Sean Penn regrets Chapo interview failed to spur drug debate

Penn (left) shakes hands with Mexican drug lord Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman in Mexico.
Penn (left) shakes hands with Mexican drug lord Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman in Mexico.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hollywood actor Sean Penn has expressed regret that the article he wrote after interviewing Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman failed to spark a debate about the US war on drugs.

In an excerpt of the interview broadcast on Friday, Penn said his goal in meeting with Guzman was to shine a light on America's role in the international drug trade.

"We are the consumer. Whether you agree with Sean Penn or not, there is a complicity there," Penn said told journalist Charlie Rose, in an interview scheduled to air in full Sunday on the CBS programme 60 Minutes.

"If you are in the moral right, or on the far left, just as many of your children are doing these drugs," the actor said.

"How much time have they spent in the last week since this article came talking about that?"

Penn added: "I have a regret that the entire discussion about this article ignores its purpose, which was to try to contribute to this discussion about the policy in the war on drugs."

His interview was published last Saturday in Rolling Stone, triggering a barrage of criticism, including condemnation of Penn himself.

Among other things, the ire has centred on Penn's letting Guzman review the piece before it ran; seeming to glorify - or at least go easy on - a man blamed for thousands of deaths in Mexico's drug-related violence and contributing to drug addiction in America.

Other critics fault him with having engaged in gonzo journalism while real reporters covering the drug trade in Mexico risk their lives daily.

Penn challenged the Mexican government's assertion that the interview - held in an undisclosed location in Mexico - helped the authorities track down Guzman, who was captured the day before the article was published.

"There is this myth about the visit that we made, my colleagues and I with El Chapo, that it was - as the attorney-general of Mexico is quoted - 'essential' to his capture," the actor said.

"We had met with him many weeks earlier... on Oct 2, in a place nowhere near where he was captured."