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Case Number 13546

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Speaking Freely: Hugo Chavez

Cinema Libre // 2006 // 52 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // May 1st, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia's new DVD Why Capitalism is the Worst Evil in the History of the Universe has just been released. He plans to use the proceeds to buy an iPhone and a Blu-Ray player.

The Charge

Today's most celebrated thinkers share their insights and opinions on the issues that affect their world.

Opening Statement

That doesn't explain why Hugo Chávez was chosen for this DVD.

Facts of the Case

In 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gives a speech to the assembled international press corps. He discusses why he favors socialism over capitalism, why capitalism is unfair and evil, why socialism is better for Venezuela, why he doesn't like capitalism, and why capitalism is not his favorite.

The Evidence

Speaking Freely: Hugo Chávez is supposed to introduce Hugo Chávez to U.S. audiences who may not be familiar with him. While it does succeed in giving people an accurate depiction of Chávez as a speaker and philosopher, it doesn't do much else. Such an introduction is necessary because Chávez has become the most vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy in this hemisphere. Because Chávez has been such an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, especially its incompetence in dealing with Latin America, it's been tempting for many in the left, particularly naïve celebrities like Sean Penn, Naomi Campbell, and Danny Glover, to lionize him as a political icon. Such adulation misses the point. As this DVD reveals, Chávez is third-rate at both speaking and theorizing. Mostly, this speech reveals Chávez as just another tin-pot dictator with a loud mouth, a skill for masking self-aggrandizement as ideology, and a knack for generating publicity.

The speech is rambling and incoherent. It jumps from topic to topic without any smooth transitions. Chávez is ostensibly there to outline the reasons he is choosing socialism over capitalism and why he will not deal with the U.S. government. There is a lot of the latter, but not that much of the former. It's not, in fact, a policy speech. Apart from the final 8-minute section, in which he discusses a deal with an Argentinean milk company, the speech is short on specifics and very long on anti-capitalist rhetoric. There are repeated references to the "Empire," presumably the U.S., and he spends a lot of time settling scores with the Clinton administration and reciting the many slights and indignities they supposedly inflicted on him when he first came to power in 1999. Actually, Chávez's speeches have never been known for their coherency or thoughtfulness. They're all about bluster and volume, using incendiary language and hyperbole to attract publicity. When he refers to the U.S. ambassador as a devil, it's obvious he's not going for nuance.

He's also not going for veracity either. He claims that China is better than the United States because it's a world power that doesn't feel the need to subjugate other countries, which will come as a real surprise to the people of Tibet. Chávez also repeatedly references himself as continuing the Bolívarian revolution. He even has a giant portrait of Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) hanging behind him as he speaks. Bolívar, of course, is known as the father of South American independence from Spain, and the first leader of the Gran Colombia, the region of freed South American states that would later encompass Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela. Chávez repeatedly invokes Bolívar's name as an icon, claiming that his socialist ideology and condemnation of capitalism is a logical outgrowth of Bolívar's legacy. Curiously, he neglects to mention that Bolívar instituted a self-described dictatorship in his desperate and failing attempt to keep Gran Colombia together (much as Chávez himself attempted to do last fall, until he was voted down by a majority of the Venezuelan people), or that Bolívar was actually a devout admirer of liberal capitalism, even citing Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations as one of his favorite books.

Viewers should know several things about his going in. First of all, the speech is not uncut. There are several glaring edits made throughout, making it even jumpier and more disjointed than it already is. Some of these edits are accompanied by random images of Venezuelan people, inserted for no particular reason other than to cover up the cuts. He also drops many references that viewers unfamiliar with Latin American history might not understand. For instance, at one point he dubs one Posada Carriles "the founding father of all terrorism." He is referring to Cuban-American anti-Castro activist Luis Posada Carriles, suspected of various terrorist attacks against the Castro regime during the 1970s and '80s. Since the attacks Carriles is linked to happened well after terrorist attacks made by Black September and the Baader-Meinhof Gang (to name just two examples), it's hard to really consider him the founding father of anything. The DVD doesn't actually explain any of this, of course. In fact, it doesn't bother to put anything seen here in any sort of context. When Chávez rails repeatedly about a coup d'état, he's referring to an incident in 2002 where Venezuelan military commanders attempted to wrest power away from him. Whether the United States was involved is still inconclusive (and given the coup plotters' incompetence and shortsightedness, it's possible to argue the case either way), but it would have been useful for viewers to understand exactly what he is referring to. Not that Chávez actually has any principled objections to coups, since he himself led an unsuccessful one against then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992, another piece of information it might have been useful to include on this disc.

These gaps raise a simple question: What exactly is the point of this DVD? Viewers who know nothing about Chávez or Latin America will be baffled by many of the references here, which the disc doesn't bother to clarify. Viewers who do know plenty about Chávez won't need it. Chávez has been giving virtually the same speech since he assumed power, with the same talking points, language, and sound bites (in that regard, ironically enough, he's exactly like Bush), so anyone who's already heard Chávez speak before isn't going to learn anything new here. Cinema Libre's liner notes proclaim that this speech "will never be shown on American network news" and that's not true at all. Anyone who watches Spanish-language networks like Telemundo, Univision, MegaTV, and many others can hear Chávez speak all the time, as they eagerly cover anything he says at the drop of a hat. Why would those viewers pay for something they already get almost every night anyways?

There's certainly nothing added here that would make this disc worth purchasing. The extras are just very brief text "biographies," excerpted from Wikipedia, of Chávez and Bolívar. These are pitifully inadequate (the "bio" for Bolívar consists of exactly two sentences) and will explain or contextualize nothing. The video and audio are standard TV full-screen and stereo and are adequate.

Closing Statement

Even a pro-Chávez documentary, as misguided as that would have been, would have been far more useful than this disc. At least it would have clarified many of the references seen here that are just left hanging unexplained. Anyone who is curious about Chávez would do better to start with some research (links helpfully provided in the "Accomplices" section) and those who already know about Chávez needn't bother.

The Verdict

Cinema Libre puts out an utterly pointless DVD attacking capitalism purely to fatten up their profit margins for fiscal '08. Oh, sweet, sweet irony. Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 5
Acting: 40
Story: 40
Judgment: 20

Perp Profile

Studio: Cinema Libre
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• English
Running Time: 52 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Biographies

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