Video

Conversations with Chavez and Castro

Sean Penn talks with Raúl Castro about Obama and Guantánamo and Hugo Chávez about human rights and the next U.S. administration.

Soon to be Vice President-elect Joe Biden was rallying the troops: "We can no longer be energy dependent on Saudi Arabia or a Venezuela dictator." Well, I know what Saudi Arabia is. But having been to Venezuela in 2006, touring slums, mixing with the wealthy opposition and spending days and hours at its president's side, I wondered, without wondering, to whom Senator Biden was referring. Hugo Chávez Frías is the democratically elected president of Venezuela (and by democratically elected I mean that he has repeatedly stood before the voters in internationally sanctioned elections and won large majorities, in a system that, despite flaws and irregularities, has allowed his opponents to defeat him and win office, both in a countrywide referendum last year and in regional elections in November). And Biden's words were the kind of rhetoric that had recently led us into a life-losing and monetarily costly war, which, while toppling a shmuck in Iraq, had also toppled the most dynamic principles upon which the United States was founded, enhanced recruitment for Al Qaeda and deconstructed the US military.

By now, October 2008, I had digested my earlier visits to Venezuela and Cuba and time spent with Chávez and Fidel Castro. I had grown increasingly intolerant of the propaganda. Though Chávez himself has a penchant for rhetoric, never has it been a cause for war. In hopes of demythologizing this "dictator," I decided to pay him another visit. By this time I had come to say to friends in private, "It's true, Chávez may not be a good man. But he may well be a great one."

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