Mexico's Attorney General has said that the meeting between Sean Penn and fugitive cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman had been an "essential" element in his arrest.
LET no one say that Sean Penn does not do his own stunts. His greatest so far has not—yet—been caught on film. In October the Hollywood actor journeyed by armoured SUV and radar-jamming aeroplane deep into a Mexican jungle to meet the world’s most famous fugitive, Joaquín Guzmán, better known as El Chapo (“Shorty”), the boss of the Sinaloa drug gang.
Mr Penn found no horror in this heart of darkness. In his more than 10,000-word account—published in Rolling Stone just after El Chapo was recaptured on January 8th—Mexico’s most successful drug dealer comes across as a simple man, fond of his family, protective of women and slow to violence. Poverty drove him into the narcotics business. “The only way to have money to buy food, to survive, is to grow poppy, marijuana,” he told Mr Penn. Now he boasts of supplying “more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, aeroplanes, trucks and boats.”
What about all the killing required to become a dollar-billionaire in that business? “Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more,” said the diminutive drug dealer, a combatant in drug wars that killed perhaps 100,000 people in the past 12 years. Prosecutors in New York have charged him with 12 murders.
Mr Penn admits that El Chapo has a brutal side. In his early days he was “a cold pragmatist known to deliver a single shot to the head for any mistakes made in a shipment,” he writes. But the actor seems to find that more forgivable than the hypocrisy of censorious, coke-snorting Americans, whose demand stokes the violence. If El Chapo were the boss of a Wall Street-listed corporation that sold addictive poisons and bumped off its rivals, one suspects that Mr Penn would have handled him less gently.
Much of his glam-gonzo story is taken up with an account of his derring-do in reaching the jungle hideout, in the company of a Mexican movie star, Kate del Castillo, who set up the encounter. His seven-hour, tequila-lubricated meeting with the crime boss was to have been a getting-to-know-you session. The planned reunion a week later fell through after Mexican security forces nearly caught El Chapo, who had escaped from the country’s highest-security prison last July. Mr Penn had to content himself with videotaped answers to questions he posed, some of which were softened in the asking by a (no doubt nervous) cameraman.
Mr Penn’s scoop was roundly criticised, for both good reasons and bad. Few conventional journalists would have agreed, as Rolling Stone did, to let Mr Guzmán see the story before publication (he made no changes). Most would have been more critical, and more self-effacing than Mr Penn. Some critics suggested that he became the drug lord’s accomplice. He “further put law enforcement on both sides of the border in danger,” claimed a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council. That is unfair. Journalists are entitled to interview bad guys.
Mr Penn may unwittingly have helped the authorities nab the fugitive. Despite Mr Penn’s precautions (throw-away phones, anonymous e-mail addresses), Mexican officials say that Mr Guzmán’s contacts with “actresses and producers”—the prelude, he hoped, to the making of a biopic—led to his recapture in the coastal town of Los Mochis.
The United States is expected to press for his extradition. Having let him escape twice, the Mexican government is likely to consent. With the advance publicity that Mr Penn has helped to generate, the film should have no trouble finding backers.
You can se the Rolling Stones Article Here