The actor Sean Penn has robustly defended himself amid a storm of criticism over his interview with a Mexican drug lord, saying that he had been trying to kickstart a conversation about the double standards of “the war on drugs”.
Penn has at the centre of controversy after Rolling Stone magazine published an interview with the drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman while he was on the run from Mexican authorities. Officials in Mexico claimed that the actor’s visit to El Chapo’s hideout in October, had helped enable troops capture him earlier this month.
In an interview with CBS, to be broadcast in full on Sunday, Penn said that his intention had not been successful.
“My article failed,” he said. “Let me be clear. My article has failed.”
In the week since Penn’s 10,000-word article was published, most of the subsequent news coverage had been about El Chapo’s confessions, the potential legal liabilities for meeting with the fugitive, and the process of how Penn secured the meeting in the first place, the actor said.
Yet he said no-one had chosen to focus on his claim that the government’s decision to target individual drug lords and cartels did not impact overall drug use.
“We’re going to put all our focus - forget about blame - we’re going to put all our focus, all our energy, all our billions of dollars on the bad guy, and what happens? You get another death the next day the same way,” Penn said.
CBS said that El Chapo had asserted something similar in a response to one of Penn’s questions, which were sent through a third party after they first met and were then answered on a video that was then sent to the actor.
When asked whether he felt responsible for high levels of drug addiction, El Chapo said: “No, that is false, because the day I don’t exist, it’s not going to decrease in any way at all.”
Penn claimed it was important to focus on the bigger picture.
“We all want this drug problem to stop. We all want them - the killings in Chicago to stop. We are the consumer. Whether you agree with Sean Penn or not, there is a complicity there,” he said.
“And if you are in the moral right, or on the far left, just as many of your children are doing these drugs.”
El Chapo escaped from prison in July. Penn brokered a meeting with the drug lord through Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo.
The visit occurred in early October, roughly two weeks before El Chapo reportedly narrowly escape a raid by Mexican marines.