Oliver Stone’s documentary Mi Amigo Hugo is exactly what you’d expect it to be: an expression of the personality cult of Venezuela’s late revolutionary leader. By interviewing some of Chavez’s closest friends and allies, as well as people who worked with him, the Latin American dictator is introduced to us as someone revered for his good intentions, happy aura, and wonderful voice when singing traditional “llaneras.” But no matter how many friends Hugo Chavez appears to have, or how many insights you get into his personal life, there is one thing entirely missing from the film: the declining, even desperate situation of Venezuela.
From the beginning of the film, Stone sets out his main objective: to express his admiration for the former leader and to say goodbye to a “soldier and a friend.” He sets to explore the details of Chavez’s life, from his grandmother’s socialist roots to his final battle with cancer.
Chavez is praised for his courage, morality, and wit, not only from Stone himself, but also from prominent figures in today’s politics. Members of the Latin American left, including Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Uruguay’s José Mujica, and even Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro mourn the loss of one they claim was “one of the greatest men of his time.” The only one missing of these “great” men is Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. Some, like Kirchner, assert many prejudices against Hugo Chavez stem from his trend to wear military uniforms, which they associate with the “right-wing tyrannies” of the Cold War. Others, like Mujica, compare Chavez to the “greatness” of Che and Mao.
All in all, the documentary deals with the trivialities of Chavez’s life. How he drank more than 30 cups of coffee a day, and how his guards tried to change his coffee to decaf without him noticing. How he treated his workers with kindness and fought for women’s rights. How he sang in public whenever he had a chance. How Chavez was aware of “the fundamental issues of his country” and how every morning—with a cup of coffee of course—he checked the news.
Only on one occasion does Stone even hint at Venezuela’s growing problems and that some people view Chavez’s policies as highly ineffective. Not even a minute later, however, these are dismissed as attempts to cast Chavez in a bad light. Calmly, Chavez himself explains how these rumors come with being a public figure, and calls them “venomous darts” from his enemies.
Stone, quite aggravated, also defends Chavez by saying that “Instead of making criticisms of Hugo Chavez, which seems to be a sport, [we should] look at the positive changes that have happened economically in all of South America because of Chavez, Kirchner, and these people.”
The positive changes he refers to, are not specified. But one can assume that he does not mean the rise in poverty, shortages, inflation, and crime that have taken over Venezuela since Chavez rose to power.
The truth is Chavez’s own policies are the ones that have brought Venezuela to the state it is in today. We only need to look at the daily news to see how Venezuela is far from being well off. To begin with, Chavez nationalized the oil industry, making it the sole supporter of the country’s economy. His continuous printing of money has made its currency worthless. His elections didn’t allow any opposition to run against him. His disregard of rule of law has left hundreds of dead and others in jail. Just to mention a few examples.
Mi Amigo Hugo is not Stone’s first “documentary” oblivious to the world’s realities. One of his first films, Salvador, tells the story of an American journalist covering the Salvadorian civil war. And, in what has become a trademark for the rest of his films, he paints and sides with the communist guerillas and criticizes US intervention.
One of his most famous films, South of the Border, takes it one step forward: in it he claims that all leftist movements in Latin America are a positive step for the region. For most of this film, Stone also focuses on Chavez’s life. The rest is taken up by interviews with the leaders of Latin American socialism. And the film, of course, elides their record of failure in the areas of human rights and economic issues.
But what else are we to expect from a man who believes that Adolf Hitler is misunderstood because the Jewish community controls the media, or that Ukraine’s 2014 revolution was a CIA plot? If one thing can be concluded from Stone’s Mi Amigo Hugo, as well as his other films, it is that he is a master of rewriting history by ignoring the most obvious facts.