Sean Penn jumps into Falkland Islands fray

Sean Penn lashes out at the deployment of a British prince to the Falklands. The UK is not amused.

Phil McCarten/Reuters
Actor Sean Penn attends the Cinema for Peace event benefiting the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, in Los Angeles, January 14, 2012. Penn received the Cinema for Peace Honorary Award for his aid work with the relief organization.

The war of words between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands, the British archipelago off the Argentinean coast, is heating up with barbs from both sides of the Atlantic.

Now a new voice has joined the fray – one that is neither European nor Latino.

"It's unthinkable that the United Kingdom can make a conscious decision to deploy a prince within the military to the Malvinas, knowing the great emotional sensitivity both of mothers and fathers in the United Kingdom and in Argentina who lost sons and daughters in a war over islands with a population of so few," American actor Sean Penn said this week.

He is referring to the deployment of Prince Williams to the islands, known as the Malvinas by Argentina, which comes just months before the 30th anniversary of the war between the two nations that caused some 900 casualties.

The growing diplomatic battle has nothing to do with a Hollywood celebrity. But in many ways it does: it is a new breed of “diplomacy” that has seen famous actors, rock stars, and other faces once reserved for People magazine jumping into international politics.

Look at Angelina Jolie, the UN goodwill ambassador who has traveled the world for over a decade to help refugees.  Or the interest that Oprah Winfrey or Bono or Madonna have taken in Africa, as we reported here.

While at times that interest can be controversial (think Madonna and Malawi adoption), few condemn the West’s wealthy sharing their riches. The same cannot be said when politics comes into play, however. And Penn, who has never shied away from voicing an opinion and criticizing the US role in Latin America, is a prime provoker.

Penn runs an organization in Haiti dedicated to post-earthquake recovery, and reportedly played a role, with his ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in attempts to release the two Americans imprisoned, and later freed, in Iran.

He has earned many friends in Latin America. In a televised speech early last year, President Chavez, who had rejected a US nominee for ambassador, said that Penn would be a good candidate. (He also added that director Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky, and Bill Clinton would be on his “yay” list.)

But now he has garnered some foes in Britain. Quoted in London’s Daily Mail MP Patrick Mercer criticized Penn. "What on earth has this got to do with Sean Penn? He's neither British nor Argentine and seems to know nothing about the situation," Mr. Mercer said. "A good number of his movies have been turkeys, so I suppose we shouldn't expect much better coming out of his mouth."

Penn's position on the Falklands comes at a tense moment, with Prince William’s deployment, which Britain has called routine (as well as the sending of a warship to the island ahead of the deployment). It has also announced that members of a defense committee will be visiting the Falklands next month.

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner says that Britain is “militarizing” the dispute.

Penn apparently agrees. "There are many places to deploy a prince," he said. "It's not necessary when the deployment of a prince is generally accompanied by a warship, to send them into seas of such spilled blood."

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