FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional), by filmmakers Peter Gessner and Robert Kramer, provides a fascinating time capsule of Venezuela in the first half of the 1960s. The film, however, is as much about Venezuela as it is about the New Left in the United States and their view of the world. The language employed, the terms used, and the depiction of the "class struggle" reflects the rhetoric of the era. Throughout the film's 30 minutes it is impossible to escape the fact that these are North American filmmakers constructing a vision of Venezuela that also fits their assessment of an impending world revolutionary struggle.
The grainy black and white footage and the stark narration take the viewer back to the heady days of the 1960s when guerrilla movements in Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru dominated leftist political discourse in Latin America. Influenced by the success of the Cuban insurgents, revolutionary struggle appeared to erupt everywhere in Latin America. This is a world of straightforward and unencumbered binaries. Complex matters of race, gender, region, power relations or a more nuanced view of class do not cloud the story line. The film embodies the classic confrontation that pits the imperialist, the foreign oil company, Creole (a subsidiary of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey,) U.S. military advisors, and the Venezuelan comprador bourgeoisie against the valiant forces of national liberation embodied by the FALN.
The directors also cast historical events in Venezuela as one-dimensional. They deplore conditions that existed under the rule of strongman Marcos Pérez Jiménez and insist that elites and the U.S. hijacked the 1958 revolution that ousted the dictator. Rómulo Betancourt is represented as an agent of the United States who seeks to represses opposition movements and who offers no alternative to the Venezuelan populace. Democracy and dictatorship are simply different tools in the arsenal of the elite to dominate society. The Venezuela elite and their allies in the middle class are pitted against the worker, the urban poor in the "ranchos" of Caracas, and the campesino with no land. There is no middle ground, no shades of difference to complicate matters; there is only the struggle of the poor, led by the guerrillas against the capitalist enemy and their class collaborators. [End Page 705]
The directors weave together footage of Creole Petroleum Corporation operations in Lake Maracaibo, scenes of Venezuela during the early 1960s, and film taken by the guerrillas in their mountain hideouts. The first section, which depicts wells on Lake Maracaibo, leads to the conclusion that Venezuela is afloat in a "sea of oil"; wealth is everywhere. The second provides a stark contrast between two different Venezuelas: the wealthy and the middle class versus the poor. The contrast is between those who barely eek out an existence in the most expensive country in Latin America, and those who frequent the hotels and restaurants of Caracas and the nearby beach resorts of el litoral.
From the perspective of the film, the guerrillas of the FALN embody the only hope for a new Venezuela. Their ranks include workers, campesinos, army officers, professors and students, men and women, who will create a new Venezuela. In keeping with the Maoist dictum, the guerrillas are portrayed as "fish in a lake" consisting of campesinos and rural poor. The film concludes that the self-sacrificing guerrillas will emerge victorious; no hint of their eventual demise is given.
The film's principal value is as an historic document of a unique period in Venezuelan history. With all its obvious limitations, it provides valuable insights of the worldview that held sway over a generation of leftist activists in Venezuela as well as in the United States.