A long and recently bizarre story came to a violent end last week when the world’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was captured after a raid on a safe house in the coastal city of Los Mochis.
Guzmán was captured in 2014 by some of the same marines who conducted Friday’s raid but escaped from prison via an underground tunnel last year. Legend has it he also escaped from a high security facility in 2001 by hiding in a laundry basket.
Authorities were led to Guzmán’s residence by an unwitting Sean Penn who, along with famous Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo, visited the kingpin’s jungle hideout where Chapo gave a two-minute video interview. Penn would later pen (no pun intended) an exclusive article for Rolling Stone that carried the highly original title “El Chapo Speaks.”
Government “spies” were apparently watching Penn and Del Castillo on their journey to the underworld. The following images capture the pair arriving at an airport last October.
Apparently, Guzmán wanted his life story told on the silver screen but “but would entrust its telling only to Kate,” Penn wrote. Del Castillo once played a “drug lordess” (as Penn puts it) in a Mexican soap opera. Why Penn decided he needed to get involved is anyone's guess but you can read his lengthy rationale in the Rolling Stone piece.
At the end of the day, we imagine Guzmán wishes he had never met the actor because as Reuters notes, the "secret" meeting between the Hollywood star and the world's most-wanted drug boss 'was essential to finding the fugitive,' Mexico's attorney general said on Monday."
Mexican marines killed five bodyguards in the Friday raid and nearly captured the notoriously elusive crime boss who escaped through another tunnel hidden behind a closet mirror.
It took the marines an hour and a half to find the activation switch in a ceiling lamp and by that time, Chapo and “Cholo” (an underboss in the Sinaloa cartel) had crawled through the sewers, stolen a car, run out of gas, and stolen another car. Ultimately, they were captured.
Along with Mr. Gastelum, the drug kingpin managed to crawl for about one mile along the dark sewage tunnels of Los Mochis. A security camera showed the two fugitives climbing out off a street sewage tunnel in broad daylight. One marine told the network that it had begun to rain heavily and that may have forced Mr. Guzmán out of the sewers.
After emerging from the sewage tunnel, the two fugitives first stole one car, which ran out of gas, authorities said. Then, they stole another vehicle, which authorities were able to intercept after its owner alerted police. The two fugitives were captured and taken to a nearby motel as a precautionary measure while marines awaited for reinforcements.
“Your six-month vacation is over,” the head of the marine unit said he told Mr. Guzmán after he was captured.
And here's the full video of the raid:
With a power vacuum at the top of the Sinaloa cartel (part of the oligopoly that runs drug trafficking in Mexico), we wonder what, if any, effect Chapo's capture will have on the narcotics trade and, more generally on the Mexican economy. After all, some $50 billion flows into Mexico each year from the cartels' activities.
As Reuters noted five years ago, "Mexico probably made more money in 2009 moving drugs than it did exporting oil, its single biggest legitimate foreign currency earner."
That money flows into all sectors of the economy as cartel bosses struggle to wash the mountains of cash the gangs earn from their illicit activities. Then again, there may be no impact at all from Guzmán's capture because the endemic corruption that pervades Mexico's bureaucracies probably means Chapo will once again be crawling his way to freedom Shawshank-style in no time.
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Sean Penn explains why he needed to interview a drug lord
It was at a social event in Los Angeles when Kate met Espinoza. She learned he was well connected to financial sources, including those that funded film projects, and she proposed a partnership to make a film about El Chapo. This was when Espinoza included our mutual colleague and friend El Alto. I learned of their intention to make the film, but I did not know Kate or have any involvement with the project. The three of them met with El Chapo's lawyer to explore their approach, but it was ultimately determined that direct access to El Chapo would still be too restricted for their authorized pursuit to rise above competitive "Chapo" projects that Hollywood would pursue with or without his participation.
Then came July 2015. El Chapo's prison break. The world, and particularly Mexico and the United States, was up in arms. How could this happen?! The DEA and the Justice Department were furious. The fact that Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong had refused El Chapo's extradition to the United States, then allowed his escape, positioned Chong and the Peña Nieto administration as global pariahs.
I followed the news of El Chapo's escape and reached out to Espinoza. We met in the courtyard of a boutique hotel in Paris in late August. He told me about Kate and that she had been intermittently receiving contact from Chapo even after the escape. It was then that I posed the idea of a magazine story. Espinoza's smile of mischief arose, indicating he would arrange for me to meet Kate back in Los Angeles. At a Santa Monica restaurant, I made my case, and Kate agreed to make the bridge, sending our names for vetting across the border. When word came back a week or so later that Chapo had indeed agreed to meet with us, I called Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone. Myself, Espinoza and El Alto were given the assignment. And with a letter from Jann officiating it, we would join Kate, who was our ticket to El Chapo's trust, then put ourselves in the hands of representatives of the Sinaloa cartel to coordinate our journey. It had been a month in the planning by the time Espinoza and I were breathing the New York air that late-September day on 55th Street.