I read Sean Penn’s article in the Rolling Stones Magazine. The man has courage, no doubt about it. I wouldn’t trust that Chapo for all the $$$ in the world. As Sean said, there is a chance that a word be misunderstood and WHAM! there goes your head. So, why did he risk his life, reputation and wealth to do this interview?
Well, it seems he wants us to think about the other side of the drug war problem, the one el Chapo has nothing to do with. I’m cool with that; we need to think about that. The only problem I find with his goal is…he seems to have taken the other extreme view of the issue. I say he ‘seems’ because I don’t know what is in his head, and my opinion here is just that, an opinion based on what I understood from the article, and on my superficial perception of who Sean is, you know, based on the Hollywood mags articles. I do like him, I must say.
This is my issue with his article:
In trying to show that the drug problem is not a simplistic ‘the drug lord provides the drug that destroy our kids’, that there are many components to it, including political and financial forces from the US impinging on Mexico’s national sovereignty, Mr. Penn romanticized el Chapo as a ‘hero’ of the poor. Sean’s effort to humanize el Chapo by giving him a voice to tell his side of the story of why he is such a badass felt, at least to me, like an act of compassion towards a guard torturing his victim on account that the guard could not find ‘better’ jobs: a misplaced and ineffective compassion, from the political point of view.
“The Buddhist Middle Path”, as I use it here, means not taking sides, pointing instead at the connections, the relations between the various parts forming the problem or issue. The moment one takes sides, one has to defend it at all cost, and it is very difficult to effectively defend someone whose successful business practices consist on beheading those who refuse to buy his products.
Did he have any other options to make his point? What were his chances of getting the interview had he put all the blame on el Chapo for the drug problem? It is out of the question trying to trick el Chapo, softening him in the interview and screwing him in the article. No, he got the interview because his intentions were agreeable with el Chapo; and because ‘el boss’ made Sean sign the contract: you make me look good or your big head will grace the Hollywood sign. I dare bet that Sean is NOT sleeping well these days.
The Denunciations Sean Wants to Make
As a Hispanic, I am aware that some people in Mexico defend el Chapo because he ‘helps’ the community he controls. They perceive the Mexican government as more oppressive than the cartel, which makes the government truly worse because a government is not supposed to oppress its people. The immorality of a government oppressing its people hurts the soul more than the oppression coming from people we know are barbarians. The expectations and trust are destroyed when the government screws up, leaving the people hopeless and at the mercy of criminals with power but accountability to no one.
But the ‘help’ el Chapo provides to ‘his’ people is…dirty, to say the least. That’s NOT the type of help people ought to be commending.
About the violence. El Chapo claimed that he uses violence because he is being provoked into using it, which is a laughable claim. I don’t know what Sean thinks about that; I just hope he didn’t ‘buy it’, but because he is trying to make a point, that the violence comes also from a culture of violence promoted by the US policies for Mexico, he can’t question the the personal responsibility of the drug lord in that violence.
And no matter how much poverty el Chapo suffered in his childhood due to the crimes promoted by the US policies in Mexico, not every poor person chooses a life of criminality nor develops the most callous lack of compassion for human life as a way of coping with the past. Poverty is an excuse for violence by criminals. Criminal behavior is a choice, for the poor person or for the corrupt elite who engage in it.
Who to Blame for the Drug Problem
El Chapo is not the cause of the drug problem, and even if he is killed, the problem will continue. In that he is right. Nor are governments the cause of the problem. The problem is with human choices and attitudes. Governments are formed by people, governments are not impersonal bodies. The solution to the drug problem is in considering why people value the things they do, like money and power, more than social well-being for all. We must hold our politicians personally accountable for their crimes.
The middle path would entail for us personally to pause and consider this:
Why is it so difficult to see that, when the bank in which you make your financial transactions is laundering money to el Chapo and other cartels, you have no problem continuing doing your banking business with that same bank?
The web of connections that form the social drug problem has many paths, but it all starts with ‘me’. We all are part of the problem, some with more weight than others. I think that’s what Sean Penn want us to consider.
What Did Sean Achieve?
Mr. Penn only achieved, in my view, to stir the wasps by taking the other extreme side of the issue, the side of el Chapo, justifying his ‘business’. In doing so, he forces people to focus on el Chapo’s bad deeds and blame only him, the individual, because there is no way most of the people is going to understand that governments, ours and global, are part of the drug problem. Most people trust their governments, they are unaware of the behind-the-curtain transactions between drug cartels and their governments (who remembers Contra-gate?) and they don’t want to see it! They will point only at cartel lords and defend their governments.
People will point at these drug lords beheading people and hanging the heads in public to intimidate. We don’t see governments doing that (of course not, they show more finesse, they send others to do it and call it ‘war against terror’ in the nations we are occupying.) People see the government as something impersonal, and at the same time as a body representing the people; the people are not going to blame themselves. It’s pure psychology.
The connections Sean tried to make between American policies on drugs and el Chapo got lost with the perception that he is not an impartial witness.
Sean’s Missed Middle Path
The middle path would have been for Mr. Penn to make a movie (his expertise) or a documentary and show in it the connections and relations he is trying to make in the article. The middle path entails not taking sides, but showing where the problem is: the drug problem encompasses every aspect of our social lives: government policies, personal choices, etc. I know, it’s hard not to take sides, but, when you have the means and the intellect, you can afford to try better. As an example, Sean Penn made, in my view, the best 9/11 short film I have seen: heartfelt and political without screaming it, and effective in delivering the message. He can still do something this good with the many facets of the drug problem.
Mr. Penn can do better next time. The conversation is not going the way he wanted.
He better hurry up before el Chapo changes his mind about him.