Shot in both Latin America and the United States, the film explores the historic and current relationship of Washington with countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile. According to Pilger, his film ”…tells a universal story… analysing and revealing, through vivid testimony, the story of great power behind its venerable myths. It allows us to understand the true nature of the so-called ”war on terror”. Pilger believes the film’s message is that the greed and power of empire is not invincible and that people power is always the ”seed beneath the snow”.
Pilger interviews several ex-CIA agents who purportedly took part in secret campaigns against democratic governments and who he claims are profiting from the war in Iraq. He investigates the School of the Americas in the U.S. state of Georgia, whereGeneral Pinochet’s torture squads were reportedly trained along with tyrants and death-squad leaders in Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil and Argentina.
The film uses archive footage to support its claim that democracy has been wiped out in country after country in Latin America since the 1950s. Testimonies from those who fought for democracy in Chile and Bolivia are also heard.
Segments filmed in Bolivia show that for the last five years huge popular movements have demanded that multinational companies be refused to access the country’s natural reserves of gas, or to buy up the water supply. In Bolivia, Pilger interviews people who say that their country’s resources, including their water and rainwater, were asset stripped by multinational interests. He describes how they threw out a foreign water consortium and reclaimed their water supply. The narrative leads to the landslide election of the country’s first indigenous President.
In Chile, Pilger talks to women who survived the pogroms of General Augusto Pinochet, in remembrance of colleagues who perished at the hands of the dictator. He walks with Sara de Witt through the grounds of the torture house in which she was tortured and survived. Pilger also investigates the ”model democracy” that Chile has become and claims that there is a façade of prosperity and that Pinochet’s legacy is still alive.
The film also tells the story of an American nun, Dianna Ortiz, who tells how she was tortured and gang raped in the late 1980s by a gang reportedly led by a fellow American clearly in league with the U.S.-backed regime, at a time when the Reagan administration was supplying the military regime with planes and guns. Ortiz asks whether the American people are aware of the role their country plays in subverting innocent nations under the guise of a ”war on terror”. Former CIA agent and Watergate scandal conspirator Howard Hunt, who describes how he and others overthrew the previously democratically elected government. Hunt describes how he organised ”a little harmless bombing”. Duane Clarridge, former head of CIA operations in South America is also interviewed.
Pilger traveled through Venezuela with its president, Hugo Chavez, who he regards as the only leader of an oil-producing nation who has used its resources democratically for the education and health of its people. The Venezuelan segment of the film recounts events during the coup attempt of 2002, captured in archival footage. The film argues that the failed 2002 coup against Chavez was backed by rich and powerful interests under U.S. support and that Chavez was brought back to power by the Venezuelan people. Pilger describes the advances in Venezuela’s new social democracy, but he also questions Chavez on why there are still poor people in such an oil-rich country.