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Story highlights

Sean Penn says Kate del Castillo brokered his meeting with El Chapo

Actress in 2012: "I believe more in El Chapo Guzman than in governments that hide the truth"

Del Castillo played a crime boss on "Weeds" and a Spanish-language soap opera

(CNN) —  

Without her help, Sean Penn says he never could have arranged a secret meeting with cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

And it all started with a tweet, the actor claims in a Rolling Stone article he wrote about the encounter.

Kate del Castillo, an outspoken Mexican and American actress who cemented her fame with portrayals of crime bosses on television, posted a message online four years ago.

“Today I believe more in El Chapo Guzman than in the governments that hide the truth from me even though it is painful,” del Castillo said in a message linked to her Twitter account in 2012.

Guzman should consider using his influence for the good of Mexico, she wrote.

In an interview last year, del Castillo told CNN en Español that her message was a criticism of Mexican political leaders rather than a compliment to Guzman.

“Someone like that, at least we know who he is, we know what he does, we know what his profession is. The others sometimes are worse criminals, and have numbed us, and hide everything from us,” she said.

The online post, which called for Guzman to “traffic in love,” sparked controversy in Mexico over the actress’s perceived support of the drug lord.

Apparently, her comments also caught the attention of Guzman himself.

In Penn’s article, published Saturday, he says that the Sinaloa cartel chief sent del Castillo flowers to thank for her online post though the bouquet never reached her.

“It perhaps should have come as no surprise that this homegrown icon of entertainment would catch the interest of a singular fan and fugitive from Sinaloa,” Penn wrote.

According to Penn, once El Chapo was arrested in 2014, Hollywood types reached out to the imprisoned cartel boss. But he decided that he wanted to collaborate with del Castillo, and he began corresponding with her through handwritten letters and BlackBerry messages.

Playing a crime boss on TV

El Chapo’s communication with del Castillo continued even after his escape, Penn wrote, and that sparked the conversations that led to their meeting.

Del Castillo starred as a drug trafficker in Telemundo’s popular prime-time soap opera “La Reina del Sur” (“The Queen of the South”) and also played Mexican crime boss Pilar Zuazo on the Showtime series “Weeds.”

Guzman, who is accused of running a major network that distributes cocaine and heroin, has been indicted by U.S. authorities in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. In 2004, the U.S. government announced a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction.

Ghastly toll in 2011 Mexico drug violence: 13,000 killed

He is worth about $1 billion, according to Forbes Magazine, which began listing the drug kingpin on its billionaires list in 2009. The magazine ranks him as No. 55 on its Most Powerful People list.

’Wouldn’t it be cool …’

Del Castillo’s online post addresses the drug lord directly:

“Mr. Chapo: Wouldn’t it be cool if you started to traffic in goodness? With cures for diseases, with food for children in the street, with alcohol for nursing homes. … trafficking with corrupt politicians instead of with women and children that end up as slaves? With burning all the pimps that treat a woman like she’s worth no more than a pack of cigarettes?” she writes. “With no supply there is no demand. Do it, sir, and you would be the hero of heroes. Let’s traffic with love. You know how.”

The post has sparked debate in Mexico and beyond the nation’s borders.

After Guzman escaped from a maximum-security prison in Mexico in July, del Castillo told CNN en Español she was dumbfounded.

“I’m Mexican, and I get angry when, in the United States, people say bad things about Mexico, and I defend Mexico,” she said. “But the moment comes when you can’t defend that which is indefensible.”

Del Castillo has remained silent so far on the Rolling Stone article, Guzman’s arrest and her role in brokering the secret meeting in Mexico.

She usually doesn’t hesitate to give her opinion on social media. In September, del Castillo became an American citizen. She tweeted a photo of herself at the naturalization ceremony, with a message to Donald Trump, letting the presidential candidate know that there was now one more American who doesn’t support him.

CNN’s Mariano Castillo and Rafael Romo contributed to this report.