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MEXICO UNDER SIEGE

Mexican drug lord Ismael Zambada, in a rare interview, says his death wouldn't hurt drug trade

Zambada, a fugitive for years, tells a Mexican magazine he would contemplate suicide rather than be taken alive. But he insists the government's war on drugs is unwinnable.

April 05, 2010|By Tracy Wilkinson

Reporting from Mexico City — One of Mexico's top drug lords, a fugitive for years, has given a clandestine interview to a Mexican magazine in which he says he would contemplate suicide rather than be taken alive.

Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada says he lives "in panic" of being imprisoned but that if he were eliminated, there would be little impact on the flourishing narcotics trade.

The report appears in Sunday's edition of Proceso, Mexico's leading news weekly, and was excerpted on the magazine's website. The author is Julio Scherer Garcia, the magazine's founder and first editor, who is also known for a series of books on drug traffickers. The interview did not reveal new or surprising information but was remarkable for simply having taken place.

Scherer says he was summoned to the interview through an anonymous note that set a time and place where he would be picked up to be taken to the drug boss' hide-out. He describes a series of long drives with switching-off chase cars and hours of waiting in a safe house. He finally ends up in a remote, mountainous location where Zambada appears, flanked by well-armed bodyguards. The author and narco then sit down to a lunch of meat and beans.

Zambada and Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman lead the Sinaloa cartel, the largest and oldest of Mexico's drug-trafficking rings. Each has a $2-million bounty on his head, offered by the government of President Felipe Calderon. Both have been on the lam for years. Asked if he thinks he will ever be caught, Zambada says: "At any moment, or never."

Some Mexicans suspect that the government is not making a serious effort to capture Zambada, but the trafficker says the army has closed in on him four times. He fled through the countryside that he knows down to the stones, he says.

"I don't know if I would have the guts to kill myself" if captured, he says. "I want to think that yes, I would kill myself."

The Proceso article has a photo of Scherer with Zambada. The narco wears a big white hat and thick black mustache. Scherer says he stands about 5 foot 9 and is built like a "fort."

Scherer attempted to draw out Zambada on the arrest of his son Vicente, who was extradited to the U.S. in February. But he declined to discuss the matter, saying it hurts too much. Scherer also doesn't have much luck in getting Zambada to talk about the scope of his empire and wealth. The narco says the lists that put him or Guzman in the ranks of the world's top billionaires, as well as the tales of their living the high life clandestinely, are "foolishness."

Zambada criticizes the government's military-led offensive against his and other cartels, saying it's too little, too late if the goal is really to hurt the drug trade.

"The problem with the narco business is that it involves millions. How do you dominate that?" Zambada said. "As for the bosses, locked up, dead or extradited, their replacements are already standing by."

The government's drug war, he says, is lost. Why lost? asks Scherer. The narcotics trade and everything that goes along with it, Zambada responds, are inside the society, "as deeply rooted as the corruption."

wilkinson@latimes.com

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