Sean Penn, Danny Glover, and now Oliver Stone demonstrate that truth -- and Hollywood hokum -- are stranger than fiction.
Penn and Glover are masters of political disaster. And somehow, the perfect storm of their inarticulation seems best demonstrated whenever they deign to defend Hugo Chavez. What is it about this man that brings out the worst in movie star miasmas? Their recent and well-publicized comments on Mr. Chavez are hardly worth repeating. They're more fit to be enshrined on the walls of an abandoned gas station restroom.
Penn, a man who thinks that Chavez is the arbiter of Venezuelan's "dreams," also thinks journalists who call Chavez a dictator should go to prison. Glover, the beneficiary of nearly $20 million in Chavez's motion picture funding, has long admired the leader, embraced the leader, and supports him as a "brother." Such comments belong in a satire but are inexplicably said in earnest. Penn and Glover continue to be apologists for a man who is seen for what he is -- a dictatorial thug -- by everyone not blinded by his dim bulb of alleged social benevolence and charm.
How dark must it be for Hugo Chavez's charisma to brighten up a room?
This clothes-less emperor, however, who attributes Haiti's earthquake to the U.S.'s detonation of a secret underground weapon, has claimed yet another supporter in the American trifecta of western "intelligentsia" known as Hollywood.
"He behaves well. I think he's compensating those businesses that he has nationalized. Most peoples' lives in this country have improved under Chavez," said Oliver Stone recently, while promoting his new film on the Venezuelan leader. Stone continued, "[t]here is no question that the American press, the Anglo press, does not understand the way he speaks... . I'm not an expert on the local day-to-day issues, but I admire Hugo. I like him very much as a person. If I can say one thing, he shouldn't be on TV all the time."
Stone's self-deprecating admission is right on the mark. Even though expertise is hardly required to understand that although Mr. Chavez talks of wealth, prosperity, and liberty, he only brings such things to those who know better than to speak out against him. That is what it is to understand the way Hugo Chavez speaks, and it's perfectly clear.
Despite Mr. Stone's admitted limitations, he feels confident in saying that Chavez is compensating those businesses nationalized under the strong arm of a centralized power and media grab. I'd like to hear what the victims of Chavez' nationalization process have to say about it -- the unfiltered version -- if they could say one thing. Just because he opines on their well-being -- or makes a movie about it -- doesn't make it so.
It is interesting, Stone's choice of words: "if I can say one thing." Because, saying one thing can get you into a lot of trouble if you don't agree with el Presidente. Just ask Guillermo Zuloaga, the president of Globovision, the only remaining television station still critical of Hugo Chavez. While other stations critical of Chavez' methods have slowly but surely disappeared, Mr. Zuloga, who has been a constant thorn in the side of Hugo Chavez's push for a Latin American utopia, has remained, recoiled, and repeatedly ridiculed. How is Mr. Zuloga being compensated for his exercise of speech and opinion? Mr. Zuloaga, is now being brought up on charges of harvesting a product that is antithetical to the Venezuelan-Chavez way: personal wealth, or, said another way, profit:
Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovision, is accused of illegally storing vehicles with the intent to sell them for a profit... . This is a gentleman who has committed a crime, and he should have to answer to Venezuelan justice," Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said Friday. "We have already started the process. We have generated an Interpol alert for the capture of this fugitive, wherever he is. He and his son are sought by a Venezuelan justice tribunal." The charges against Zuloaga originated in May 2009, when 24 vehicles were found on one of his properties in Caracas. According to the government, they were being kept there in violation of existing law. Zuloaga, who owns car dealerships, has said the vehicles were stored at his house as part of his business.
Imagine, a car dealer keeping cars. Imagine a car dealer who owns cars trying to sell them for a profit. How would Chavez's view of car dealerships go over in middle, center, or even off-kilter America? Not very compensatory, I reckon.
"Oh, you just don't get ol' Hugo -- he means well," goes the pedantic palaver. That is probably true. He means very well. He means very well to retain power at any cost. He means very well to silence anyone not willing to agree with him -- particularly in the media. He means very well to tighten his grip until he produces a clear and unmistakable sense of uniformity. And then he means very well to be a leader, free of the problems associated with adversarial discord or opposition -- the kind of uniformity where unflattering movies about ex-presidents and governmental conspiracies would land you unemployed or in jail.
That's something Messrs. Penn, Glover, Stone and anyone fond of artistic license and freedom of expression might want to consider before deigning to "admire" a dictator. I know it's something I'll consider before I see one of their movies.
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