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Was El Chapo’s Overture to Hollywood Fatal?

Bill Weinberg

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The story of the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán—Mexico's top fugitive drug lord—took a turn for the surreal Jan. 9 with the revelation that Hollywood heavy Sean Penn had interviewed the kingpin when he was on the lam last year for Rolling Stone magazine. In the account, Penn describes the complicated process of establishing contact, with encrypted communications and such, before being flown from an unnamed location in central Mexico to a "jungle clearing" where the interview took place. We have to be a tad skeptical here. El Chapo was tracked down by Mexican federales to a luxury condo in a Sinaloa seaport—nowhere near any jungle. Even if the meeting was arranged at a remote location, it was still likely to be in Chapo's northern stronghold state of Sinaloa—and the only real jungle in Mexico is in southern Chiapas state, hundreds of miles away. Taking some liberties for dramatic effect perhaps, Sean?

It's as pretty soft interview—possibly because Penn was made to toe the line by armed henchmen. "I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world," Chapo boasts. "I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats." Penn ingenuously asks: "Are you prone to violence, or do you use it as a last resort?" Chapo replies: "Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more. But do I start trouble? Never." Penn does not challenge him further on it. Even safely back home and writing up his account, Penn took pains to emphasize El Chapo's "warm smile" and touching departure from his usual (supposed) teetotalism to belt back a tequila with the movie star.

But despite the encrypted communication and supposed flight into the jungle, Chapo's surrender to the lure of media magnification and Hollywood hullabaloo may have been his undoing. National Public Radio reports that a film based on his story—Chapo: El Escape del Sigloor Chapo: The Escape of the Century—is set to open in Mexico next week. And Mexico's Prosecutor General Arely Gómez now says that Chapo's communications with figures involved in the movie ultimately led to his capture. "He established communication with actors and producers, which formed a new line of investigation," Gómez said.

Indeed, as The Guardian points out, Penn says that in his quest to reach El Chapo he first made contact with Kate del Castillo, star of the narco-themed Mexican soap series La Reina del Sur. Del Castillo made public statements against the Mexican government in 2012, saying: "Today I believe more in Chapo Guzmán than in the governments that hide the truth, even if it’s painful." She added: "Mr. Chapo, wouldn't it be cool if you started trafficking in love?” A lawyer representing Chapo later contacted her, saying the fugitive kingpin wanted to send her flowers.

Meanwhile, Arely Gómez's office, after balking on the matter since the US first requested El Chapo's extradition upon his capture in February 2014, now says it will expedite the request forthwith. One senses the Mexicans want Chapo off their hands, lest he escape from a top-security lock-up yet a third time—or become a rallying point for those fed up with a corrupt and repressive government.

(photo via RollingStone.com)

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