Elisabetta Andreoli, Gabriele Muzio, Sara Muzio and Max Pugh, 'Our oil and other tales'

IssueJuly to August 2006
Review by Charley Allan

When this documentary premiered in Caracas last year, the Venezuelan Ministry of Culture cancelled its second screening at the National Cinema unless the producers removed the ministry's name as funder of the film. Why were they so upset?

The film exposes the contradiction of building socialism through oil wealth. The state oil company PdVSA is revealed as a corrupt, bureaucratic monster destroying communities and the environment in its relentless search for hydrocarbons.

Sure, the company pays for new roads and houses, but few “revolutionary” Venezuelans know about the poisoned water and cancer epidemics. The oil wealth belongs to all of us, they say, but workers are still “buying” jobs from corrupt trade unionists and scavenging rubbish dumps for food.

Some of the film is out of date. Much is made of the proposed super-sized new coal-mine in Zulia state, on the border with Colombia, the source of many environmental denunciations internationally. The affected indigenous communities have since mobilised and secured a promise from President Chávez that “If they can't save the land, the coal stays in the ground”.

This is the second documentary about Venezuela from Max Pugh and all. The first, 2002's Another way is possible ... in Venezuela, also told the story of the “Bolivarian Revolution” from a grassroots perspective and dispelled media myths about the country.

The difference now is that they are dispelling the myths of the Chávez government, which, given the shameful state of the political “opposition” in Venezuela, someone has to do.

This should not be mistaken as an attack on Chávez or the Bolivarian Movement. Although it is embarrassing that key ministries are still playing the old game, it is hardly surprising. The great impetus for the very successful social programmes, or missions, was the corruption and bureaucracy of the established arms of state.

Rather, this documentary might better be seen as a conscious expression of grassroots frustration, which must be taken seriously as a coherent voice of an empowered people. The time for sweeping another socialist state's secrets under the rug is over.

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