Sean Penn Helps U.S. Businessman Escape Bolivia in Mystery Rescue
American businessman Jacob Ostreicher is, according to reports, back in his native New York City thanks, in part, to an Oscar-winning actor known for embracing far-left politicians.
Ostreicher had spent more than two years under arrest in Bolivia under suspicion of money laundering, until news broke today that he had come to America in a deal brokered in part by Sean Penn.
The tale surrounding both Ostreicher's detention and escape from Bolivia is murky at best. The businessman, who is in the flooring business in Brooklyn, traveled to Bolivia to work at a rice facility. He was never formally accused of a crime, only told that authorities suspected him of having had a hand in laundering drug money through the rice business.
He spent one year in jail and one and a half under house arrest. This all according to the New York Times, which adds that Ostreicher's house arrest was so lax that the only explanation the Bolivian government could muster is that he simply walked away and no one noticed until he had reached Peru.
Bolivian Justice Minister Cecilia Ayllón announced in a press conference that there was no record of Ostreicher leaving Bolivia at any time, though his family assured the newspaper "100%" that he was in the United States. According to Argentine news source Infobae, Bolivia's Viceminister of the Interior told the press Ostreicher's escape had been "difficult," which seems to conflict somewhat with the New York Times' report.
A story as unbelievable and simultaneously predictable as this is hard to come by. Bolivia is notorious for facing difficulties with corrupt politicians and judges under left-wing President Evo Morales. Nine officials had previously been arrested by the Morales administration for attempting to extort Ostreicher, to the tune of $50 million in investments according to the businessman.
Ostreicher remained under house arrest, however, because he was considered part of what Morales calls the "permanent war" against Bolivia waged by President Barack Obama. Minister Juan Ramón Quintana accused Ostreicher of depicting himself as a "little saint" as part of Obama's master plan to "discredit" the Morales administration. Justice Minister Ayllón echoed those sentiments this week, arguing that the escape itself proved Ostreicher "was involved in the crimes he's accused of," despite the nonexistence of any formal accusations.
And floating around somewhere in this mess: Penn. The actor, famously a good friend of former Venezuelan president and major Morales mentor and ally Hugo Chávez, had advocated for Ostreicher's release in the past. But when the reports surfaced that Ostreicher was in New York, that news came with a photo of Penn and Ostreicher in the Times, and a statement from Penn cryptically stating that a "humanitarian operation" saved Ostreicher "from the corrupt prosecution and imprisonment he was suffering." It is still unclear what Penn's role in the rescue actually was, though some news sources are fully attributing the rescue to him.
While Penn had advocated for his release, brazenly involving himself in defying the Bolivian government is a new step politically for the far-left actor. Penn has previously appeared friendly with President Morales, attending soccer games with the leader though declining official missions to promote coca leaf consumption on a global scale. Even when he wrote of Ostreicher in a way that made the Bolivian judiciary appear corrupt, Penn was careful to do so while extolling the virtues of other left-wing radicals in Latin America, including the aforementioned Chávez and Fidel Castro. Many considered Penn something of an unofficial ambassador after Morales expelled the actual United States Ambassador to Bolivia in 2008.
The impact this will have on Penn's role as the "good" American used by socialist dictatorships in Latin America to prove that they don't actually hate the American people remains to be seen. But if Penn begins to advocate for the release of de facto political prisoners in the countries he has been so thoroughly ridiculed for supporting, this could signal a turning point in the actor's politics, and perhaps his respect for the oppressed in the nations his "friends" govern.