It's disturbing that Sean Penn is defending Hugo Chavez. It's more disturbing that he would have the US jail people for calling him a dictator.
- It is true that Chavez is not a dictator - he was elected and has shown no sign of not respecting future elections that might upseat him. The closest he's come has been to remove term limits (among other constitutional reforms)
- However, he has done a number of other very worrying things that might provoke concerns about this, among them:
- Establishing a cult of personality
- Having personal spats with other national leaders, and using those as well as other "personality-based" slogans to shape foreign policy
- Stifling expression of views critical of his, both through media controls and by encouraging his cult of personality to perform direct action
- Nationalisation for the wrong reasons
- Particularly and intentionally strong relations with other terrible national leaders
- Destruction of rule of law without good reason
- Enormous centralisation of state mechanisms under his control, with failure to make productive use of this power
- Cooking the books on progress under his programmes
Even were Chavez in fact a rosy, awesome leader, Penn's suggestion to jail those who call him a dictator would be inappropriate. While freedom of expression should not be considered absolute, strong criticism of political leaders, even when ignorant/stupid/over-the-top, should be considered legally protected.
For someone who has supported so many worthy causes in his political activism, it's a blemish on Penn's record to take this stance.