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Sean Penn and El Chapo: What we know

New York: The actor Sean Penn met Joaquin Guzman Loera​, the Mexican drug lord known as "El Chapo", in a jungle hideout in October, according to an article Penn wrote for Rolling Stone magazine.

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First look at El Chapo

Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is presented to media as he will likely be extradited to the US, according to an anonymous Mexican government official.

Guzman escaped from prison in July and was on the run when he met Penn. The drug kingpin was arrested on Friday, and the authorities have suggested there was a connection between his capture and his meeting with the actor.

Here is what you need to know about the secret mountaintop meeting between the actor and the head of the Sinaloa cartel.

The New York Times has published a Rolling Stone photo of Sean Penn with El Chapo taken "for interview identification ...
The New York Times has published a Rolling Stone photo of Sean Penn with El Chapo taken "for interview identification purposes". Photo: Rolling Stone

How did Sean Penn get access to El Chapo?

Penn's article is a cloak-and-dagger tale of a dive into the secretive world of the Mexican drug trade, and the connection the actor describes between himself and Guzman is circuitous and shadowy.

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The linchpin is a Mexican actress named Kate del Castillo, who once played the mastermind of a drug cartel in a soap opera and posted a Twitter message sympathetic to Guzman in 2012. That tweet led to a conversation between herself and Guzman's lawyers and, two years later, to correspondence with the man himself. The drug lord, imprisoned at the time, wanted her to help make a movie about his life.

Guzman escaped from prison in July. Penn met del Castillo in Los Angeles some time after that through mutual friends who had become involved in the film project. They had come to believe the movie would be impossible to make and, at Penn's suggestion, opted to pursue a magazine story instead.

Mexican actress Kate del Castillo was central to Sean Penn's meeting with El Chapo.
Mexican actress Kate del Castillo was central to Sean Penn's meeting with El Chapo. Photo: AP

Guzman agreed to be interviewed, but Penn wrote that he suspected it was mostly because the drug lord wanted to meet del Castillo. "I felt increasingly that I had arrived as a curiosity to him," the actor wrote.

How did Penn travel to the jungle hideout?

Drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera wanted Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo to help tell the story of his life.
Drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera wanted Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo to help tell the story of his life. Photo: AP

The trip – from a celebrity's Los Angeles home to a drug lord's jungle hide-out – was complicated and, in Penn's telling, vague.

Penn wrote that he, del Castillo and two associates he refers to only as El Alto and Espinoza took a charter flight from an unnamed airport in southern California to an unnamed city in Mexico.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is made to face the press as he is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers ...
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is made to face the press as he is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City on Friday. Photo: AP

After their arrival, they drove to a hotel, where an associate of Guzman arranged for them to be picked up (while all traffic on nearby streets was stopped) and driven to a dirt airfield roughly an hour and a half outside the city.

They then met Guzman's son and boarded a small plane equipped with radar-scrambling technology that took them on a two-hour flight into a lush mountain range.

The US is seeking the deportation of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. His escape deeply embarrassed the ...
The US is seeking the deportation of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. His escape deeply embarrassed the Mexican government and strained ties with the United States. Photo: AP

Next, they drove for seven hours to a remote jungle clearing dotted with bungalows, where they met Guzman and a local family, who served them dinner.

Penn wrote that he saw a few dozen of the drug lord's men, although Guzman later told him more than 100 others were positioned nearby.

A police truck sits parked outside the house where marines engaged in a gun battle during the search for Mexican drug ...
A police truck sits parked outside the house where marines engaged in a gun battle during the search for Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera, in Los Mochis, Mexico, on Sunday. Photo: AP

What did El Chapo reveal?

Penn's interview with Guzman had two parts: a seven-hour face-to-face meeting in the jungle, to which Penn did not bring a pen, paper or a recording device; and a video the kingpin sent to del Castillo after Penn sent him questions via BlackBerry Messenger.

The drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera is guarded by members of Mexico's navy following his arrest on Saturday.
The drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera is guarded by members of Mexico's navy following his arrest on Saturday. Photo: Bloomberg

Penn described their conversation over dinner as casual and warm. He said Guzman smiled often.

"I saw him without that smile only in brief flashes," Penn wrote. "As has been said of many notorious men, he has an indisputable charisma."

A Mexican marine inspects a manhole where high-powered weapons were found to be abandoned, in the neighbourhood where ...
A Mexican marine inspects a manhole where high-powered weapons were found to be abandoned, in the neighbourhood where drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera was found. Photo: AP

Guzman expressed no interest in politics, Penn wrote, and doted on del Castillo throughout the night. He described Guzman as "entirely unapologetic" about the impact of the drug trade, and said he boasted about his success.

"I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world," Guzman was quoted as saying. "I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats."

The shower area where authorities say drug lord Guzman, slipped into a tunnel to escape from the Altiplano maximum ...
The shower area where authorities say drug lord Guzman, slipped into a tunnel to escape from the Altiplano maximum security prison in July 2015. Photo: AP

The questions Penn submitted via BlackBerry Messenger focused largely on Guzman's family and his feelings about drugs. Most of the answers are very short, in part because Penn was unable to ask follow-up questions or challenge Guzman's answers.

"Well, it's a reality that drugs destroy," he replied when asked about the drug trade. "Unfortunately, as I said, where I grew up there was no other way, and there still isn't a way, to survive; no way to work in our economy to be able to make a living."

Guzman said he had not used drugs in many years and described himself as "a person who's not looking for problems in any way".

Did the interview lead to El Chapo's arrest?

The short answeris, we don't know.

Although Guzman insisted on a range of security precautions in his meeting with Penn and del Castillo, Penn wrote, "there is no question in my mind" Mexican and US authorities were tracking their movements.

The in-person interview took place in October, and Guzman was not arrested until January 8, more than two months later. After his capture in a gun battle, however, the Mexican authorities said they had been able to find him in part because he had contacted actors and producers to discuss making a movie about his life.

It was not clear if the actors and producers in question were Penn, del Castillo and their associates. But Penn wrote that once Guzman became "interested in seeing the story of his life told on film", he decided he "would entrust its telling only to Kate".

In the hours after Penn's article was published on Saturday, a Mexican official said that all actors and producers who had met with Guzman, including Penn and del Castillo, were under investigation.

But it was not clear if the circumstances of the meeting were under investigation, or if the individuals themselves would face scrutiny from the Mexican government.

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

"One thing I will tell you is that this braggadocious 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," Mr McDonough said. "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."

Mr McDonough would not comment on any repercussions for Penn.

The New York Times, Reuters

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