to come out of a bad situation may make a useful documentation for the world. The War and Democracy kind of documentaries are good for “awareness generation” ( like we call it in our development work lingo). But what we need more badly is documentation of lessons (training material 😉 ) on how to do it.