ME-O Seeks Answers: What Happened to the Latin American Left?

SANTIAGO – Marco Enríquez-Ominami (MEO), three-time presidential candidate and founder of the Progressive Party, has worked on a documentary about the Latin American left. With the title “Al Fondo a la Izquierda” the creators play on the collapse of the regional left, alluding to it going down the toilet, but also seek ways for renewal. The documentary features interviews with some regional left leaders, which provide some insights, but overall the film fails to trigger reflection.

Mostly known for his three consecutively failed presidential campaigns, Marco Enríquez-Ominami, together with his companions, tries to explore the question of “What happened to the left in Latin America?” in a documentary titled “Al fondo a la Izquierda.” The film features interviews with major left-wing political leaders, like Venezuela’s Maduro, Bolivia’s Morales and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and analyzes the resurgence of right-wing governments in Latin America.

The documentary begins with a flurry of images that include Bolsonaro, Piñera and Macri, establishing the context of the rise of the right. Then MEO appears, giving a phone interview during which he relays his message: The right doesn’t win elections, the left loses them.

First Stop: Cuba

Cuba, the original inspiration for the left according to the narrator, is the first stop – and exposes one of the film’s biggest issues. For example, proud followers of Fidel Castro get nearly four minutes of time on camera but critics of the government’s strict cultural control only one. The editing falls short too, as the audience gets too little time to reflect on what the subjects say before the protagonists move on to Venezuela.

To the filmmakers’ credit, they don’t gloss over the issues facing Venezuela and even get some interesting footage of the protests that haunt the streets of Caracas as well as an interview with a pharmacist who says that nowadays even simple antibiotics are in short supply. 

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From Maduro and Morales…

But the interview with Maduro was unnecessary as it didn’t help analysis of the crisis nor add any insight into the Venezuelan leader, who blames the US for the crisis.

The third stop is Bolivia, where the filmmakers talk to Evo Morales. Again, the section is not insightful. Not even people in the street get a say, just footage of a protest against Morales’ announcement of a fourth election run because his work was not done yet.

Dilma Rousseff didn’t say anything that hadn’t been said before, but after her interview she can be seen asking a man from the favelas why he voted for the right and what the left has to do to win. The man responded the left needs to break the system but currently left and right are the same anyway.

…to Correa and Mujica

Then, the documentary lifts off to Belgium and an interview with Ecuador’s ex-president, Rafael Correa. This interview sheds a bit more light on the workings of political power. The protagonists mourn the absence of good leaders on both sides of the aisle. Uruguay’s former president Pepe Mujica agrees in a later interview, also adding that Latin America’s problems aren’t caused by external forces like the US but by cultural issues deep in these societies. To solve these problems, Mujica says, will require the work of generations.

The camera work throughout the movie was of mixed quality. The camera was mostly well-used, producing some stunning images. But for the interviews, the filmmakers used close angles, creating unnecessary irritation for viewers, who thus cannot fully focus on what’s being said.

While worth watching to learn about how the left works in Latin America, this documentary still fails to challenge the audience and encourage some reflection.

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