Roland Martin talked with Danny Glover about the criticism that he has faced as a result of his activism and connection with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as a result Chavez of embracing the issue of Afro-descendants.
MR. MARTIN: You also face criticism, because once you put yourself out there, all of a sudden, people begin to take their shots. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez – you’ve made many visits there. I remember, I guess, in ’09, I was trying to interview you; and you were actually shooting a movie, I believe, down there.
MR. GLOVER: I was trying to shoot a movie on the Haitian revolution. It was President Hugo Chavez who embraced the idea around the issue of Afro-descendants, and one of the things that we’ve been working on – my friend James Early, from the Smithsonian, and others – is creating this relationship between what has happened with Afro-descendants in the hemisphere. There’re 150 million African descendants in the Southern Hemisphere, in this – in this hemisphere. 90 percent of them live in poverty.
And what’s happening with these extraordinary moments in grassroots democracy and reimagining democracy all over the hemisphere is that there’s a place for African descendants. You know, Brazilians … 90 million people of African descent live in Brazil. Colombia – all these questions that are happening…. And it’s been exciting to watch them as they interface with the dynamics that are changing in their country.
Yeah, you’re going to get criticized, but … Hugo Chavez said, “Look at my hair. My grandmother was – [chuckles] – African.” You know what I’m saying? You want to talk to him and find out how can we find ways in which that experience translates into [the] kind[s] of changes that need to happen in your country, but also in the hemisphere as well.
MR. MARTIN: And the reason I brought that up [is] because you approached that not thinking of, “Oh, here are the geopolitical interests of political folks in Washington, D.C.” What you’re actually doing is going back historically, two, three, 400 years to day, “Look, there’s a lineage here, a connection here that goes beyond what you want it to be in terms of in America here, we don’t like that person because we think he’s socialist. We don’t like Castro for these reasons.”
You’re saying, “No, no, no. There’s a different dynamic, different connection here.”
MR. GLOVER: It’s a different dynamic and different connection. And the most important thing about the process is something is happening in the region. Something has happened different in the region. … in the Organization of American States, when you get a vote of 30 to 2, there’s something happening not only in Latin America with those countries … who are the usual suspects – you know, whether it’s Bolivia, or whether it’s Ecuador, or whether it’s Venezuela. … what you have is also that resonating – or Nicaragua – resonating with Caribbean countries and other countries that are part of the Organization of American States.
So, something is happening in the region, and maybe we could learn a great deal about this whole re-imagination of democracy. Where do you get – what is exceptional in this region? They have an indigenous man elected president of a country who comes out of a movement, a social movement, around the privatization of water in his country – [unintelligible] – who he is. Or, to have a woman the president of the sixth-largest economy in the world, who’s actually a woman who had been tortured in an attempt to change her country – that’s what I consider to be exceptional in a way. And to be able to talk to these people in a sense, because what is evident, and what we realize is that something is changing in the world, whether we look at the EU and what is happening with the virtual collapse of the EU, a virtual collapse within the context of the existing economic paradigm; and at the same time, you have a country like Argentina who walks away from the World Bank, establishing another relationship in terms of ALBA and other relationships. Where do you find the relationship between Petrocaribe, which provides discount oil for Caribbean countries?
You watch all these things happening, and you wonder, you question, “What if?” Because it’s all in our imagination. What did Einstein say? The imagination is more important and more powerful than knowledge. So – [chuckles] – it’s all in our imagination.
So, we can create the kind of relationship that King talks about in his “beloved community.” We can create the relationships in our imagination. How do they manifest themsel[ves] from people to people, within the nation-state? And how do they manifest themsel[ves] from nation-state to nation-state?
MR. MARTIN: I remember when we had the Arab Spring. I remember I was watching one of the television broadcasts, and all I kept hearing in the discussion was, “What are the American interests in this?”
And I’m sitting at home, going, “Isn’t it their country? Shouldn’t the conversation be, ‘What do the people of Egypt care about?’”
MR. GLOVER: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: And I’m curious to hear from you what is happening in Northern Africa, when you had folks in Egypt who were wearing “I AM A MAN” signs – the exact, same sign they were wearing –
MR. GLOVER: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: — in Memphis –
MR. GLOVER: Dr. King –
MR. MARTIN: — [when] Dr. King was killed.
MR. GLOVER: — the sanitation workers.
MR. MARTIN: When you see – and you travel the world. When you see folks in these countries saying, “We don’t want to be oppressed, but at the same time, we don’t want anyone on the outside trying to tell us how we should run our countries” – your take on what is happening in Northern Africa in these different spots around the world.
MR. GLOVER: Well, I think what is happening in Northern Africa is just that – you know, whether it’s in Syria, whether it happened in Tunisia, whether it’s happening in Egypt, or whether it’s happening in other places. I mean the great fear is that now we’re going to have this turn within the relationships, the shift within the relationships and power within the region itself. And it all comes from the bottom up.
But look here. You know, you look at … this region. You look at Raul Castro. He said, “Everything is on the table except one thing – our sovereignty.” He was very clear about that. “We can talk about everything, but we can’t talk about our sovereignty.” The whole idea of … the nation-state – we go back to Machiavelli and everybody else as the nation-state forms – you look at … post-World War II, all these national insurrections, all these national movements around decolonization. It wasn’t around any of these kind[s] of ideological struggles. It’s about the nation-state and nationalism: people’s sovereignty.
MR. MARTIN: “We want to control our own destiny.”
MR. GLOVER: “We want to control our own destiny.” That’s what this is about, you know?
In 1939, the … Britain controlled 70 percent of the oil in the region. Now, the United States controls 70 percent of the oil. You understand? So, there’s something about what’s happening here, and I think we have to rethink this in terms of that. We’ve used our extraordinary power and our extraordinary “exceptionalism” as the leader of global democracy in some sense, and – whatever – it’s controlling a lot of people’s life, determining what people had to do, if they … were to play along with the game. If they didn’t play along with the game – which is obvious – if they didn’t play along with the game, they were demonized, you know. And I’m not saying – some of the guys who didn’t play along with the game were bad actors anyway.
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. GLOVER: You know? There’s no doubt about it, you know. But when I look at the bad actor, I said, “Who put Saddam Hussein into power in 1965 or ’68?” “Who sets the road for him into power?”
MR. MARTIN: Same thing when what is now BP – Anglo-Iranian Oil –
MR. GLOVER: Absolutely.
MR. MARTIN: — controlled Iran, and we overthrew Mossadegh in ’54 [sic].
MR. GLOVER: Mossadegh in 1953 –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. GLOVER: — you know.
So, you look at this, and I’m saying if you have, at the outset of this movement, at the outset when they win their independence – Iraq – win their independence, you have, primarily, in civil society … an extraordinary plur[al]istic dialogue that’s happening about nationalism – Iran, Iraq. That’s what you have. You have this incredible – Mossadegh was a nationalist leader.
MR. MARTIN: Um-hum.
MR. GLOVER: He was someone who said, “Look here. This oil belongs to us.” In the midst of all the nationalism that takes place, “This oil belongs to this country. We should decide how we use this oil.”
But he wasn’t playing along with the game – you know? And so what you do is you overthrow him. Or, you establish, you set up …the Shah. You set up a situation with Saddam Hussein, who’s now placed into power – you know, someone who we all knew was ruthless, placed into power in 1968.
MR. MARTIN: But that was cool with us when we were fine with it.
MR. GLOVER: We were cool with it.
So, you look at this in the way – and, look. For those countries who stood up to that, who tried to stay up there, you know, those are the ones who were often the ones who we really put the screws to. I mean you talk about the Arab Spring. I said, “Well, what about 1986 and the “Haitian Spring” – [chuckles] – you know – when people overthrow Baby Doc? People protested. People – [unintelligible] – and elected their president. He didn’t have [any] money to run, but they elected their president.
What happens? You know, he began to talk about reparations. He began to talk about raising the minimum wage for Haitian workers – all those things. What happens? A coup happens.
MR. MARTIN: You’re speaking of Aristide.
MR. GLOVER: I’m speaking of Aristide.
So, we’re able to see what happens with this whole process, you know. And, yet, at the same time, people’s spirit – their spirit is indomitable. They go on. They move on. The Haitian people say, “Okay. You want us to vote [for] somebody else. We think we’ll vote for Préval,” and tear down the fence to make them vote for Préval. “You allow us” – “You say this is the limitation that we have, and we exceed the limitation.” But the Haitians have a history of doing that, so – [chuckle] –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. GLOVER: — they – [laughs] –
MR. MARTIN: For the moment, they’re independent.
MR. GLOVER: — they don’t sit around. They don’t play sittin’ around the house, man. [Chuckles.]