The U.S.’ War on Democracy

Interview with John Pilger
John Pilger interviewed by
Pablo Navarrete

May 02, 2007

John Pilger is an award-winning journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, who began his career in 1958 in his homeland, Australia, before moving to London in the 1960s. He has been a foreign correspondent and a front-line war reporter, beginning with the Vietnam War in 1967. He is an impassioned critic of foreign military and economic adventures by Western governments.

“It is too easy,” Pilger says, “for Western journalists to see humanity in terms of its usefulness to ‘our’ interests and to follow government agendas that ordain good and bad tyrants, worthy and unworthy victims and present ‘our’ policies as always benign when the opposite is usually true. It’s the journalist’s job, first of all, to look in the mirror of his own society.”

Pilger also believes a journalist ought to be a guardian of the public memory and often quotes Milan Kundera: “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

In a career that has produced more than 55 television documentaries, Pilger’s first major film for the cinema, The War on Democracy, will be released in the United Kingdom on May 11, 2007. Pilger spent several weeks filming in Venezuela and The War on Democracy contains an exclusive interview with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

PN: Could you begin by telling us what your new film ‘The War on Democracy’ is about?

JP: I happened to watch George Bush’s second inauguration address in which he pledged to “bring democracy to the world.” He mentioned the words “democracy” and “liberty” twenty one times. It was a very important speech because, unlike the purple prose of previous presidents (Ronald Reagan excluded), he left no doubt that he was stripping noble concepts like “democracy” and “liberty” of their true meaning – government, for, by and of the people.

I wanted to make a film that illuminated this disguised truth — that the United States has long waged a war on democracy behind a facade of propaganda designed to contort the intellect and morality of Americans and the rest of us. For many of your readers, this is known. However, for others in the West, the propaganda that has masked Washington’s ambitions has been entrenched, with its roots in the incessant celebration of World War Two, the “good war”, then “victory” in the cold war. For these people, the “goodness” of US power represents “us”. Thanks to Bush and his cabal, and to Blair, the scales have fallen from millions of eyes. I would like “The War on Democracy” to contribute something to this awakening.

The film is about the power of empire and of people. It was shot in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, and the United States and is set also in Guatemala and Nicaragua. It tells the story of “America’s backyard,” the dismissive term given to all of Latin America. It traces the struggle of indigenous people first against the Spanish, then against European immigrants who reinforced the old elite. Our filming was concentrated in the barrios where the continent’s “invisible people” live in hillside shanties that defy gravity. It tells, above all, a very positive story: that of the rise of popular social movements that have brought to power governments promising to stand up to those who control national wealth and to the imperial master. Venezuela has taken the lead, and a highlight of the film is a rare face-to-face interview with President Hugo Chavez whose own developing political consciousness, and sense of history (and good humour), are evident. The film investigates the 2002 coup d’etat against Chavez and casts it in a contemporary context. It also describes the differences between Venezuela and Cuba, and the shift in economic and political power since Chavez was first elected. In Bolivia, the recent, tumultuous past is told through quite remarkable testimony from ordinary people, including those who fought against the piracy of their resources. In Chile, the film looks behind the mask of this apparently modern, prosperous “model” democracy and finds powerful, active ghosts. In the United States, the testimony of those who ran the “backyard” echo those who run that other backyard, Iraq; sometimes they are the same people. Chris Martin (my fellow director) and I believe “The War on Democracy” is well timed. We hope people will see it as another way of seeing the world: as a metaphor for understanding a wider war on democracy and the universal struggle of ordinary people, from Venezuela to Vietnam, Palestine to Guatemala. read more

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