Sean Penn is a dictator's BFF

You might be surprised to learn that being a Hollywood star makes you an expert on international affairs. Case in point: Sean Penn, grumpy Hollywood diva and best friend of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

Penn has visited the country and praised the efforts of the "President" who spends most of his free time bankrupting the nation's economy and imprisoning dissenters. Television stations in the country that broadcast news reports critical of his actions have been shut down. One would think that such a crackdown on free speech would repulse an artist, but not Sean Penn.
In the midst of the madness comes a dose of common sense. Actress Maria Conchita Alonso, who co-starred with Penn in the 1988 film Colors, has published an open letter to Penn, taking him to task for his support of Chavez and misrepresenting the Chavez regime as open and democratic. Alonso was born in Cuba but was raised in Venezuela.

The letter, published on the website, challenged the assertion made by Penn on the HBO show "Real Time with Bill Maher" on March 5 that Chavez had been elected in "the most transparent elections in the globe, and had been elected democratically." Alonso replied "Why didn't the government allow a manual recount of the votes and computer information when doubt set in? I strongly recommend that you read a report by the U.S. State Department written in 2009 entitled 'The Fraudulent Elections in Venezuela'."

After several referendums to lift term limits for the President failed in recent years, the proposal was approved in a February 2009 vote. While a number of human rights organizations and opposition groups questioned the validity of the vote, the door is now open for Chavez to be re-elected President for life.

Penn had also suggested that those who call Chavez a dictator should be thrown in jail: "There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies,” he said. The winner of two acting Oscars thinks just like Chavez; a number of journalists in Venezuela have been imprisoned for speaking out against the regime.

Alonso also criticized Penn's assertions that Venezuela is a socialist paradise, an argument the actor has made in a number of interviews and opinion columns posted on liberal websites. She says Venezuela is "fast becoming Cuba's mirror image: (through) dismantling of fundamental democratic rights deserved by its people and citizens of the world." In recent years, Chavez has seized private property for use by his regime and fought back against student protesters when the economy faltered. Inflation in Venezuela is over 35% and the country is the murder capital of the world.

Penn has not yet responded to Alonso's letter.

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