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Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460
As is well-known to those who follow the work of the Center for
Economic and Policy Research, CEPR has the highest reputation for
accuracy and is extremely careful with details when it comes to numbers
and facts. So we were surprised when a prominently featured, 1665-word
article in the New York Times claimed that there were "questions
of accuracy" with regard the documentary film, "South of the Border." The Oliver Stone film was
written by CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot and Tariq Ali.
It turns out that all of the mistakes in
this article belong to the author, New York Times reporter Larry
Rohter -- and none to the film. This is shown in the following letter,
sent to the New York Times from Oliver Stone, Mark Weisbrot, and
"South of the Border" began a nationwide
theatrical run on June 25 in New York City (Angelika Film
Center) earning the weekend's top per-screen average of $21,000 beating
out last week's per-screen champ, Fox Searchlight's "Cyrus," on opening
weekend. The film widens on July 2 in Los Angeles (Laemmle's
Monica 4-Plex and Laemmle's Sunset 5), Pasadena (Laemmle's
Playhouse 7), Santa Ana (Regency South Coast Village) and Washington,
D.C. (AMC Loews Shirlington 7), July 9 in Chicago (Showplace
ICON Roosevelt Collection), July 16 in San Francisco (Sundance
Kabuki Cinema), Berkeley (Rialto Cinemas Elmwood) and Palm
Springs (Cinemas Palm D'Or), July 23 in Phoenix (Harkins
Valley Art) Dallas (AMC Grand 24) and Houston (AMC Studio
30), July 30 in Minneapolis (Showplace ICON at The West End) and
Seattle (Regal Meridian 16) with more to be listed at https://southoftheborderdoc.com/in-theatres/.
Distributed by Cinema Libre Studio.
The following letter was sent to The
New York Times:
Larry Rohter attacks our film, "South of the
Border," for "mistakes, misstatements and missing details." But a
close examination of the details reveals that the mistakes,
misstatements, and missing details are his own, and that the film is
factually accurate. We will document this for each one of his attacks.
We then show that there is evidence of animus and conflict of interest,
in his attempt to discredit the film. Finally, we ask that you
consider the many factual errors in Rohter's attacks, outlined below,
and the pervasive evidence of animus and conflict of interest in his
attempt to discredit the film; and we ask that The New York Times
publish a full correction for these numerous mistakes.
1) Accusing the film of
"misinformation," Rohter writes that "A flight from Caracas to La Paz,
Bolivia, flies mostly over the Amazon, not the Andes. . ." But the
narration does not say that the flight is "mostly" over the Andes, just
that it flies over the Andes, which is true. (Source: Google Earth).
2) Also in the category of
"misinformation," Rohter writes "the United States does not 'import
more oil from Venezuela than any other OPEC nation,' a distinction that has belonged to
Saudi Arabia during the period 2004-10."
The quote cited by Rohter here was
spoken in the film by an oil industry analyst, Phil Flynn, who appears
for about 30 seconds in a clip from U.S. broadcast TV. It turns out
that Rohter is mistaken, and Flynn is correct. Flynn is speaking in
April 2002 (which is clear in the film), so it is wrong for Rohter to
cite data from 2004-2010. If we look at data from 1997-2001, which is
the relevant data for Flynn's comment, Flynn is correct. Venezuela
leads all OPEC countries, including Saudi Arabia, for oil imports in
the U.S. over this period. (Source: US Energy Information Agency for
and Saudi Arabia https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MTTIMUSSA2&f=A
3) Rohter tries to discredit the
film's very brief description of the 1998 Venezuelan presidential race:
"As "South of the Border" portrays
it, Mr. Chavez's main opponent in his initial run for president in 1998
was "a 6-foot-1-inch blond former Miss Universe" named Irene Saez, and
thus "the contest becomes known as the Beauty and the Beast" election.
But Mr. Chavez's main opponent then
was not Ms. Saez, who finished third, with less than 3 percent of the
vote. It was Henrique Salas Romer, a bland former state governor who
won 40 percent of the vote."
Rohter's criticism is misleading. The
description of the presidential race in the film, cited by Rohter, is
from Bart Jones, who was covering Venezuela for the Associated Press
from Caracas at the time. The description is accurate, despite the
final results. For most of the race, which began in 1997, Irene Saez
was indeed Chavez's main opponent, and the contest was reported as
"Beauty and the Beast." In the six months before the election, she
began to fade and Salas Romer picked up support; his 40 percent showing
was largely the result of a late decision of both COPEI and AD (the
two biggest political parties in Venezuela at the time, who had ruled
the country for four decades) to throw their support behind him. (See,
for example, this 2008 article from BBC, which describes the race as in
the film, and does not even mention Salas Romer: https://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7767417.stm
Rohter's description makes it seem
like Saez was a minor candidate, which is absurd.
4) Rohter tries to frame the film's
treatment of the 2002 coup in Venezuela as a "conspiracy theory." He
" Like Mr. Stone's take on the
Kennedy assassination, this section of "South of the Border" hinges on
the identity of a sniper or snipers who may or may not have been part
of a larger conspiracy."
This description of the film is
completely false. The film makes no statement on the identity of the
snipers nor does it present any theory of a "larger conspiracy" with
any snipers. Rather, the film makes two points about the coup: (1)
That the Venezuelan media (and this was repeated by U.S. and other
international media) manipulated film footage to make it look as if a
group of Chavez supporters with guns had shot the 19 people killed on
the day of the coup. This manipulation of the film footage is
demonstrated very clearly in the film, and therefore does not " [rely]
heavily on the account of Gregory Wilpert" as Rohter also falsely
alleges. The footage speaks for itself. (2) The United States
government was involved in the coup (see https://southoftheborderdoc.com/2002-venezuela-coup/
Ironically, it is Rohter that relies
on conspiracy theories, citing one dubious account in particular that he argues
we should have included in the film.
5) Rohter accuses us of "bend[ing]
facts and omit[ting] information" on Argentina, for allowing "Mr.
Kirchner and his successor - and wife - Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to claim that "we
began a different policy than before."
"In reality, Mr. Kirchner's
presidential predecessor, Eduardo Duhalde, and Mr. Duhalde's finance
minister, Roberto Lavagna, were the architects of that
policy shift and the subsequent economic recovery, which began while
Mr. Kirchner was still the obscure governor of a small province in
This criticism is somewhat obscure
and perhaps ridiculous. The Kirchners were in the presidency for five
out of the six years of Argentina's remarkable economic recovery, in
which the economy grew by 63 percent. Some of the policies that allowed
for that recovery began in 2002, and others began in 2003, and even
later. What exactly are the "bent facts" and "omitted information"
6) Rohter tries to make an issue out
of the fact that the logo of Human Rights Watch appears for a couple of
seconds on the screen, during a discussion of Washington's double
standards on human rights. The film doesn't say or imply anything about
HRW. Most importantly, in his interview with Rohter, HRW's Americas
director Jose Miguel Vivanco backs up exactly what the film does say,
that there is a double standard in the U.S. that focuses on allegations
of human rights abuses in Venezuela while ignoring or downplaying far
graver, far more numerous, and better substantiated allegations about
human rights abuses in Colombia: "It's true that many of Chavez's
fiercest critics in Washington have turned a blind eye to Colombia's
appalling human rights record," says Vivanco.
7) Rohter attacks co-writer Tariq Ali
for saying that "The government [of Bolivia] decided to sell the water
supply of Cochabamba to Bechtel, a U.S. corporation." Rohter writes: "In
reality, the government did not sell the water supply: it granted a
consortium that included Bechtel a 40-year management concession . . ."
Rohter is really reaching here.
"Selling the water supply" to private interests is a fair description
of what happened here, about as good for practical purposes as
"granting a 40-year management concession." The companies got control
over the city's water supply and the revenue that can be gained from
Rohter's animus and conflict
of interest: We gave Rohter an enormous amount of factual
information to back up the main points of the film. He not only ignored
the main points of the film, but in the quotes he selected for the
article, he picked only quotes that were not fact related that could be
used to illustrate what he considered the director's and co-author's
bias. This is not ethical journalism; in fact it is questionable
whether it is journalism at all.
For example, Rohter was presented
with detailed and documentary evidence of the United States'
involvement in the 2002 coup. (see https://southoftheborderdoc.com/2002-venezuela-coup)
This was a major point in the film, and was backed up in the film by
testimony from then Washington Post foreign editor Scott
Wilson, who covered the coup from Caracas. In our conversations with
Rohter, he simply dismissed all of this evidence out of hand, and
nothing about it appears in the article.
Rohter should have disclosed his own
conflict of interest in this review. The film criticizes the New
York Times for its editorial board's endorsement of the military
coup of April 11, 2002 against the democratically elected government of
Venezuela, which was embarrassing to the Times. Moreover,
Rohter himself wrote an article on April 12 that went even further than
the Times' endorsement of the coup:
"Neither the overthrow of Mr. Chavez,
a former army colonel, nor of Mr. Mahuad two years ago can be
classified as a conventional Latin American military coup. The armed
forces did not actually take power on Thursday. It was the ousted
president's supporters who appear to have been responsible for deaths
that numbered barely 12 rather than hundreds or thousands, and
political rights and guarantees were restored rather than suspended." -
Larry Rohter, New York Times, April 12, 2002
These allegations that the coup was
not a coup - not only by Rohter - prompted a rebuttal by Rohter's
colleague at the New York Times, Tim Weiner, who wrote a Sunday
Week in Review piece two days later entitled "A Coup By Any Other
Name." (New York Times, April 14, 2002)
Unlike the NYT editorial
board, which issued a grudging retraction of their pro-coup stance a
few days later (included in our film), Rohter seems to have clung to
the right-wing fantasies about the coup. It is not surprising that
someone who supports the military overthrow of a democratically elected
government would not like a documentary like this one, which
celebrates the triumphs of electoral democracy in South America over
the last decade.
But he should have at least informed
his readers that the New York Times' was under fire in this
documentary, and also about his own reporting: in 1999 and 2000 he
covered Venezuela for the Times, writing numerous anti-Chavez news
reports. The media's biased and distorted reporting on Latin America is
a major theme of the documentary, one which Rohter also conveniently
ignores in is 1665-word attempt to discredit the film.
We spent hours with Rohter over the
course of two days and gave him all the information he asked for, even
though his hostility was clear from the outset. But he was determined
to present his narrative of intrepid reporter exposing sloppy
filmmaking. The result is a very dishonest attempt to discredit the
film by portraying it as factually inaccurate - using false and
misleading statements, out-of-context, selective quotations from
interviews with the director and writers, and ad hominem
attacks. The Times should apologize for having published it.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.(202) 293-5380
"The American people deserve to understand why you are supporting even more deficit-busting tax giveaways for giant corporations, while also cheerleading Republican demands to inflict painful, job-killing austerity on everyone else."
The Republican Party's debt-ceiling hostage scheme has benefited from the support of the United States' largest corporate lobbying organization, which has given its stamp of approval to the GOP's push for major federal spending cuts, punitive new work requirements for aid programs, and permitting changes sought by the fossil fuel industry.
While House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) office has reportedly not met with representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during the debt ceiling standoff, a representative of the powerful business group said earlier this week that such a meeting would be pointless given that the Chamber and the GOP are so closely aligned.
Neil Bradley, the Chamber's chief policy officer, toldPolitico earlier this week that a meeting with McCarthy would be a "cheerleading session."
"I see the relationship as respectful, so I'm not worried about wasting his time to come in and say, 'Look how much I agree with you,'" said Bradley, who previously served as McCarthy's deputy chief of staff.
In a letter to the Chamber's chief executive on Friday, a trio of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) slammed Bradley's remarks and demanded to know "how the Chamber justifies supporting the Republican agenda of continued tax cuts for the wealthy, while cheerleading for threats to impose a default and austerity for everyone else."
"Instead of pressing the speaker to drop his radical demands and pass a clean debt limit increase, Bradley noted that the Chamber has pressed the White House to come to a bipartisan agreement with McCarthy," the letter reads. "Indeed, Bradley noted that the Chamber is aligned with House Republicans on their debt ceiling demands, including on spending caps, work requirements, and energy permitting."
Warren, joined by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), accused the Chamber of fully backing the GOP's "shameless hypocrisy" by lobbying for tax breaks that Republicans are expected to include in a tax cut package coming sometime next month.
"The American people deserve to understand why you are supporting even more deficit-busting tax giveaways for giant corporations, while also cheerleading Republican demands to inflict painful, job-killing austerity on everyone else in a pretense of 'fiscal responsibility,'" the senators wrote, demanding to know how much the Chamber has spent on tax-related lobbying this year and what discussions the group has had with Republicans on the House's tax-writing committee.
According to OpenSecrets, the Chamber has spent more than $19 million total on federal lobbying so far this year—the most of any organization. The Chamber says it has met with more than 150 Republican and Democratic lawmakers throughout the debt ceiling fight, which GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) publicly described as a hostage situation.
The Democratic senators' letter came as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the federal government will run out of money to meet its obligations by June 5 if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling.
The Washington Postreported Friday that White House and GOP negotiators are "closing in on an agreement that would raise the debt ceiling by two years—a key priority of the Biden administration—while also essentially freezing government spending on domestic programs and slightly increasing funding for the military and veterans affairs."
When accounting for inflation, keeping non-military spending flat would mean potentially significant real-term cuts to key aid programs, from nutrition assistance to housing.
The Chamber has openly endorsed the GOP push for spending caps and warned President Joe Biden against using his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally prevent a default, claiming such a move would be "as economically calamitous as a default."
On Friday, a top Treasury Department official said the White House will not invoke its 14th Amendment authority to continue paying the nation's bills if talks with the GOP collapse.
The treasury secretary's warning came as a Biden administration official said the president won't invoke the 14th Amendment in order to avoid a first-ever U.S. default.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday warned Congress that the United States government will run out of money to pay its bills on June 5 if lawmakers don't reach an agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
"Based on the most recent available data, we now estimate that Treasury will have insufficient resources to satisfy the government's obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt limit by June 5," Yellen wrote in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
"We have learned from past debt limit impasses that waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States," Yellen noted. "In fact, we have already seen Treasury's borrowing costs increase substantially for securities maturing in early June."
Earlier this month, Yellen said that the so-called "X-date"—the day on which the first-ever U.S. default will occur—could come as early as June 1.
"If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position, and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests," she stressed in Friday's letter.
\u201cJanet Yellen updates the X date\u2026 it is now next Monday, June 5.\n\nLetter to Congress:\u201d— Julie Tsirkin (@Julie Tsirkin) 1685132574
As The New York Timesnotes:
Ms. Yellen's letter comes as the White House and House Republicans have been racing to agree on a deal that would lift the nation's $31.4 trillion borrowing cap and prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt. The Treasury Department hit the debt limit on January 19 and has since been employing accounting maneuvers to ensure the United States can continue paying its bills on time...
On Friday, she detailed that the federal government is due to make more than $130 billion in scheduled payments during the first two days of June—including payments to veterans and Social Security and Medicare recipients—leaving the Treasury Department with "an extremely low level of resources"...
While negotiators have been in round-the-clock talks, no deal has been announced. Still, the contours of an agreement between the White House and Republicans are taking shape. That deal would raise the debt limit for two years while imposing strict caps on discretionary spending not related to the military or veterans for the same period.
Biden administration officials and congressional Democrats have accused Republicans of "hostage-taking" during the debt limit standoff, an allegation embraced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) earlier this week.
Scores of Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates have called on President Joe Biden to exercise his constitutional authority and invoke the 14th Amendment—which states in part that "the validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."
However, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said Friday that Biden will not invoke the 14th Amendment.
"The 14th Amendment can't solve our challenges," Adeyemo asserted on CNN. "Now, ultimately, the only thing that can do that is Congress doing what it's done 78 other times, raising the debt limit."
"We don't have a Plan B that allows us to meet the commitments that we've made to our creditors, to our seniors, to our veterans, to the American people," Adeyemo added ominously.
"Banning buying homes based on citizenship and registering your property did not bode well in history," said one lawmaker. "This is the Republicans rewriting the Chinese Exclusion Act."
Days after a group of Chinese citizens sued Florida's government over its new law restricting Chinese citizens from purchasing property in the state, U.S. Rep. Al Green this week warned of a "proliferation" of such bans and unveiled federal legislation to prohibit them.
The proposal would affirm that federal law, such as the Fair Housing Act, takes precedence over state bans restricting who can and cannot legally purchase real estate or farmland. It would also allow people to sue in federal court and have a right to court-ordered relief including an injunction if they've been harmed by bans like the one approved by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Fair Housing Act explicitly prohibits discrimination in housing based on national origin, race, sex, gender identity, religion, and disability.
Despite the long-standing law, Florida this month became the latest state to pass restrictions on property ownership, targeting Chinese, Russian, Iranian, Syrian, Cuban, Venezuelan, and North Korean citizens. DeSantis claimed Chinese people have been "gobbling up" land in the state and said the law is intended to stop the Chinese Communist Party from gaining influence and spying in the state.
"That is not in the best interests of Florida to have the Chinese Communist Party owning farmland, owning land close to military bases," said the governor, who announced his 2024 presidential campaign this week.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, also a Republican, signed a ban on Chinese companies buying property in March, and the Texas Legislature had advanced a similar bill targeting companies and government entities headquartered in China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.
According to the National Agricultural Law Center, 21 states have laws restricting foreign ownership of farmland. More than 30 states have drafted or advanced legislation to either tighten those restrictions or introduce new ones.
"I don't think we ought to allow 50 states to have the opportunity to pass laws that can impact foreign affairs, which really is the province of the executive branch of the federal government," Green told HuffPost on Thursday. "I don't think we should wait until we get 30, 50, whatever number of different laws to act."
The measures have drawn comparisons to the so-called "alien land laws" that were in place in the early 20th century before being struck down by courts and state legislatures. The laws prohibited Chinese and Japanese immigrants from owning land and "severely exacerbated violence and discrimination against Asian communities," according to the ACLU, which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Florida this week.
"Banning buying homes based on citizenship and registering your property did not bode well in history... This is the Republicans rewriting the Chinese Exclusion Act," said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) this week, referring to the 1882 law that banned Chinese workers from immigrating to the United States.
\u201c\u2026when you ask me why we worry about anti-China rhetoric\u2026 many people can\u2019t differentiate between someone who works for the CCP from an average Chinese American. These laws will increase anti Asian suspicion & hate. https://t.co/z7j9TuyfA3\u201d— Grace Meng (@Grace Meng) 1684285341
Contrary to DeSantis' claim that Chinese citizens are buying large amounts of property across Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, foreigners owned only 3.1% of farmland at the end of 2021, and about a third of that land was owned by Canadians. Less than 1% of the land—0.03% of all farmland in the U.S.—was owned by Chinese citizens or entities.