Mexico wants to make me cartel's target, says Sean Penn

Charlie Rose (left) talking to Sean Penn (right) during the interview.
Charlie Rose (left) talking to Sean Penn (right) during the interview.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK• Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn last Friday rejected Mexico's claim that his secret meeting with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was crucial to the drug kingpin's recapture, saying officials were trying to put him in the crosshairs of the feared cartel.

He also told talk-show host Charlie Rose he regretted the fallout from the Rolling Stone article based on his interview with Guzman.

Their meeting in a jungle hideout was the first interview anyone scored with the fugitive drug lord and Penn said he had hoped it would shine a light on America's role in the international drug trade.

In his first major television interview about the meeting, the actor was asked whether he believed Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto's government had deliberately sought to credit him with Guzman's capture to put him at risk from the Sinaloa Cartel.

"Yes," Penn replied. "There is this myth about the visit that we made, my colleagues and I with El Chapo, that it was 'essential' to his capture.

"We know the Mexican government, they clearly were humiliated by the notion that someone found him before they did."

Penn, who has won Oscars for Mystic River (2003) and Milk (2008), said he met Guzman "many weeks" before his arrest, in a location far from where the kingpin fell into police hands in northern Mexico six months after staging a spectacular prison break through a tunnel in his cell floor.

He expressed regret that his article failed to spark a debate about the American war on drugs.

"We are the consumer. Whether you agree with Sean Penn or not, there is a complicity there," he said in an interview scheduled to air in full yesterday 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. How much time have they spent in the last week since this article came talking about that?"

He said: "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. Let me be clear. My article has failed."

Rolling Stone published Penn's article on Jan 9, a day after Guzman's recapture. The piece cited the drug lord boasting about smuggling drugs into the United States and about laundering ill- gotten gains.

Guzman's lawyer last Wednesday accused Penn of lying and said he should be called to give evidence.

"He could not have made these claims. Mr Guzman is a very serious man, very intelligent," Mr Juan Pablo Badillo said. "Where's the proof? Where's the audio?"

Neither Penn's publicist nor Rolling Stone have commented on Mr Badillo's claims.

The excerpt of the Rose interview, published ahead of its full airing on Sunday, did not address the lawyer's comments.

A government spokesman said on Tuesday that Mexico was not directly investigating Penn nor his companion, actress Kate del Castillo, but rather, the circumstances around the meeting.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'Mexico wants to make me cartel's target, says Sean Penn'. Print Edition | Subscribe