April 4, 2010 / 11:25 PM / 9 years ago

Mexican cartels cannot be defeated, drug lord says

MEXICO CITY, April 4 (Reuters) - Mexico’s war on the drug trade is futile even if cartel bosses are caught or killed as millions of people are involved in the illicit business, a senior drug chief said in an interview published on Sunday.

Ismael "el Mayo" Zambada, the right hand man of Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, blamed the government for surging drug violence and said President Felipe Calderon was being duped by his advisors into thinking he was making progress.

"One day I will decide to turn myself in to the government so they can shoot me. ... They will shoot me and euphoria will break out. But at the end of days we’ll all know that nothing changed," Zambada told the investigative newsmagazine Proceso.

"Millions of people are wrapped up in the narco problem. How can they be overcome? For all the bosses jailed, dead or extradited their replacements are already there."

Mounting drug violence in Mexico has killed 19,500 people since Calderon launched an army-led attempt to crush the cartels after taking power in late 2006. Although financial markets take the daily reports of mayhem in stride, foreign companies are starting to think twice about new investments.

Arturo Beltran Leyva, a former ally turned rival of the Sinaloa cartel died in a hail of gunfire in December as Mexican marines surrounded him in a luxury apartment complex.

Analysts at the time hailed his death as a blow against the cartels but the last three months in Mexico have been the most violent of Calderon’s rule with some 2,800 drug murders, including a rash of killings of children.

Proceso, an influential magazine with a strong history of covering the drug war, said Zambada contacted the magazine directly in February to set up an interview because he was interested in meeting Julio Scherer, the magazine’s founder.

The magazine published a front-cover photograph of a burly man who appeared to be Zambada wearing a mustache and a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes holding his arm around Scherer.

Zambada, 62, one of Mexico’s most wanted drug lords, has never been arrested despite a $5 million reward offered in the United States.

He refused to talk about his past in the drug trade in the interview, claiming he was now spending his time as a farmer and rancher, and dismissed claims that Guzman was a billionaire.

However he said he lives in constant fear and that the army had come close to catching him four times.

"I’m panicked that I’ll be locked up. ... I don’t know if I would have have the courage to kill myself. I like to think that I would."

(Reporting by Robert Campbell, editing by Jackie Frank)

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