THE BLOG
01/26/2016 12:13 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

El Chapo, Sean Penn and the Failed War on Drugs - Part 2

While Mr. Penn did not perhaps provide the blood and gore that Mr. Winslow would have liked, as reflected in his statement:

I would like to have heard about the people on his payroll who dissolved their victims' bodies in acid, about the decapitations and mutilations, about the blood soaked bodies displayed in public places as intimidation and propaganda. I would like to have known, for instance, how Guzman feels about the 35 people (including 12 women) he had slaughtered...

Mr. Penn did highlight some of the important issue to examine in understanding the "War on Drugs", and I quote:

In 1989, El Chapo dug the first subterranean passage beneath the border from Tijuana to San Diego, and pioneered the use of tunnels to transport his products and to evade capture. I will discover that his already accomplished engineers had been flown to Germany last year for three months of extensive additional training necessary to deal with the low-lying water table beneath the prison. A tunnel equipped with a pipe-track-guided motorcycle with an engine modified to function in the minimally oxygenized space, allowing El Chapo to drop through a hole in his cell's shower floor, into its saddle and ride to freedom. It was this president of Mexico who had agreed to see us. ...

The trust that El Chapo had extended to us was not to be fucked with. This will be the first interview El Chapo had ever granted outside an interrogation room, leaving me no precedent by which to measure the hazards. I'd seen plenty of video and graphic photography of those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike. I was highly aware of committed DEA and other law-enforcement officers and soldiers, both Mexican and American, who had lost their lives executing the policies of the War on Drugs. The families decimated, and institutions corrupted.

Obviously, the point Mr. Penn wishes to make is that just like the rest of the world, organized crime is a global business, with those at its helm quite inventive and resourceful -- so much so that it is they who are truly ruling the country. Additionally, for all of the criticism that Mr. Penn has received for not asking the blood and gore questions, I really do not know what he would have accomplished in doing so. How concretely would this have shed more light on the complex dynamics that must be examined to understand why the "War on Drugs" has failed. Additionally, the questions Mr. Winslow suggests Mr. Penn should have asked, would have certainly antagonized El Chapo and his cartel. And, as Mr. Penn so succinctly states, drug cartels and drug lords are not to be "f***** with." After almost seven years of living in Colombia, I can assure everyone, Mr. Penn's advice is very, very, sound advice -- drug lords and cartels are not to be f***** with!.

As to the accusation that Mr. Penn and Ms. del Castillo were responsible for the capture of El Chapo. This is el colmo in hypocrisy!

In one breath, Mr. Penn is being criticized for meeting with a drug lord, and not using his meeting to set up a sting operation. Really, what "unarmed, untrained" person in his right mind would do that? Mr. Penn may have ample experience in on-screen dealing with criminals, thugs, and drug lords, but his ability to distinguish reality from fiction is very much intact -- much more so than the ability of many who are criticizing him at present.

Then, to add insult to injury, Penn's critics turn around and condemn him for facilitating the capture of El Chapo several months after the interview. Obviously those launching the accusations against Penn are not very familiar with the ins-and-outs of the rapidity, and stealth, that drug lords can disappear without a trace, within hours -- not months of being detected by the DEA, etc. Any journalist launching this accusation against Mr. Penn really needs to familiarize themselves with the basic ABCs of drug-trafficking and evasive tactics of drug lords.

On a final note, it is worth remarking how once again mainstream media has taken what is one of the most important issues of our time, the failed "War on Drugs", mocked and ridiculed it in the same manner that they have mocked and ridiculed all of the important political issues -- thereby deviating public opinion away from the real issues that the country and world face. Glenn Greenwald explains the situation in Great American Hypocrites:

Our Beltway media elite believe that their petty, above-it-all, junior-high coolness is a sign of their sophistication and insight. Conversely, they think that political passion and conviction is the province of the lowly, ignorant masses, the overly serious nerds. Moreover, mere citizens have no role to play in our political system other than to keep quiet and allow the Serious Beltway Officials and Experts -- the ones who whisper gossip into [Shailagh] Murray's hungry ear and flatter her with access and attention -- to make the right, Serious decisions.

Award-winning journalist, Susan Faludi, also provides further insight into the press's ability to manipulate, rather than inform populations, in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women:

The press first introduced the backlash to a national audience―and made it palatable. Journalism replaced the "pro-family" diatribes of fundamentalist preachers with sympathetic and even progressive-sounding rhetoric. It cosmeticized the scowling face of antifeminism while blackening the feminist eye. In the process, it popularized the backlash beyond the New Right's wildest dreams.

The press didn't set out with this, or any other intention; like any large institution, its movements aren't premeditated or programmatic, just grossly susceptible to the prevailing political currents. Even so, the press, carried by tides it rarely fathomed, acted as a force that swept the general public, powerfully shaping the way people would think and talk about feminist legacy and the ailments it supposedly inflicted on women.