hugo chavez sean penn
Sean Penn’s exclusive interview with cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera came at a cost: editorial control. Did that lead him to omit a trip to Venezuela under the protection of Hugo Chavez’ former intel chief, as reported by ABC España? Above: then-President Chavez stands next to Penn at Miraflores Palace in Caracas February 16, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Sean Penn’s Oct. 2015 meeting with Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was facilitated by members of Venezuela ’s pro-Chavez intelligence apparatus, according to a report by Spanish daily ABC, which cited no named sources. Penn writes that he had a long running correspondence with El Chapo’s handlers ahead of the encounter, what the actor/director/journalist/philanthropist calls “a clandestine horror show” of digital tradecraft. Was Venezuela an important pitstop on the journey to Sinaloa and his eye-popping profile of then-fugitive Guzmán?

The report connects the dots between known two sets of relationships; Penn and Chavistas, Chavistas and various Guzmán family members. Penn himself acknowledges his relationship with the late Hugo Chavez, whose PSUV still holds executive power in Venezuela. However a link between the PSUV and the Sinaloa cartel, drawn by U.S. officials with a line of cocaine, has never been proven conclusively.

“The visit to Margarita [an island north eastern Venezuela] to prepare this interview was presumably coordinated by chavista agents. It seems like the encounter occurred with the protection of General Hugo Carvajal, the ex-director of military intelligence who has been formally accused of narcotrafficking by the U.S.”

If ABC’s does not explain why that meeting was necessary, given Penn’s purported access through Kate de Castillo, the Mexican actress who has both befriended and criticized El Chapo. Also left unclear is why Penn left the reported Venezuela stop out of his narrative, which chronicled other steps he took to get to Guzmán.

One reason could be the cartel leader’s high level of control over the story; perhaps El Chapo didn’t want to damage his alleged relationships with the Venezuelan government. The fact that we can entertain that possibility is part of the problem with Penn’s assignment.

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