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Documentary Filmmaker and Activist Saul Landau Dead at 77

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Saul Landau (1936-2013) in center with Harry Belafonte, Shari Belafonte, and Fidel Castro to the right. (Photo courtesy of Institute of Policy Studies)Saul Landau—award-winning author, filmmaker, scholar and social activist—has died at the age of 77 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

According to Democracy Now!, which confirmed his passing with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC where he served as a fellow since 1972, Landau was involved in more than 40 films and the author of fourteen books. His work had special focus on Latin American history and politics and he spent a large part of his career studying, writing about, and making films about Cuba.

Beyond his extensive body of work, Landau was being remembered by his colleagues his steely nerve and caustic wit.

“He stood up to dictators, right-wing Cuban assassins, pompous politicians, and critics from both the left and the right,” said IPS Director John Cavanagh. “When he believed in something, nobody could make him back down. Those who tried would typically find themselves on the receiving end of a withering but humorous insult.”

Never afraid to operate as both an advocate for justice and a working journalist, Landau—among other awards—was the recipient of both the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award and the George Polk Award for Investigative Reporting.

In addition to his long career working with IPS, Landau was also a fellow at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam and Professor Emeritus at Cal Poly Pomona University in California.

Commenting on his long career as an educator, IPS Co-Founder Marcus Raskin said, “A large part of his legacy will be that he mentored countless young people and instilled in them the importance of history and the radical idea that we can make our own history.”

A frequent contributor to Common Dreams over the years, Landau's last piece to appear on the site—just months ago—was a caution against those pushing for U.S. military intervention in Syria. Though much has changed on the ground since the piece was published, his wisdom and warnings carry still. Employing what he knew of the history of U.S. military misadventures from all over the globe, he wrote:

Syria’s civil war has inspired some in Congress and in the media. Stupidity or insanity? Some people don’t learn from past mistakes. Why start another body count in a Middle East conflict with no direct relationship to U.S. security? New York Times reporter Bill Keller says, “Get over Iraq,” like commanding AIDS patients to get over their disease, and “poof,” it will magically happen.

Bush and Cheney lied and used false intelligence designed to justify their lust for war. Iraq had no WMD or links to Al-Qaeda, as the two had claimed, but invading U.S. forces did destroy Iraq’s integrity. In the end, killing Saddam remains their lone accomplishment – unless one lists the deaths of U.S., NATO, and Iraqi soldiers and civilians.

Today, U.S. military intervention in Syria would ensure more dead U.S. troops, more dead Syrians, and future pain for U.S. troops serving as an occupation force.

He concluded: "Stay of out of Syria."

And though now gone, he is still right.

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