El Chapo Speaks
I tell him that I understood that in the mainstream narrative of narcos, the undersung hypocrisy is in the complicity of buyers. I could not sell him on a bait-and-switch, and I knew that in the writing of any piece, my only genuine cards to play were to expose myself as one fascinated and willing to suspend judgment. I understood that whatever else might be said of him, it was clear to me he was not a tourist in our big world.
Throughout my introduction, Chapo smiles a warm smile. In fact, in what would be a seven-hour sit-down, I saw him without that smile only in brief flashes. As has been said of many notorious men, he has an indisputable charisma. When I ask about his dynamic with the Mexican government, he pauses. “Talking about politicians, I keep my opinion to myself. They go do their thing and I do mine.”
See footage of El Chapo after his recapture below:
Beneath his smile, there is a doubtlessness to his facial expression. A question comes to mind as I observe his face. Both as he speaks as while he listens. What is it that removes all doubt from a man’s eyes? Is it power? Admirable clarity? Or soullessness? Soullessness…wasn’t it that that my moral conditioning was obliged to recognize in him? Wasn’t it soullessness that I must perceive in him for myself to be perceived here as other than a Pollyanna? An apologist? I tried hard, folks. I really did. And reminded myself over and over of the incredible life loss, the devastation existing in all corners of the narco world. “I don’t want to be portrayed as a nun,” El Chapo says. Though this portrayal had not occurred to me. This simple man from a simple place, surrounded by the simple affections of his sons to their father, and his toward them, does not initially strike me as the big bad wolf of lore. His presence conjures questions of cultural complexity and context, of survivalists and capitalists, farmers and technocrats, clever entrepreneurs of every ilk, some say silver, and others lead.
A server delivers a bottle of tequila. El Chapo pours each of us three fingers. In toast, he looks to Kate. “I don’t usually drink,” he says, “but I want to drink with you.” After a raise of the glass, I take a polite sip. He asks me if many people in the United States know about him. “Oh, yeah,” I say, and inform him that the night before leaving for Mexico, I had seen that the Fusion Channel was repeating its special-edition Chasing El Chapo. He seems to delight in the absurdity of this, and as he and his cohorts share a chuckle, I look to the sky and wonder how funny it would be if there were a weaponized drone above us. We are in a clearing, sitting right out in the open. I down the tequila, and the drone goes away.
I give in to the sense of security offered by the calm of Chapo and his men. There is the pervasive feeling that if there were a threat, they would know it. We eat, drink, and talk for hours. He is interested in the movie business and how it works. He’s unimpressed with its financial yield. The P&L high side doesn’t add up to the downside risk for him. He suggests to us that we consider switching our career paths to the oil business. He says he would aspire to the energy sector, but that his funds, being illicit, restrict his investment opportunities. He cites (but asks me not to name in print) a host of corrupt major corporations, both within Mexico and abroad. He notes with delighted disdain several through which his money has been laundered, and who take their own cynical slice of the narco pie.