Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka “El Chapo,” gave his first ever interview to American actor Sean Penn for Rolling Stone magazine in October, three months after he escaped from a maximum-security Mexican prison.
That interview led Mexican forces to discover El Chapo’s whereabouts, a Mexican official told The Associated Press.
“The official, who spoke Saturday on condition of anonymity, said it was the Penn interview that led authorities to Guzman in a rural part of Durango state in October,” the AP reported. “They aborted their raid at the time because he was with two women and child.” But the interview was a lead that allowed them to track the drug lord over the course of several months.
Penn apparently met with El Chapo, who was recaptured by Mexican marines on Friday, in a compound in the middle of the Mexican jungle.
“As an American citizen, I’m drawn to explore what may be inconsistent with the portrayals our government and media brand upon their declared enemies,” Penn wrote in the piece, released by the magazine on Saturday.
Penn says he spoke with the drug lord for seven hours about everything from the cartel leader’s own use of drugs to the phenomenon of real-estate magnate and Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
Writing in Rolling Stone about the encounter, Penn comments on Chapo’s “indisputable charisma” — and his wardrobe.
El Chapo was apparently wearing “casual patterned silk shirt and pressed black jeans,” and appeared “remarkably well-groomed and healthy for a man on the run.”
“Throughout my introduction, Chapo smiles a warm smile,” Penn wrote.
“In fact, in what would be a seven-hour sit-down, I saw him without that smile only in brief flashes. As has been said of many notorious men, he has an indisputable charisma. When I ask about his dynamic with the Mexican government, he pauses. ‘Talking about politicians, I keep my opinion to myself. They go do their thing and I do mine.'”
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 10, 2016
The drug baron was detained on Friday after an early-morning raid in his native state of Sinaloa, where he was reportedly making a biopic about his life.
“An important aspect that allowed us to locate him was that we discovered Guzman’s intention to make a biographical film, for which he established contact with actresses and producers,” Mexico’s attorney general, Arely Gomez, told the AFP.
Significantly, the meeting between Penn and El Chapo was brokered by Kate del Castillo — one of the most famous actors in Mexico. The three shared tequila while Penn mused about “how funny it would be if there were a weaponised drone above us.”
Penn wrote in the article that it occurred to him while he was in Mexico that he might be under the surveillance of Mexican authorities or the US Drug Enforcement Agency. According to the AFP, however, Mexican investigators knew about Penn’s meeting with the drug kingpin.
In a video interview, Guzman responded to the questions Penn could not get to during their seven-hour meeting in the jungle, including one about how the drug lord would “define himself.”
“Well … with respect, and from my point of view, it’s a person who’s not looking for problems in any way,” Guzman said. “In any way. “
As The New York Times noted shortly after the article was released, it is still unclear if any of Penn’s reporting led to El Chapo’s capture three months later. In any case, Penn ends the piece with a premonition: “El Chapo? It won’t be long, I’m sure, before the Sinaloa cartel’s next shipment into the United States is the man himself.”