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THE WORLD : Forbes' recognition of cartel boss irks Mexicans : The U.S. magazine's ranking of 'El Chapo' Guzman among top movers and shakers is called frivolous.

November 14, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson

MEXICO CITY — Mexicans were none too pleased to read that their country's most-wanted cocaine kingpin has been ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful people in the world.

Joaquin Guzman, alias El Chapo -- Spanish for "Shorty" -- was listed by Forbes this week as No. 41 in a collection of 67 ("one for every 100 million people on the planet") movers, shakers, rulers and crooks judged as the people who really run the world.

A senior official with the Mexican attorney general's office, Juan de Dios Castro, said the inclusion of Guzman was "frivolous," and Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan used his debut on Twitter to denounce it.

"Sadly, Forbes insists in parading criminals and drug-traffickers," he wrote, according to the Reforma newspaper. Sarukhan went on to suggest that it would take social networks, such as Twitter, to paint a more positive picture of Mexico than that portrayed by "traditional media."

Mexican officials have long been irked over newspaper reports, especially in the U.S., that emphasize the blood-soaked war the government is waging against heavily armed drug cartels such as the one controlled by Guzman.

President Felipe Calderon lashed out in March when Forbes named Guzman one of the world's top billionaires. The question of "powerful" is more nuanced and subjective, however. Forbes says it wanted to start a "conversation" with its first such list and asked whether naming "despicable criminals" like Guzman was an accurate reflection of power.

Guzman heads the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's oldest and largest drug-trafficking organization, which is believed to have smuggled billions of dollars' worth of cocaine and other drugs into the U.S. The organization has extensive networks throughout the U.S. and is responsible for much of the recent drug-related violence in Mexico.

Guzman has been on the lam since escaping in 2001 from a maximum-security prison days after a court ruled that he could be extradited to the U.S. He is said to have been helped by guards and wardens to escape by hiding in a laundry truck.

"Surely . . . we have more than one screw loose," columnist Francisco Rodriguez said on the Web publication EjeCentral. The ranking by "Forbes magazine, that tool of capitalism . . . is enough to make us all ask if we didn't choose the wrong profession."

The other Mexican to make the list was Carlos Slim Helu, a telecom tycoon considered by Forbes to be the third-richest man on Earth. Slim, who has benefited wildly from monopolies, controls a wealth that stands in glaring contrast to Mexico's overall poverty (his wealth, Forbes says, equals 2% of the Mexican gross domestic product). He ranked No. 6 on the "powerful" list, just ahead of Rupert Murdoch and above Bill Gates and the pope.

"For a U.S. publication to distinguish Slim and El Chapo, far from filling us with pride, should make us reflect," journalist Miguel Angel Granados Chapa noted in his Reforma column. "The two figures embody our worst evils: Slim represents the extreme of deep, growing inequality, and Guzman embodies the prosperous [life of] crime and impunity."

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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