‘El Chapo’ and Sean Penn: What Is The Nature of The Drug Dealer’s Interactions with Celebrities?


The recent arrest of Mexican drug baron Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman was lauded by the US government as a ‘victory for both citizens of Mexico and the United States’, but the announcement that authorities wanted to speak to Mexican and US celebrities who had met with the drug dealer on a variety of issues was perhaps a bit more of a bone of contention.

Notable personalities who have had contact with the re-captured fugitive and ringleader of the Sinaloa cartel, deemed the ‘most wanted man in the world’, who escaped from the top security Altiplano prison in Mexico through a two metre long tunnel before being recaptured by the government, include Hollywood actor Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo.

Penn met with the fugitive Guzman to conduct an interview for Rolling Stone, which he said was intended to create a ‘conversation’ surrounding the ‘War on Drugs’. He later admitted on US TV Network CBS’ 60 Minutes programme that the 10,000 word article had ‘failed’ as it ‘ignores its purpose, which was to contribute to this conversation on the war on drugs.’. One of the Sinaloa car lawyers has since made accusations that the article contains ‘falsities’ which are ‘absurd speculation’ about the Sinaloa cartel leader. Mexican authorities placed Penn under investigation soon after the interview.

The interactions of the Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who formerly played a drug baroness in Mexican telenovela La Reina Del Sur, have also come into question. In 2012 Castillo publicly questioned the record and reputation of the Mexican government headed by president Enrique Pena Nieto,  saying she had more trust in the Sinaloa drugs cartel which led to her being contacted by a representative of ‘El Chapo’.

The fact she helped broker the interview between Penn and ‘El Chapo’ has served to further the scrutiny of her links with the drug dealer, with Mexican authorities eventually issuing an order to question the actress (who has dual Mexican-American citizenship). Castillo has so far stayed in America and refused to comply with the order (which is valid in Mexico only), claiming through her lawyer in the US, Harland Braun, that she ‘is not hiding anything’ and will co-operate with authorities if ‘proper information and credentials’ are received.

The question of whether celebrities should be investigated has created a wider debate about how responsible they should be held for their actions and whether their interactions with Guzman broke laws or have been of benefit to the recaptured fugitive, despite the Mexican authorities claim that the Penn interview helped lead to the capture of ‘El Chapo’. Many expressed surprise at the fact that Penn did not turn El Chapo in to the authorities after interviewing him, instead saying that he did not want to betray the drug baron’s trust.

Guzman was reportedly caught through his contact with various actors and directors about plans to make a biopic of his life similar to the Netflix original drama Narcos, which was based on the life of Pablo Escobar, although it remains unclear whether Penn or Castillo were among those contacted about such a project.

Featured image by Jordan Stewart.


Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages graduate interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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