Monday, April 5, 2010

El Mayo

So Julio Scherer of Proceso got an interview with Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. I still find this hard to grasp. Although the drug lord doesn't say all that much (pick up a copy of Proceso to find out exactly what – I'd like the mag to sell a billion copies from this and provide them with a budget that keep them in the black forever), this interview reveals so much in its own way.

1) When I arrived in Mexico in 2007, I went to Michoacan one of my first weekends. I was told by my bosses not to ask anyone about narcos, or drugs, as that would be risky. Of course, that's the first thing I did. And lo and behold, people talked to me. At least a little. They did in Sinaloa, too, and Juarez. People do want to talk about the drug trade in Mexico, rather than sweep it under the rug; they're just scared. Even narcos like El Mayo apparently don't mind talking, as long as it's to the right person. Scherer has certainly proved himself in that respect.

2) Narcos like El Mayo do not like living on the run. They don't really even consider themselves outlaws; for decades, their business was all but legal. The government changed the rules of the game, not the narcos. El Mayo would probably even prefer to clean up his money and invest in something else that could prop up Sinaloa's economy if given a chance to do so. So here's an idea, Calderon administration: open up a dialogue. Replace the drug economy with something else that Mexicans could profit from. Can't be a crop, that's not financially viable. But there must be something Mexico could produce en masse with a billionaire backer like El Mayo.

3) If Julio Scherer can get to El Mayo, so can the authorities. They're clearly not trying very hard.

4) The interview was conducted in February, but not published until April. My guess is that El Mayo told Scherer that delaying publication was a necessary condition for security reasons. But there may have been another reason: El Mayo may be getting what I call the Carrillo Fuentes condition – in his old age, thinking about giving himself up. Back in February, the pressure was really on to hit the Sinaloa cartel hard, and an interview with El Mayo may have roused enough criticism that the mexican army act – and kill him in the process of "trying" to capture him. El Mayo speaking publicly now opens a door to some sort of communication, and a deal that might allow him to spend the rest of his days in prison rather than in a coffin.

5) Chapo and El Mayo talk all the time on the phone, according to the latter. Again, the Mexican authorities (and DEA) are wiretapping like crazy these days, and should really be able to get a trace on these calls. If you really want to catch these guys, try a little harder.

Aside from these observations, I have to admit just how jealous I am. I've tried various routes to get an interview with Chapo, no luck, unsurprisingly. Scherer, on the other hand, was reached out to by El Mayo himself. What an amazing feat: to be such a well-respected and trusted journalist that one of the most-wanted men in the country contacts you himself because he wants to meet you.

Chapo, if you're reading this post, I'd still love a sit-down, anyplace, anytime.

PS - I guess my prediction about catching Chapo over Easter weekend was a bit off – unless the authorities simply haven't announced it yet, but that would be a tough one to keep secret.


  1. Maybe El Mayo has more than his 14 AKA and lives in Phoenix, traveling to Mexico on occasion. His son was extradited to Chicago in February so maybe he had other reasons besides the Scherer interview to travel to Mexico.

  2. You really have to understand the amount of corruption in Mexico and how much "El Mayo" and "El Chapo" have done for the poor to understand why its so hard for them to be caught.