The saga surrounding the capture of the world’s most wanted fugitive was already strange enough. And then in comes Sean Penn to make the whole thing even more bizarre. The actor turned gonzo journalist carried out a seven-hour interview with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán—and the pair later kept in contact by phone and video—for a Rolling Stone piece published late Saturday night. The piece is accompanied by a two-minute video interview of Guzmán in which the drug lord answers questions that Penn sent via BlackBerry Messenger.
Now Mexican authorities are saying the meeting between the Hollywood star and the drug kingpin in October helped them locate Guzmán. Although they did not capture “El Chapo” at the time, apparently because authorities decided not to open fire as the drug lord was with two women and a child. But it proved to be a major breakthrough in the manhunt and helped officials track him down and eventually capture him on Friday, six months after his second escape from prison. Shortly after his capture, officials said that part of what helped officials locate the fugitive was his desire to make a movie about his life.
Penn writes in the article that Guzmán wanted actress Kate Del Castillo to help tell his story on the silver screen. And it was this Mexican actress who facilitated the interview between the actor and the drug lord, who, apparently for the first time in a public interview, does not shy away from bragging about his power in the drug trade. “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world,” he said. “I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.” The head of the Sinaloa cartel had previously denied he was involved in drug trafficking, telling a group of journalists in 1993 that he was a farmer.
The cartel he leads may be among the world’s deadliest, but Guzmán insisted he is not a violent person. “Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more,” he said. “But do I start trouble? Never.” Still, he evidently doesn’t want to pretend he’s a nobody. “I don’t want to be portrayed as a nun,” he tells Penn at one point.
Guzmán is also eager to note that the trail of devastated lives his operations have left behind was nothing more than an undesired consequence of his business. “Well, it’s a reality that drugs destroy,” he said. “Unfortunately, as I said, where I grew up there was no other way and there still isn’t a way to survive, no way to work in our economy to be able to make a living.”
Although he was evidently interested in making a movie about his life, Guzmán was “unimpressed with its financial yield,” writes Penn. “He suggests to us that we consider switching our career paths to the oil business.”
Penn may have more opportunities to see Guzmán in the not-too-distant future but north of the border. Mexico is apparently ready to extradite Guzmán to the United States, although officials warn it could be a long process. “Mexico is ready,” a Mexican official tells the Associated Press. “There are plans to cooperate with the U.S.”