Sean Penn's call for American's release, road race reroute irks Bolivian minister
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Sean Penn is shown with U.S. businessman Jacob Ostreicher at a news conference in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in December 2012.
- Sean Penn has advocated for the release of a U.S. man from Bolivia
- Penn called on U.S. lawmakers to pressure the Bolivian government
- A Bolivian minister lashed out at Penn for his comments
- The actor has a historically close relationship with Bolivia
(CNN) -- Actor Sean Penn, a friend of Bolivian President Evo Morales, nonetheless angered the South American country's government after his call for the release of a U.S. businessman who has been imprisoned since 2011.
Penn, known for his chumminess with Latin America's leftist leaders, is also an advocate for Brooklyn flooring contractor Jacob Ostreicher, whose supporters say has spent two years detained in Bolivia without evidence.
At a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee meeting Monday, Penn asked U.S. lawmakers to pressure the sponsors of the off-road Dakar Rally to cancel its planned 2014 route through Bolivia if Ostreicher is not freed.
"The Dakar Rally, one of the world's most prominent displays of freedom and tenacity of the human spirit, will be parading through Bolivia even as thousands of prisoners like Mr. Ostreicher sit in feces-filled cells, forgotten behind locked walls," Penn said.
On Tuesday, Bolivia's minister of culture shot back.
"The remarks by Mr. Penn are his worst acting in all of his career," Pablo Groux said, according to the state-run ABI news agency. "The remark is offensive to the Bolivian people, totally out of context and lacking any understanding."
The minister said the actor's comments harkened back to a time when the United States exerted heavy influence in Latin America.
"Those days are long gone," Groux said.
The rebuke from the Bolivian official is notable coming from a government that Penn has been friendly with.
During his testimony before the subcommittee, Penn said that he does not blame Morales for Ostreicher's situation, but endemic corruption in the judiciary.
Penn said that he met with Morales last year, with evidence supporting Ostreicher's innocence, and that "these findings were received by the president with tremendous personal and human grief."
Ostreicher is under house arrest after spending 18 months in a notorious prison while his case crawled in the overburdened Bolivian judicial system. He was arrested in June 2011 on suspicion of money laundering tied to a rice-growing operation, and he languished in prison without formal charges.
He maintained that corrupt officials had trumped up the case, and last year, six government officials were arrested for allegedly extorting and stealing from Ostreicher. But the case against him has not been dropped.
READ MORE: American on hunger strike after 11 months in Bolivian prison
READ MORE: Bolivia releases imprisoned American after 18 months
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
A CNN survey of more than 9,000 people across 20 African countries threw up some surprising results
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
The sign language interpreter widely ridiculed for his performance at the Nelson Mandela memorial stands by his work.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Behind the scenes in Cambodian karaoke bars -- a common front for child prostitution.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 0446 GMT (1246 HKT)
A global risk firm surveys the most politically explosive countries.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
It's the battle of the tech titans. No, not Apple versus Samsung. Sony has gone head-to-head with Microsoft.
Keep up to date with stories from Europe's biggest tech conference.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
On Tuesday, I was free. On Wednesday, I became a criminal. India's high court just made being gay illegal, writes Tushar Malik.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
A Japanese actor says playing villians in Chinese films has helped the China-Japan divide. CNN's Ivan Watson reports.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1612 GMT (0012 HKT)
New skyscraper-sized gas plant is the biggest thing on the waves.
December 11, 2013 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
Pope Francis is Time's person of the year. His papacy has drawn adulation from people around the world for his man-of-the-people ways.
He was imprisoned for life but that did not quiet him. Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black president, and an icon and inspiration.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
Turning 50 is a major milestone in a person's life -- and a country's history.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1333 GMT (2133 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see in news reports, taken by CNN teams all around the world.
Today's five most popular stories