How Sean Penn's interview with 'El Chapo' Guzman led to his recapture

A Mexican official said the meeting between Penn and Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was held in Tamazula, a community in Durango state that neighbors Sinaloa, Guzman's drug cartel base.

Marco Ugarte/AP
Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, right, is escorted by soldiers and marines to a waiting helicopter, at a federal hanger in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. The world's most wanted drug lord was recaptured by Mexican marines Friday, six months after he fled through a tunnel from a maximum security prison in an escape that deeply embarrassed the government and strained ties with the United States.

Before Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was recaptured on Friday, he sat at a picnic table on a hill and, over tacos and tequila, was interviewed by Sean Penn for Rolling Stone magazine.

According to Mexican authorities, it was the American actor’s journalistic efforts that may have led to the arrest of Mr. Guzman, who has twice escaped from maximum security prison, most recently last July.

A Mexican federal law enforcement official, speaking anonymously to the Associated Press, said the American actor’s interview allowed authorities to locate Guzman in a rural part of the northern Mexico state of Durango.

The official said the meeting between Penn and Guzman was held in Tamazula, a community in Durango state that neighbors Sinaloa, Guzman's drug cartel base, the AP reports.

This thought was echoed by Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez, who said shortly after Guzman was captured that his communication with actors and producers for a possible biographical film tipped law enforcement off to his location.

Mr. Penn’s interview with Guzman, and his dramatic story about getting face to face with the notorious escaped convict, was published late Saturday on Rolling Stone’s website, with an editor’s note that names were changed, locations unnamed, and that “an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.”

Penn wrote that Guzman wanted a film made about his life, and that he wanted Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who acted as an intermediary and translator throughout Penn’s reporting, involved in the movie project.

Following their meeting in October, Penn wrote that Guzman burrowed further into hiding, while he and his cartel were subject to raids by Mexican and American drug agencies. With a second in-person interview out of the question, Penn sent questions to Guzman through Ms. del Castillo.

Penn wrote that he was motivated to pursue Guzman’s story to uncover “what is inconsistent” with the “portrayals our government and media brand upon their declared enemies.”

Guzman’s responses, captured in a 17-minute video message, were brief and without apology. “It's a reality that drugs destroy,” he 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.” 

Asked if he would change the world if he could, Guzman said, “For me, the way things are, I'm happy.”

The way things are appears to be changing rapidly for the cartel runner.

On Saturday, a federal law enforcement official speaking anonymously to the AP said that Mexico is willing to extradite Guzman to the United States, a reversal from the official position after his last arrest in 2014.

"Mexico is ready. There are plans to cooperate with the U.S.," he said.

Guzman's attorney Juan Pablo Badillo told the Milenio newspaper that the defense already has filed six motions to challenge extradition requests.

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