Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, commonly known as “El Chapo,” is the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel and thought to be the most powerful drug trafficker in the world. He is also the subject of a recent interview with actor, film maker, and activist Sean Penn, who went through great lengths to earn the trust of and meet with the famed drug kingpin who was then on the run. The strangest quotes from Penn's interview with El Chapo that reveal a little bit about the mysterious drug leader.
Penn details the entire account of the clandestine trip to Mexico that brought him face to face with El Chapo for Rolling Stone magazine, including a rather brief interview with the cartel leader. The interview was originally planned as a two-day in-person interview between Penn and El Chapo, but due to El Chapo's status as a fugitive and the increasing violence and instability that followed him as he stayed on the move, he was only able to film himself answering a series of questions Penn had sent through a Blackberry Messenger device, according to Rolling Stone.
For those interested in El Chapo, reading Penn’s entire account is a must: from how he first made contact with individuals who knew the drug lord (including Mexican actress Kate del Castillo), to the various devices that were needed in order to make communications untraceable (or at least as difficult to trace as possible), all the way to the lengthy and ominous journey into and out of El Chapo’s secret location. Penn didn't try to demonize the drug lord, nor did he make El Chapo seem like a complete innocent; rather, he used the piece to get as many words straight from the horse’s mouth for the first time. So far, this is the only interview El Chapo has ever given to a journalist. Penn also utilized the piece to trash the U.S. "War on Drugs," which he claimed costs taxpayers $25 billion per year.
Here are five of the strangest quotes from Penn's interview with El Chapo.
When Asked About His Childhood
El Chapo described his simple beginnings, which could very well be the beginnings of a poor rural farmer as well as that of a world-renowned drug trafficker, according to Rolling Stone:
I remember from the time I was six until now, my parents, a very humble family, very poor, I remember how my mom made bread to support the family. I would sell it, I sold oranges, I sold soft drinks, I sold candy. My mom, she was a hard worker, she worked a lot. We grew corn, beans. I took care of my grandmother's cattle and chopped wood.
El Chapo On How He Got Started In The Drug Business
El Chapo described the type of economic climate that is ripe for finding oneself turning toward illegal business to get by, according to Rolling Stone:
Well, from the time I was 15 and after, where I come from, which is the municipality of Badiraguato, I was raised in a ranch named La Tuna, in that area, and up until today, there are no job opportunities. The only way to have money to buy food, to survive, is to grow poppy, marijuana, and at that age, I began to grow it, to cultivate it and to sell it. That is what I can tell you.
His answer echoed much of what Penn alluded throughout the piece: that Guzman’s existence “conjures questions of cultural complexity and context, of survivalists and capitalists, farmers and technocrats, clever entrepreneurs of every ilk.”
Rather, that the beginnings of any drug lord are more complicated than movies and TV and news reports would like people to believe; that people aren’t just good or evil. It’s much more complex than that.
On Whether He Believe Drugs Are Harmful To Society
Penn asked Guzman whether it's true when people say that drugs destroy humanity and bring harm.
“Well, it's a reality that drugs destroy,” El Chapo began, according to Rolling Stone:
Unfortunately...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.
Could Guzman have actually made a living doing something else? It’s entirely possible. But would he and his family have the level of comfort they have today? Not very likely.
We live in a society where we follow the story lines of fictional (white) drug lords like Breaking Bad’s Walter White, commiserating with the way they got roped in (or roped themselves in) to the game, but by the same note demonize those who came from much more desperate places. While I’m certainly not absolving Guzman from any wrongdoing, through this interview you see for yourself that he’s candid about the idea that it was more circumstance than anything else that brought him to where he is today.
On His Relationship With His Family
El Chapo was quick to stay positive in his interview and said nothing but kind things about his family, though he did express understanding that he'd placed his family in possible danger when he decided to escape from prison (for the second time).
Of his relationship with his mother, he said that it is, "perfect." Is it one of respect, Penn asked:
Yes, sir, respect, affection and love.
And when asked about what he sees in store for the future of his children, he merely said he believes things will go very well for them:
They get along right. The family is tight.
El Chapo On His Final Days
Penn also brought up Pablo Escobar, who was shot and killed while evading police. Unsurprisingly, Guzman didn't care to elaborate on what his final days will be with regards to his business. As with most of his answers, he was short in his response, according to Rolling Stone:
I know one day I will die. I hope it's of natural causes.
On Friday, “El Chapo” was captured by Mexican authorities and sent back to Altiplano, the maximum security prison from which he escaped back in July. The 61-year-old drug lord may be extradited to the United States soon enough, but for now his fate remains unknown.
Images: Yuri Cortez, Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images