Just a day after the notorious Mexican drug lord known as "El Chapo" was recaptured by authorities in Mexico, Rolling Stone published a lengthy story — including one of El Chapo's only interviews — about the elusive character. To make things more interesting, the story was written, and the interview conducted, by world-famous actor Sean Penn. The story focuses largely on chronicling Penn's experience, but it also reveals why Penn wanted to meet and interview El Chapo in the first place — and the reason isn't too surprising when you consider other parts of Penn's past.
Penn explains early on in the story why he wanted to learn more about Joaquín Guzmán Loera, more commonly known as "El Chapo." His interest comes in part because El Chapo's business is the business of selling drugs, and it's no secret that the U.S. is one of his best clients. At least in part, Penn's interview was an opportunity to see the other side of the drug war, the side that Penn seems to feel Americans demonize without learning anything about it.
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. ... We are the consumers [of drugs], 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.
According to the story, the photo in the tweet above was taken on the night that Penn met with El Chapo at one of his compounds in Mexico. Its purpose was to prove to Rolling Stone that the encounter had actually occurred. Penn added that it was in this room that he first confronted El Chapo's violent resources: an M16 rested on the couch opposite them.
Penn also attempted to explain his interest in the story to El Chapo himself. El Chapo was understandably skeptical — Penn was the only one in the room who spoke English, and the only one who didn't speak Spanish. He had also admitted that he had connections to the U.S. government and, more specifically, to the Drug Enforcement Agency. To justify his trip to Mexico, Penn told El Chapo:
I tell him that I understood that in the mainstream narrative of narcos, the undersung hypocrisy is in the complicity of buyers. I could not sell him on a bait-and-switch, and I knew that in the writing of any piece, my only genuine cards to play were to expose myself as one fascinated and willing to suspend judgment. I understood that whatever else might be said of him, it was clear to me he was not a tourist in our big world.
The Penn-El Chapo interview, which occurred in October, isn't the first time that Penn has involved himself with enemies of the U.S. Penn was friends with the Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan president who many Americans considered a dictator and who made no effort to conceal his dislike of Americans. According to Penn's story, El Chapo asked about Penn's relationship with Chavez, and Penn obliged to answer in a way that appeared to reassure El Chapo.
It's also not the first time that Penn has involved himself in international affairs. Penn previously placed an open-letter-style advertisement in The Washington Post, which criticized President George W. Bush's administration and the Iraq War. As a humanitarian, Penn founded a relief organization in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that occurred there in 2010. He remains actively involved in the organization as its CEO.
Penn later expressed that he felt he did not accomplish what he wanted with the interview: "I had gotten the kind of in-depth interview I'd hoped to achieve," he wrote in Rolling Stone. He also concluded with a prediction that appears to be coming true: "It won't be long, I'm sure, before the Sinaloa cartel's next shipment into the United States is the man himself."