Hot in Mexico: Interview With a Wanted Drug Lord

Furor erupts over Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada's appearance in a prominent magazine

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The drug war in Mexico has claimed over 18,000 lives, with heavily-armed cartels engaged in open combat with the Mexican army. Wanted kingpins rarely make appearances in the press. So it came as a shock to many Mexicans when a leading left-leaning magazine, El Proceso, published an interview with Imanuel "El Mayo" Zambada, a well-known drug lord wanted for a $5 million reward in the U.S. The cover photo shows Zambada with his arm draped around the magazine's founder, Julio Scherer Garcia, who conducted the interview.

Many commentators in Mexico are outraged that Proceso uncritically granted the space, platform, and attention to Zambada. (The content of the interview is seen as less remarkable. Zambada  explained that he got into trafficking "Just cuz" and said that the drug trade is "as deeply rooted as the corruption" in Mexico.") Some people, however, have defended Scherer Garcia's right as a journalist to leap at such a rare scoop.

  • What Zambada Said  Alexandra Olson of the Associated Press translates highlights of the interview. "I'm terrified of being incarcerated." If caught, he said, "I'd like to think that yes, I would kill myself." Speaking of the drug war, he said "The problem with the narco business is that it involves millions. How do you dominate that? When it comes to the capos, jailed, dead or extradited -- their replacements are ready."
  • Ambivalence and Resentment in Mexico Dean Graber of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas rounds up Mexican reaction. He reports grudging acceptance of El Proceso's decision to run the interview, as well as frustration: "Among the Mexican media, etcetera's Marco Levario Turcott says Scherer and his magazine 'did what they had to do.' Meanwhile, Milenio's Héctor Aguilar Camín notes the recent attacks and killings of journalists, asking, How many journalists have been killed by Zambada and Guzmán? 'How many have been sentenced, threatened, or under watch? How many have been silenced or bought?'"
  • Showing 'Sympathy for the Devil'  Juan Manuel Asai in La Cronica de Hoy condemns the journalist's motivation. He says the cover image shows the tendency of journalists to treat dangerous criminals as mere celebrities. He grants that entering the lair of a drug lord is newsworthy, and hard for a journalist to resist. But he objects to serving as a criminal's messenger, and granting him a sounding board to say what he likes.
  • Don't Blame the Journalist  José Santiago Healy in El Diario de Sonora defends the interviewer, Garcia Scherer, saying that attacking him is akin to denigrating a "doctor who cures a murderer." One reading he extracts from the interview is that Zambada may have been sending a direct message to the government of Felipe Calderon: "either we agree, or war will never end."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.