The actor Sean Penn has flown to Cuba to chase what would be the biggest scoop of his career as a part-time journalist: an interview with Fidel Castro.
The Oscar winner, who last year bagged interviews with Raúl Castro and Hugo Chávez, is reportedly on assignment for Vanity Fair in his quest to meet Cuba’s former president.
In a sign of Havana’s approval the communist party newspaper Granma covered Penn’s visit yesterday to the Island of Youth, where he visited a gallery and met artists.
According to the online magazine tmz.com Penn hopes to ask Fidel about Cuba’s evolving relationship with the Obama administration.
The interview - which has not been confirmed - would be a coup for the Hollywood star’s brand of activist journalism. No western journalist has seen let alone interviewed the 83-year-old leader since an intestinal illness forced him from public view three years ago. Fidel stepped aside from the presidency but remains influential in Cuba - and an iconic, enigmatic figure abroad.
Penn, an outspoken liberal and anti-war activist, took a break from filming to visit Iraq as a journalist in 2004. He followed up with a visit to Iran the following year and then befriended Chávez.
Venezuela’s socialist president, who seldom gives interviews, gave ample access to Penn and arranged an interview with Raúl Castro, Cuba’s even more interview-shy president. The stories were published in The Nation and the Huffington Post.
Critics say the actor is too soft in the interviews and should leave journalism to professionals. “Why does someone like Penn think he can do this job, which isn’t his job?” asked The New Yorker.
Chávez and the Castros also opened their doors to Oliver Stone, another Hollywood leftist. He made sympathetic documentaries about his subjects, a contrast with most US media hostility to the Latin American presidents.
Sean Penn visits Isla de la Juventud in Havana.
Photograph: Mayangdi Inzaulgarat/EPA