I’ve enjoyed a great number of Sean Penn’s films over the years. Clearly, he’s an incredibly talented and versatile actor, a giant among his kind. His far-left political persuasions, however, I’ve never found particularly entertaining.
In 2002, with America at war in Afghanistan and the entire world still trying to pick up the pieces of 9/11, Penn took out a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post accusing President George W. Bush of fear-mongering and suppressing public debate on the impending war in Iraq. This while Saddam Hussein had murdered, according to The New York Times in January, 2003, approximately 1.1 million people.
In 2006, upon winning the first annual Christopher Reeve First Amendment Award from the Creative Coalition, Penn used his acceptance speech to take his rhetoric a step further, this time calling for the impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Penn regularly touted his close friendship with the late Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, a violent dictator who dismantled Venezuela’s democratic institutions. Following Chavez’s death, Penn told The Hollywood Reporter, “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion… I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela.”
You don’t have to be a recipient of a Nobel Prize in Economics to know that Chavez’s economic policies were catastrophic to his country, much to the detriment of his nation’s middle class. Moreover, he wielded his power authoritatively, perhaps even brutally, as Human Rights Watch notes, “the concentration of power and erosion of human rights protections had given the government free rein to intimidate, censor, and prosecute Venezuelans who criticized the president or thwarted his political agenda. In recent years, the president and his followers used these powers in a wide range of prominent cases, whose damaging impact was felt by entire sectors of Venezuelan society.”
Penn’s also been open about his equally close friendship with dictator and flagrant human rights abuser and murderer, Cuba’s Fidel Castro. He also met with Saddam Hussein’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, one of the henchman’s closest advisers, when visiting Iraq in 2003. Then, after returning from a visit to Iran in 2005, Penn referred to Iran in a 2007 op-ed as “a great country.”
In the past, I’ve disagreed vehemently with Sean Penn on a range of issues, several I’ve omitted in an effort to keep this piece under ten pages.
But Penn did something recently that blew my mind and, in the spirit of gratitude, I must acknowledge.
Jacob Ostreicher is an American entrepreneur and Orthodox Jew who was arrested in Bolivia in 2011 while overseeing a rice growing venture and held as a suspect in a money laundering investigation. He spent 18 months in Bolivia’s Palmasola prison, an infamous complex described by The New York Times as ‘a squalid prison’ where Ostreicher claimed he was beaten and humiliated and had to pay off his jailers. Ostreicher was never formally charged with a crime and had been under house arrest until just days ago, that is, until Sean Penn stepped in and took on a cause for justice.
The details of what transpired are minimal and sketchy at best, as is how Penn — who traveled to Bolivia on what he describes as a “humanitarian operation” — managed to sneak Ostreicher across a hostile border and into a safe and currently undisclosed location in the United States where he is reportedly receiving medical treatment with Penn by his side.
What is known is that, as Bolivia now issues warnings calling for Ostreicher’s extradition, Sean Penn may have just played his greatest role to date — bona fide hero. And off-screen, no less.