AMU Homeland Security Intelligence North America

Sean Penn Disputes Netflix Portrayal of His Role in El Chapo Arrest

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Sylvia Longmire IHSBy Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security

The arrests and escapes of Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán have become the stuff of legend. His life has been documented, both factually and fictitiously, in a number of documentaries, news stories, and even Spanish-language soap operas.

His most recent capture – and hopefully his last – occurred in January 2016 in his home state of Sinaloa, and he is currently awaiting trial in a New York prison. While Mexican authorities have been on the hunt for Guzmán for much of the last decade, a new Netflix documentary is implying that actor Sean Penn may have played a role in his latest arrest.

In October 2015, Mexican actress Kate del Castillo managed to secure a covert visit with Guzmán in Mexico. The drug lord was a huge fan of del Castillo and wanted her to help produce a documentary of his life.

Penn managed to tag along with the actress on the trip, and later published a very long and highly criticized article about the experience in Rolling Stone magazine – perhaps not-so-coincidentally on the day after Guzmán was arrested. Despite all the security measures that Guzmán reportedly had in place during the meeting with Penn and del Castillo, Mexican authorities publicly stated that they had been monitoring the two actors’ movements – movements they say helped tracked down Guzmán months later.

Penn Concerned about Harm, Gets Lawyer to Confront Netflix

Understandably, these statements were very alarming to Penn and his camp. Just the perception that something Penn did could be connected to the arrest of the most notorious drug trafficker in the Western Hemisphere places a huge target on his back.

The documentary, titled The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate del Castillo Story, focuses on the actress’s experience and point of view. However, Penn believes the documentary implies he helped the U.S. Department of Justice in the capture of El Chapo. The implication is so strong that in a letter sent in mid-October, Mr. Penn’s lawyer, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., warned Netflix that the series would put his client in danger and demanded that the company make changes to the content of the documentary.

According to the New York Times, Penn had some unpleasant feelings towards del Castillo’s handling of the situation. Mark Fabiani, a spokesman for Mr. Penn, said in an email, “It is reprehensible that, in their ongoing, relentless efforts to gain additional attention and publicity, Ms. del Castillo and her team (who have zero firsthand knowledge) have sought to create this profoundly false, foolish, and reckless narrative.” He continued, “The notion that Mr. Penn or anyone on his behalf alerted D.O.J. to the trip is a complete fabrication and baldfaced lie.”

El Chapo Documentary Airs Today

David Broome, who produced the series for Netflix, said that he and Netflix both tried to get Penn’s participation but received no response. Penn finally watched the documentary in September 2017, then demanded to be interviewed and that changes be made.

The documentary is slated to air today (October 20), despite a letter from Penn’s lawyer to Netflix stating they are “hereby on notice that blood will be on their hands if this film causes bodily harm.”

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