Mountain of Snakes (Part II)

The following is Part II of Sean Penn’s piece, Mountain of Snakes (Read Part I here)




I wanted to cut through the crap. I had digested my earlier visits to Venezuela and Cuba and time spent with Chavez and Fidel Castro. I had grown increasingly intolerant of the propaganda. Though Chavez himself has a penchant for rhetoric, never has it been a cause for war. By this time I had come to say to friends in private, "It’s true, Chavez may not be a good man. But, he may well be a great one." Among those to whom I said this were historian and author, Professor Douglas Brinkley, and Vanity Fair writer and author Christopher Hitchens. As both had expressed interest in accompanying me on any further trips to Venezuela, and particularly because I wanted a cross-section of voices to share in discussion of Chavez and Venezuela with the American people, these two were perfect compliments, as Brinkley, a notably steady thinker whose historian’s code of ethics assures adherence to supremely reasoned evidence. And Hitchens, a wily wordsmith, ever too unpredictable for pre-disposition, is a wild card by any measure, who had once referred to Chavez as an "oil-rich clown." Though I believe Hitchens to be as principled as he is brilliant, Oxford educated Christopher can be combative to the point of bullying as he once was in severe comments made about saintly anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. He is also a man of volcanically un-predictable politics. His presence would balance any perceived bias in my own writing. That said, these are a couple of guys I have a lot of fun with and affection for. So, I called Fernando Sulichin and asked that he get them vetted and approved to interview Chavez. Additionally, we wanted to fly from Venezuela to Havana, and I asked that he request on our behalf, interviews with the Castro brothers, most urgently, Raul. The phone rang at two o’clock the following afternoon. "Mi hermano," Fernando said. "It is done."


Our flight from Houston to Caracas was delayed due to mechanical problems. It was one o’clock in the morning, we had been de-planed an hour after boarding. Brinkley and I sat in chairs with our legs splayed, bent at the knees over our carry-on baggage. Hitchens paced. "Very rarely does only one thing go wrong." Christopher said. And, he must’ve liked the way it sounded, because he said it again. "Very rarely does only one thing go wrong." He was god’s pessimist. I said, "Hitch, it’s gonna be fine. They’ll get us another plane and we’ll be there on time." But god’s pessimist is actually, god’s atheistic pessimist. And I would later be reminded of the clarity in his atheism. Something else would go wrong indeed. Well, right and wrong. But that’s for later. Within two hours, we were taking off for Caracas.


When we landed in Caracas airport, Fernando was there to greet us. After brief introductions, Fernando guided us to a private terminal, just a short walk through the airport. There, we waited i

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