Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced this month, amid scores of protests and a rising death toll, that he has enlisted Sean Penn to teach acting classes in Caracas.
The news came from the government-controlled newspaper El Correo del Orinoco, an announcement made as Penn visited the country on the one-year anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s death. Accompanying Penn was the Prime Minister of Haiti, Laurent Lamothe, whom the newspaper said was there to help distribute iPads to poor people in Venezuela, despite Haiti’s poverty rate in rural areas often reaching 84%.
Despite Lamothe’s presence, Maduro gave most of the diplomatic attention to Sean Penn, who was not in the country in any official capacity, as relations with the oppressive communist nation have deteriorated. Maduro actively claimed the opposite, however–that “we have more of a relationship with the United States than ever.” He told the crowd, “Before, we didn’t have relationships with the United States, just with their movies, and their music, those of us who liked Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin.” Sean Penn’s visit, Maduro concluded, was proof of Maduro’s ability to work well with the United States.
A week before this press conference, Maduro called the United States a “brutal and insolent empire” and told Secretary of State John Kerry to stop “promoting violence” by denouncing the violence of Maduro’s dictatorship in Venezuela.
“With Sean we have spoken about opening up a film acting shop in Villa del Cine,” Maduro finally declared, announcing the production of public acting classes by the Academy Award winner. “The young will receive the breadth of experience of Sean. … We all admire and love Sean profoundly,” Maduro said. The group then took a selfie.
While Penn did not make any public comments himself, he has been a vocal supporter of socialist repression in Venezuela. Penn hit the campaign trail for Chávez while Chávez was still alive, and he attended his funeral. “Today the United States has lost a friend it never knew it had,” Penn said upon hearing of Chávez’s death last year.
Penn’s presence beside Maduro tacitly endorses what has been two months of the most violent repression in the history of the nation. At least 500 have been attacked, tortured, or detained by the Bolivarian National Guard, while the official death toll has risen to 28. Protesters have reported regular beatings, tortures, disfigurements, and even rape at the hands of Venezuelan authorities. The current wave of protests began as a result of the Venezuelan government’s arrest of Popular Will party leader Leopoldo López, who continues to languish in jail for organizing a protest against Maduro’s economic policies.
Watch Maduro’s photo-op with Penn and the Prime Minister of Haiti below: