“Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion,” says Penn in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. ” I lost a friend I was blessed to have.
“Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of Vice President Maduro,” adds Penn.
Penn, who has been a longtime supporter of Chavez, made a surprise appearance in Bolivia in December to attend a candlelight vigil for the health of the leader. Said Penn at the vigil: “He’s one of the most important forces we’ve had on this planet, and I’ll wish him nothing but that great strength he has shown over and over again. I do it in love, and I do it in gratitude.”
Shortly after coming to office, he rewrote the constitution to his liking and aggressively set out to rig elections and stifle adversaries in the legislative branch and the courts. Unable to brook criticism, he turned his fire on the independent news media, eventually silencing most voices of opposition by bully tactics and economic intimidation.
His Bolivarian regime rewarded supporters and punished opponents, giving rise to enormous corruption and the creation of a new class of greedy oligarchs with political connections. Unfortunately for Venezuela and for all his political skills, the president was both an incompetent executive and a worse economist.
In an energy-rich country that once knew no blackouts, electrical shortages are frequent, the result of Mr. Chávez’s plundering of the country’s public oil company. In a country that once enjoyed a thriving free market, prices are controlled and food items often scarce.
In recent weeks, while Mr. Chávez was hospitalized, Venezuela was once again forced to devalue its currency, this time by one-third. This was the inevitable outcome of a series of disastrous economic decisions that included nationalizing the telephone company and other utilities, which scared off foreign investors and spurred capital flight.
For Venezuelans, the worst aspect of the Chávez years was the soaring crime rate. Venezuela has become one of the most violent countries in the world, with nearly 20,000 murders recorded in 2011 and a homicide rate that some experts say is four times greater than in the last year before Mr. Chávez took power.
On the international front, Mr. Chávez eagerly accepted Fidel Castro [estimated worth $2 billion – Ed] as his mentor, providing Cuba with cut-rate oil and making common cause with Iran and other rogue regimes. His departure leaves the anti-American front leaderless on a hemispheric level and could eventually threaten the subsidy that Cuba relies on to keep its economy barely functioning.
As a result of all this, Venezuela today is a polarized society divided between the intolerant supporters of Mr. Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution and a democratic opposition that, against all odds, has waged a courageous fight for a democratic alternative.