Sean Penn's Mexican Adventure

The story behind Sean Penn's Rolling Stone article on Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, has captured the public's imagination and provoked some indignation on the part of professional journalists. How did a Hollywood A-lister land a meeting with the most wanted man in Mexico months before the federales caught up with him? And why did Rolling Stone's editors accept an "understanding" with Guzmán that the "piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication"? It's one thing to publish an interview with a notorious drug kingpin and (twice-) escaped convict, another to offer him an editorial veto.

The combined celebrity of Penn and Guzmán makes the whole episode prime tabloid fodder, but the more important story coming from Mexico is the continued stranglehold that organized crime has on Mexican society. The latest chapter in that grim story was reported today by the Guardian. "Gisela Mota, 33, was shot in her own home just after taking office as her town’s first female mayor."

After giving her maiden speech at the town hall, [Mota] met with her new cabinet, then ate a late dinner before returning home exhausted. She went straight to bed, but her proud family stayed up late, talking about her historic achievement.

Mota was still asleep when an armed gang forced its way into the house just before 7am. The only person awake was her mother, Juana Ocampo, who saw six or seven people – some of them masked, some carrying guns – who approached the house shouting “where is she?”

Within minutes the whole family – including Mota’s young nieces and nephew who were visiting for the holidays – were hauled out of their beds and forced to lie face down in the lounge and patio with guns to their heads, as the killers tried to identify their target.

“They said ‘we’ve been sent here with an order to kill, which one is she?’” Ocampo told the Guardian. “I thought they’d come to kidnap her, so I was thinking how we’d pay the ransom.”

Mota identified herself, and was dragged face down a few metres towards the front door. She was shot at least four times, just metres away from where her newborn nephew lay in his cot. The assailants fled to their vehicles and escaped down the sleepy village high street.

The gang that killed Mota is not part of Guzmán's cartel, but news of the assassination brought to mind something Guzmán told Penn in the Rolling Stone interview. Asked whether he is prone to violence, Guzmán replied, "Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more. But do I start trouble? Never." By "defending myself" he really means defending his business, and what happened to Mota is a typical example of what Mexican drug gangs are willing to do when a public official gets in their way.

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.

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