El Chapo Guzman sat down with Sean Penn at his mountain hideout for a Rolling Stone interview:
He begins: “I want to make clear that this interview is for the exclusive use of Miss Kate del Castillo and Mister Sean Penn.” The image goes black.
When it returns, so has he to the comfort of his trucker hat.
Of the many questions I’d sent El Chapo, a cameraman out of frame asks a few of them directly, paraphrases others, softens many and skips some altogether.
How was your childhood?
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.
And how did you get involved in the drug business?
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.
How did you leave there? How did it all expand?
From there, from my ranch, I started to leave at 18 and went to Culiacan, then after to Guadalajara, but never without visiting my ranch, even up until today, because my mom, thanks to God, is still alive, out there in our ranch, which is La Tuna, and so, that is how things have been.
How has your family life changed from then to now?
Very good – my children, my brothers, my nephews. We all get along well, very normal. Very good.
And now that you are free, how has it affected you?
Well, as for being free – happy, because freedom is really nice, and pressure, well, for me it’s normal, because I’ve had to be careful for a few years now in certain cities, and, no, I don’t feel anything that hurts my health or my mind. I feel good.
Is it true what they say that drugs destroy humanity and bring harm?
Well, it’s a reality that drugs destroy. Unfortunately, as I 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.
Do you think it is true you are responsible for the high level of drug addiction in the world?
No, that is false, because the day I don’t exist, it’s not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking? That’s false.
Did your drug business grow and expand when you were in jail?
From what I can tell, and what I know, everything is the same. Nothing has decreased. Nothing has increased.
What about the violence attached to this type of activity?
In part, it is because already some people already grow up with problems, and there is some envy and they have information against someone else. That is what creates violence.
Do you consider yourself a violent person?
Are you prone to violence, or do you use it as a last resort?
Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more. But do I start trouble? Never.
What is your opinion about the situation in Mexico, what is the outlook for Mexico?
Well, drug trafficking is already part of a culture that originated from the ancestors. And not only in Mexico. This is worldwide.
Do you consider your activity, your organization, a cartel?
No, sir, not at all. Because people who dedicate their lives to this activity do not depend on me.
How has this business evolved from the time you started up until today?
Big difference. Today there are lots of drugs, and back then, the only ones we knew were marijuana and poppy.
What is the difference in people now compared to back then?
Big difference, because now, day after day, villages are getting bigger, and there’s more of us, and lots of different ways of thinking.
What is the outlook for the business? Do you think it will disappear? Will it grow instead?
No, it will not end because as time goes by, we are more people, and this will never end.
Do you think terrorism activities in the Middle East will, in any way, impact the future of drug trafficking?
No, sir. It doesn’t make a difference at all.
You saw how the final days of Escobar were. How do you see your final days with respect to this business?
I know one day I will die. I hope it’s of natural causes.
The U.S. government thinks that the Mexican government does not want to arrest you. What they want to do is to kill you. What do you think?
No, I think that if they find me, they’ll arrest me, of course.
With respect to your activities, what do you think the impact on Mexico is? Do you think there is a substantial impact?
Not at all. Not at all.
Because drug trafficking does not depend on just one person. It depends on a lot of people.
What is your opinion about who is to blame here, those who sell drugs, or the people who use drugs and create a demand for them? What is the relationship between production, sale and consumption?
If there was no consumption, there would be no sales. It is true that consumption, day after day, becomes bigger and bigger. So it sells and sells.
We hear avocado is good for you, lime is good for you, guanabana is good for you. But we never hear anyone doing any publicity with respect to drugs. Have you done anything to induce the public to consume more drugs?
Not at all. That attracts attention. People, in a way, want to know how it feels or how it tastes. And then the addiction gets bigger.
Do you have any dreams? Do you dream?
Whatever is normal. But dreaming daily? No.
But you must have some dreams, some hopes for your life?
I want to live with my family the days God gives me.
If you could change the world, would you?
For me, the way things are, I’m happy.
How is your relationship with your mom?
My relationship? Perfect. Very well.
Is it one of respect?
Yes, sir, respect, affection and love.
How do you see the future for your sons and daughters?
Very well. They get along right. The family is tight.
How about your life? How has your life changed, how have you lived it since you escaped?
Lots of happiness – because of my freedom.
Did you ever use drugs?
No, sir. Many years ago, yes, I did try them. But an addict? No.
How long ago?
I haven’t done any drugs in the last 20 years.
Did it not worry you that you might be putting your family at risk with your escape?
For your recent escape, did you pursue your freedom at any cost, at the expense of anybody?
I never thought of hurting anyone. All I did was ask God, and things worked out. Everything was perfect. I am here, thank God.
The two times you escaped, it is worth mentioning, there was no violence.
With me, it did not come to that. In other situations, what’s been seen, things occur differently, but here, we did not use any violence.
Bearing in mind what has been written about you, what one can see on TV, things are said about you in Mexico, what kind of message would you like to convey to the people of Mexico?
Well, I can say it’s normal that people have mixed feelings because some people know me and others don’t. That is the reason I say it is normal. Because those who do not know me can have their doubts about saying if, in this case, I’m a good person or not.
If I ask you to define yourself as a person, if I ask you to pretend you are not Joaquín, instead you are the person who knows him better than anybody else in the world, how would you define yourself?
Well, if I knew him – with respect, and from my point of view, it’s a person who’s not looking for problems in any way. In any way.
ince our late-night visit in the Mexican mountains, raids on ranches there have been relentless. A war zone. Navy helicopters waging air assaults and inserting troops. Helos shot down by Sinaloa cartel gunmen. Marines killed. Cartel fighters killed. Campasinos killed or displaced. Rumors spread that El Chapo escaped to Guatemala, or even further, into South America. But no. He was right there where he was born and raised. On Friday, January 8th, 2016, it happened. El Chapo was captured and arrested – alive.
I think of that night, of that calm before the storm, and the otherworldly experience of sitting with a man so seemingly serene, despite his living a reality so surreal. I had not gotten the kind of in-depth interview I’d hoped to achieve. Not challenged checkers with chess, nor vice versa. But perhaps, at least, retrieved a glimpse from the other side, and what is for me an affirmation of the dumb-show of demonization that has demanded such an extraordinary focus of assets toward the capture or killing of any one individual black hat.
Still, today, there are little boys in Sinaloa who draw play-money pesos, whose fathers and grandfathers before them harvested the only product they’d ever known to morph those play pesos into real dollars. They wonder at our outrage as we, our children, friends, neighbors, bosses, banks, brothers and sisters finance the whole damn thing. Without a paradigm shift, understanding the economics and illness of addiction, parents in Mexico and the U.S. will increasingly risk replacing that standard parting question to their teens off for a social evening – from “Where are you going tonight?” to “Where are you dying tonight?”