Mexican Drug Lord El Chapo’s Hollywood Dream Brought Him Down

A meeting that actor Sean Penn orchestrated with Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman helped Mexican govt catch the drug lord.

3 min read
Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, right, is escorted by soldiers and marines to a waiting helicopter. (Photo: AP)

A clandestine meeting that Hollywood star Sean Penn orchestrated with Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman in a jungle hideout late last year helped the Mexican government catch the world’s most-wanted drug lord, sources said.

Guzman, the infamous boss of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in northwestern Mexico on Friday morning and sent back to the prison he broke out of in July through a mile-long tunnel that led straight into his cell. It was his second prison break.

To avoid a repeat of that humiliation, Mexico’s government says it aims to hand Guzman over to US justice as soon as possible.

Mexican drug lord El Chapo paraded in front of the cameras by the police. (Photo: AP)
Mexican drug lord El Chapo paraded in front of the cameras by the police. (Photo: AP)

Penn’s rare access to Guzman in October was assisted by Mexican actress Kate del Castillo. They were driven some of the way to the hideout by Guzman’s son, who the Hollywood star says was waved on by soldiers when they apparently recognised him.

Another leg of the day-long trip through central Mexico to meet Guzman was on a light aircraft allegedly fitted with equipment to evade radar detection, Penn said in a story published in Rolling Stone magazine.

Sean Penn arrives at the 5th Annual Sean Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME Gala on Saturday, 9 January, 2016 in Beverly Hills. (Photo: AP)
Sean Penn arrives at the 5th Annual Sean Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME Gala on Saturday, 9 January, 2016 in Beverly Hills. (Photo: AP)

Penn said in the article that he was sure the Mexican government and the US Drug Enforcement Administration were tracking him.

Senior Mexican government sources said they were indeed aware of the October meeting and monitored his movements.

That helped lead troops days later to a ranch where Guzman was staying, one of the sources said. Mexican forces used helicopter gunships to attack Guzman’s ranch during a siege that lasted days.

The kingpin narrowly escaped, with what he told Del Castillo was a minor leg injury, but the raid in the northern state of Durango was a major breakthrough in the manhunt.

Guzman was finally recaptured on Friday in the northern city of Los Mochis after a showdown fit for the silver screen.

In a pre-dawn attack by Mexican marines, who killed five of his henchmen, the portly capo survived by squeezing through a secret tunnel into the city’s grimy storm drains, only to pop out of a manhole near a Pollo Feliz restaurant hours later.

Leaving a mud-caked automatic rifle behind, he hijacked two cars before the police blocked the highway as he sped out of town. Once detained, they held him at a seedy motel until backup arrived.

Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez, on Friday, said that the drug boss’s yearning for movie fame had helped bring him down.

El Chapo Spoke to Sean Penn

Penn’s encounter was made possible because Guzman struck up an unlikely friendship with Del Castillo, who played a Mexican drug queen in a well-known TV soap. The saga adds a new twist to the long and larger-than-life career of Guzman, whose nickname “Chapo” means “Shorty.”

Penn unsuccessfully tried to set up a formal follow-up interview. Instead, as Mexican security forces closed in on Guzman, Penn and Del Castillo persuaded him to film a 17-minute tape answering pre-written questions and ship them the footage.

The video clips show the drug lord in a colourful shirt at a different hideout, musing about his contribution to the narcotics trade. Rolling Stone called it the drug lord’s first interview outside an interrogation.

I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats,” he told Penn during their encounter.

El Chapo to Sean Penn

A senior Obama administration official told television news shows on Sunday morning that Guzman’s boasting about his heroin empire in the interview was “maddening.”

“One thing I will tell you is that this braggadocio action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including the United States, is maddening,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

We see a heroin epidemic, an opioid addiction epidemic, in this country. We’re going to stay on top of this with our Mexican counterparts until we get that back in the box. But El Chapo’s behind bars – that’s where he should stay.

Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff, White House

McDonough would not comment on any repercussions for Penn.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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