Sean Penn Was Right: US Drug War Created El Chapo And His Ilk

Sean Penn’s interview with Mexican drug kingpin El Chapo, and El Chapo’s later arrest, are all over the news at the moment. Predictably, many individuals, news outlets, and even presidential candidates are condemning Penn’s interview, according to ABC News.

More than just the interview, critics are upset with Sean’s contention that the United States’ “war on drugs” is responsible for drug lords like El Chapo.

Drug Kingpin "El Chapo" in custody [Image via Associated Press]

A possibly smaller, but no less vocal, group of people are asking an important question: “Is Sean Penn right?”

Sean Penn at 5th Annual Sean Penn and Friends Help Haiti Home Gala

There’s a strong argument to be made that Penn is, in fact, right.

At the end of “El Chapo Speaks,” the article recounting his interview with El Chapo, Penn makes a statement that should cause anyone reading it to at least pause, reflect, and ask two questions.

Sean’s statement reads as follows.

“Still, today, there are little boys in Sinaloa who draw play-money pesos, whose fathers and grandfathers before them harvested the only product they’d ever known to morph those play pesos into real dollars. They wonder at our outrage as we, our children, friends, neighbors, bosses, banks, brothers and sisters finance the whole damn thing. Without a paradigm shift, understanding the economics and illness of addiction, parents in Mexico and the U.S. will increasingly risk replacing that standard parting question to their teens off for a social evening – from ‘Where are you going tonight?’ to ‘Where are you dying tonight?'”

The first question to ask about Sean Penn’s statement is, “Is this true?”

For many of us, the answer to that question is, “Yes. This is true.” The war on drugs, and the unwillingness to focus on preventing and remedying addiction, has created a nightmare landscape, including not only drug lords like El Chapo, not only ruined and lost lives of addicts, but also ruined lives across the world. Those ruined and lost lives aren’t just Americans. They include people working in the drug trade for lack of any other choice and DEA agents fighting the drug war for the same reason — lack of any other choice.

Some people will look at Penn’s statement and say immediately, without thinking, “No, it’s not true.”

This brings us to the second question. If Penn is not right, if what he says is not true, then what if? What if Sean Penn is right and what he says is true? What would his being right look like, and what would it require from the United States government and our people?

It’s easy to find people condemning Sean’s article and his statement, and it’s easy to jump on board with that judgment. However, the opposing view is, in many cases, well thought out and worth considering.

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Taking the position that Sean Penn is right, and that waging a “war” on drugs is exacting an unnecessary and unacceptable toll on people, what can and should be done?

Before anything else can happen, we need the paradigm shift that Penn suggests.

Perhaps one way to bring about Sean Penn’s proposed shift in thinking would be for the people responsible for continuing the war on drugs to learn more, personally, about the casualties of this war. An obvious starting place might be the addicts, but I would suggest that first the legislators and other government officials involved meet with the families of DEA agents killed in the line of duty.

Then they should ask themselves, “Was the end worth this cost?”

It may be hard to sympathize with an addict. I would think it would be harder to harden a heart against children asking why their parents died.

What do you think about the Sean Penn interview with El Chapo? Was Penn right?