By Laura Italiano
January 9, 2016
El Chapo, meet El Jerko.
Hollywood blowhard Sean Penn secretly met, interviewed, and posed for grip-and-smirk selfies with murderous druglord Joaquin Guzman Loera — even as the world’s most-wanted fugitive continued to elude authorities in the months after tunneling out of a Mexican prison.
“I don’t want to be portrayed as a nun,” El Chapo says in the interview. Nevertheless, to gain access to the kingpin’s secret jungle hideout, Penn agreed that Guzman would have the final edit of the resulting story.
Penn also agreed not to alert authorities to the killer’s whereabouts. Still, Guzman’s capture in a dramatic police shootout Friday came as a direct result of Mexican officials tracking their contacts, authorities there said.
And Mexican officials now are investigating Penn and actress Kate del Castillo, who traveled with the actor to visit the vile drug lord, ABC News reported.
Penn interviewed Guzman — whose nickname means “Shorty” — in person and via cautiously encrypted e-mail and video messages for Rolling Stone magazine.
“He asks me if many people in the United States know about him,” Penn writes of the celebrity-obsessed narcotics magnate.
“‘Oh yeah,” I say . . . He seems to delight in the absurdity of this . . . We eat, drink and talk for hours,” he said of their jungle tête-a-tête.
At one point, the tequila flowing, El Chapo jokes of Donald Trump, “Ah! Mi amigo!”
The clandestine contacts were brokered by del Castillo, who’d struck up a correspondence with Guzman after tweeting her support of him four years ago, the mag said.
The resulting account, published online Saturday night, shows the killer kingpin — described variously as “serene,” and “a simple man in a simple place,” and “a businessman first” — in an almost worshipful light.
In breathless, first-person prose, Penn marvels over El Chapo’s humble, hardscrabble childhood spent harvesting in the drug fields of Sinaloa state.
Scant mention is made of the river of blood in El Chapo’s wake, and none at all of his alleged assassinations of Mexican officials and police. Guzman is credited with responsibility for tens of thousands of deaths of rivals, informants and officials in Mexico and the US, his biggest market.
A 2014 indictment by the US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn charges him with 12 counts of murder among other charges; Mexico officials said Saturday they will cooperate with US efforts to extradite him.
Instead, Penn seems to swoon over the breadth of the fugitive’s deadly drug empire.
“While I was surfing the waves of Malibu at age 9, he was already working in the marijuana and poppy fields of the remote mountains of Sinaloa,” Penn says of Guzman, who, like the actor, is in his early 50s.
“Today he runs the biggest international drug cartel the world has ever known, exceeding even that of Pablo Escobar,” Penn says.
“He shops and ships by some estimates more than half of all the cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana that come into the United States.”
Penn concedes in the piece that he “may be perceived as protecting criminals.”
The actor also wants readers to know that in meeting with El Chapo — who was known to dispatch those who disappoint him with a bullet to the head — he is doing something really, really risky.
“The trust that El Chapo had extended to us was not to be f–ked with,” Penn writes.
“This will be the first interview El Chapo had ever granted outside an interrogation room, leaving me no precedent by which to measure the hazards,” Penn writes.
“I’d seen plenty of video and graphic photography of those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike.”
But Penn was not afraid.
“I’d offered myself to experiences beyond my control in numerous countries of war, terror, corruption and disaster,” he assures the reader.
Guzman may be a billionaire murderer and peddler of poison, but what of our own guilt, as customers of his wares, Penn muses.
“We are the consumers,” Penn says, “and as such, we are complicit in every murder, and in every corruption of an institution’s ability to protect the quality of life for citizens of Mexico and the United States that comes as a result of our insatiable appetite for illicit narcotics.”
Penn adds, “As much as anything, it’s a question of relative morality.”
Besides, “the War on Drugs has failed,” he announces, decrying “the tunnel vision of our puritanical and prosecutorial culture.”
Penn and del Castillo visited El Chapo in early October, a trip involving a flight to an undisclosed Mexican city and a 90-minute drive across farmlands in a convoy of armored SUVs to a dirt airfield.
Their escort on a subsequent, two-hour flight in El Chapo’s six-seat, single-engine prop plane is the drug lord’s 29-year-old son, Alfredo, Penn writes.
The plane has a scrambler that blocks ground radar, Alfredo boasts. After a few fortifying in-flight swigs of tequila, they land, somewhere, in a patch of dirt surrounded by jungle, and scramble into two waiting SUVs.
Nine bumpy hours later — after a drive that included their convoy being waved through a Mexican military checkpoint — “there he is,” standing beside a few “weathered bungalows,” Penn writes.
“He’s wearing a casual patterned silk shirt, pressed black jeans, and he appears remarkably well-groomed and healthy for a man on the run,” Penn notes.
“He pulls me into a ‘compadre’ hug, looks me in the eyes and speaks a lengthy greeting in Spanish too fast for my ears,” Penn says.
About 100 of his soldiers stand guard as El Chapo hobnobs with the two celebrities, del Castillo translating for Penn over tacos, rice and beans.
Penn is allowed no note-taking, so he’s unable to quote El Chapo at length. Did you know Pablo Escobar? the actor asks. “Yes, I met him. Big house,” is the answer remembered by Penn.
What was to be a series of in-person interviews was scuttled, though, when El Chapo’s security caught wind of a looming military siege.
A later, written interview consists of softball questions, including, “Do you consider yourself a violent person?”
The kingpin responds, “No, sir.”
Penn asks, “Are you prone to violence, or do you use it as a last resort?”
“Look,” El Chapo answers. “All I do is defend myself, nothing more. But do I start trouble? Never.”
Penn is no stranger to self-aggrandizement.
In the 2005 aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he was pictured patrolling the streets of New Orleans brandishing a shotgun.