Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, left, talks to actor Sean Penn at… (Ariana Cubillos / Associated…)
The mourners lamenting the death of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez included the presidents of Iran and Cuba, a Spanish prince and a man that Chavez himself once floated as a possible American ambassador to Venezuela: Hollywood actor Sean Penn.
Penn flew to Caracas for the Friday funeral, where he was filmed among the mourning crowd. Earlier this week, he called Chavez “a great hero to the majority of his people.”
"Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion," Penn wrote in a statement sent to the Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday.
The two first met in 2007 when Penn traveled to Venezuela, where Chavez called him "one of the greatest opponents of the Iraq invasion." The actor, in turn, praised Chavez for providing aid to earthquake victims in Haiti and rejected “defamation” of the leftist leader, calling him in the Huffington Post two years ago “a president elected by the impoverished.”
His warm words for Chavez have been deeply controversial in the U.S. in light of the criticism that human rights activists levied against the Venezuelan leader. Penn also came under fire for suggesting in a televised interview with Bill Maher that when media outlets dub the elected Chavez a dictator, “there should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kind of lies.”
The late leader himself once suggested Penn would be an acceptable U.S. ambassador to Venezuela after rejecting the diplomat chosen by President Obama.
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