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Update On Sean Penn's Secret Meeting With 'El Chapo'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start with a story that continues to get more bizarre by the day. You heard on Friday about the arrest of the notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman, known as El Chapo, who was finally captured after his escape from a Mexican in prison in July. You might have heard that authorities got some clues to his whereabouts because he had been in contact with some entertainment figures. Well, now it turns out that the Oscar-winning actor and activist Sean Penn met with the cartel leader last October in a secret jungle hideout, an encounter he describes in a piece for Rolling Stone that was published last night. That may have led Mexican authorities to Guzman's whereabouts and to his arrest. Meanwhile, serious questions are also being raised in Mexico and the U.S. about whether Penn did the right thing. We wanted to hear more about all of this, so we've called NPR's Mexico correspondent Carrie Kahn. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: So just how did Sean Penn get in contact with El Chapo? This is supposed to have been the largest manhunt in Mexican history. This is after all his second prison escape, so presumably he's highly sought after because this was embarrassing. And so how does a Hollywood actor find him when the authorities cannot?

KAHN: That's a great question, and I'm sure the Mexican authorities are scratching their head and a little embarrassed about that, too. But they were connected through Mexican actress Kate del Castillo. She's famous on both sides of the border. And if you ever watch that TV show "Weeds," she was Pilar in that. She also starred in a Telemundo hit as a cartel leader in a series called "La Reina Del Sur," "The Queen Of The South." And she caused quite a stir. In 2012, she actually posted on social media what was interpreted as an open sympathetic letter to Chapo Guzman. Reportedly he read that post and through lawyers began corresponding with her. He wanted her to produce a film about his life story. And a mutual friend connected de Castillo and Penn, and they all went to that secret compound in the mountains in Mexico in October to meet with Guzman.

MARTIN: So what's been the reaction to news that Penn and del Castillo were the reason that this all happened or that they in fact had met with him at a time when he was so highly sought after? What are people saying about this?

KAHN: Well, that picture of Penn shaking hands with this dapper-looking Guzman is on the front page of nearly every paper and website here today. There's been quotes in some news outlets that Mexican officials want to talk with both actors about their clandestine meeting and communications with Guzman. NPR actually contacted the U.S. Justice Department spokesman who had no comment about whether anyone else is the subject of a U.S. investigation. But it's getting a lot of play here. There's been some quite interesting posts on social media, a lot ridiculing of Penn, making - doing these twists on words with his name, which could be twisted into a bad word. And there's also some that have been ridiculing him for his forays into journalism. In one tweet by journalist Alfredo Corchado really brought it home here. Given the violence that, you know, Mexican reporters face - more than 30 have been killed here since 1992 - he said to describe Penn's meeting as an interview is an epic insult to journalists who have died in the name of truth.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Mexico correspondent Carrie Kahn. Carrie, thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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