LATIN AMERICA

Kate del Castillo tells her side of the ‘El Chapo’ story in purple prose

Actress publishes sensationalist version of secret meeting with world’s biggest drug lord

Kate del Castillo at a press conference in Los Angeles.
Kate del Castillo at a press conference in Los Angeles.AP
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Kate del Castillo ante El Chapo: “Él me atravesaba con la mirada, yo me sentía morir”

Kate del Castillo is sweating, quivering and her head is about to explode. The first time is when she receives a message from El Chapo through his lawyers. Then it’s when they are planning to make a film together. And then the third time is when she locks eyes with the most powerful drug dealer in the world. “A mini heart attack, I want to die,” she recalls in an article published on Sunday in the Mexican magazine Proceso. The actress, who is known for her portrayal of femme fatale Teresa Mendoza in the soap opera La Reina del Sur, has written a sensationalist tale about her relationship with the Sinaloa cartel boss. A series of saccharine descriptions of memories and sensations and poetic overtures that gloss over – as her travel buddy Sean Penn did in his Rolling Stone article – the dark side of the beast. The mass murders, torture of police officers and hitmen, the crimes that overwhelmed Ciudad Juárez and much of Mexico – all because of Joaquín Guzmán Loera’s greed.

An Instagram post from Del Castillo of her ‘New Yorker’ interview.

The long-awaited article will disappoint those who came looking for new evidence. In her zeal to sweep away any suspicion of collusion, Del Castillo tiptoes over her tenderly embarrassing messages with El Chapo, who once told her “I will take care of you better than my own eyes!” The article limits their connection to a professional relationship that did not involve any form of compensation. “My intention was always to make a film. I have never received money from Mr Guzmán, either for the film, or for the tequila company Honor del Castillo. That is why I will wait to give my statement when my defense [lawyers] decide that there are enough legal guarantees for me to go and do so in Mexico,” Del Castillo writes.

Armed with these arguments, Del Castillo strings together the evolution of their clandestine relationship. The tale begins in the most kitsch of ways: “La Reina del Sur” had just returned from a leisurely cruise with family when she began thinking: “What can I do to help? Where have we failed as Mexicans? It’s easier to blame leaders, but change also begins with oneself.” These thoughts led her to publish a series of tweets which may be summed up in the following way: “Mr Chapo, wouldn’t it be cool for you to begin dealing with good? Come on, you would be the hero of heroes. Let’s deal with love. You know how.”

In her zeal to sweep away any suspicion of collusion, Del Castillo tiptoes over her tenderly embarrassing messages with El Chapo

That message was met with a wave of criticism. Her deferential, even servile, tone toward Guzmán was considered a form of treason in a country drowning in the whirlpool of a violent war against drug trafficking. Yet the actress says she decided to stay firm. “Why should I apologize? What about freedom of expression? I would be censoring myself. Something told me I had to stay strong and faithful to my idea.”

Three years later, El Chapo was in prison, and the time to take action had come. Attorneys for the Sinaloa cartel reached out to Del Castillo through her mother and contacted her by email. “My heart stopped for a few seconds, before it started to beat again at an incredible speed. In fact, I think I had a mini-heart attack. I started to sweat. I went pale and my hands were trembling.” That email led to a meeting in Toluca, where a very nervous Kate del Castillo spoke to El Chapo’s messengers. They were polite and gentlemanly enough to pull out her chair for her. In the article, Del Castillo says she was told how much the Sinaloa boss admired her. “‘Mr. Guzmán refused to give the rights to anyone... except you.’ ‘To me? Give me the rights to his life...To me? Why me?!’ ‘Because he admires, respects and trusts you completely. He respects you because you speak the truth, you are not posturing, because of that tweet where you mentioned him, because you are brave and because he wants you to act in his movie since he liked your work in La Reina del Sur.’”

Her stomach in a knot, her throat dry. Incredulous, ecstatic. And then total acceptance. The deal was sealed in a private room of a restaurant in Toluca. Del Castillo says she felt “a rush of electricity in my hands and feet” when she heard the news of El Chapo’s escape from prison in 2015. Still, his status as a fugitive did not affect their plans. He “wanted me to continue with the project,” she writes.

Del Castillo says she felt “a rush of electricity in my hands and feet” when she heard the news of El Chapo’s escape from prison in 2015

The actress contacted Sean Penn, whom she describes as “a philanthropist, activist, a human being with a clear and transparent point of view.” She brought in two producers she trusted and secured a secret meeting with El Chapo’s lawyers. “I had a heavy weight on my shoulders. We would be visiting the most-wanted man thanks to the faith he put in me. So much fucking pressure!!!”

Del Castillo brought a sort of welcome gift with her to the meeting in Sierra Madre: a copy of one of her movies (La misma luna), a Sean Penn film (21 grams), a book about her (Tuya), a book of poems by Jaime Sabines and tequila. “When I finally saw his face I couldn’t believe it, it was really him. It was already nighttime. From that moment on I could not take my eyes off the man who had escaped from a maximum security prison for the second time.”

Then comes a scant description of the meeting itself. She runs through the dinner and their conversations with great haste, before offering the reader a slower, more intimate look at the moment when El Chapo walks her to her room. “We walked down a hallway, he took my arm. I didn’t know my heart could beat so fast... While I was on the arm of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, I don’t know where the courage to speak came from. ‘Friend, don’t forget what I asked you in my tweet, you can do good, you are a powerful man.’ He saw me with that penetrating look that pierced my skull... Maybe my voice was firm but everything inside me was trembling. I felt like a nobody. A mini heart attack, I wanted to die. Seconds that seemed eternal passed before he answered. ‘Friend, you have a big heart, I think that’s a good thing.’ I was still shaking inside, his hand on my arm kept me from fainting. He gave me a hug and then left.”

Del Castillo and Sean Penn returned to the United States the next morning. And then, the actress says, her life became a nightmare as the American government searched for El Chapo and the apparent “manipulation” of their messages. While the Sinaloa boss begins a media campaign to improve his image and legal defense, the actress has also gone on the offensive. An interview in The New Yorker, an article in Proceso, and, on March 18, a sit-down interview with Diane Sawyer.

Kate del Castillo is shaking again.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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