It’s been a busy week for Sean Penn. In theaters, the actor is generating Oscar buzz for his starring role in Milk and on the newsstand, he wrote the cover story for The Nation. If the Mr. Penn has his way, he just might bring an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
In the December 15th issue of the magazine, Mr. Penn interviews Hugo Chávez and Raúl Castro, an assignment that seems designed to infuriate his critics on the right who despise the actor for his 2004 and 2005 fact-finding trips to Iraq and Iran, his attention-grabbing attempts to save survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and his friendship with Cindy Sheehan.
For his journeys to Venezuela and Cuba, Mr. Penn invited along to two old friends, Douglas Brinkley and Christopher Hitchens (the latter a former Nation columnist), whom he describes as follows:
These two were perfect complements. Brinkley is a notably steady thinker whose historian’s code of ethics assures adherence to supremely reasoned evidence. Hitchens, a wily wordsmith, ever too unpredictable for predisposition, is a wild card by any measure who in a talk-show throwaway once referred to Chávez as an ‘oil-rich clown.’ Though I believe Hitchens to be as principled as he is brilliant, he can be combative to the point of bullying, as he once was in severe comments made about saintly antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan. Brinkley and Hitchens would balance any perceived bias in my writing. Also, these are a couple of guys I have a lot of fun with and affection for.This is beginning to sound like the best buddy film ever made…
Here’s a little bit from Mr. Penn’s conversation with Mr. Castro:
‘What about Guantánamo?’ I ask. ‘I’ll tell you the truth,’ Castro says. ‘The base is our hostage. As a president, I say the US should go. As a military man, I say let them stay.’ Inside, I’m wondering, Have I got a big story to break here? Or is this of little relevance? It should be no surprise that enemies speak behind the scenes. What is a surprise is that he’s talking to me about it. And with that, I circle back to the question of a meeting with Obama. ‘Should a meeting take place between you and our next president, what would be Cuba’s first priority?’ Without a beat, Castro answers, ‘Normalize trade.’You’ve come a long way, Mr. Spicoli