Hugo Chavez and Sean Penn

In the wake of a devastating report on his presidency by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Commission, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s loudest defense has come from actor Sean Penn, known most recently for his roles in Milk and Mystic River.

In the OAS report, Chavez is accused of not only centralizing his own power but eliminating his country’s private sector, repression of opposition media outlets and criminalization of human rights groups. Appearing on the HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Penn denied Chavez’s tyranny, saying, “Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it,” before adding that he believed those who call Chavez a dictator should be imprisoned, “truly, there should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.”

Penn’s role as Chavez propagandist is lockstep with Hugo Chavez’s dismissal of the OAS report. In his response, Chavez showed himself to be little more than a strongman, whose power is based on bullying and intimidation, ridiculing the OAS report in a manner that would be hilarious if it weren’t so sickening. In a fit of rage unbecoming anyone who would deem themselves a “leader,” Chavez said that Santiago Canton, the head of OAS, was “executive excrement, pure excrement” and that the OAS was a “mafia.”

However passionate he may be for the Venezuelan dictator, Penn is a lone voice in an increasing loud chorus of condemnation aimed at Chavez. In a harsh editorial in the Washington Post last month, the newspaper deemed the OAS report as “a powerful and sometimes chilling account” and a late response “to the steady deterioration of Latin American democracy during the past few years.” With so many voices, it’s time to ask who we should trust: the sobering report of the OAS or a celebrity who is clearly out of his league when it comes to politics?

Michael Orion Powell is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: