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 offered to meet with Proceso founder Julio Scherer, saying he always wanted to meet the journalist. He gave specific directions on when and where the interview would take place, the publication said.
Mexico City - 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 offered to meet with Proceso founder Julio Scherer, saying he always wanted to meet the journalist. He gave specific directions on when and where the interview would take place, the publication said.
The magazine offered no other explanation of why a reputed kingpin would give an interview after a lifetime on the run. It is almost unheard for Mexican drug suspects to speak to the media while still free.
The offices of Calderon and the Attorney General said there would be no immediate comment on the interview.
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 the courage to kill myself. I like to think that I would."
Zambada said he had felt the army closing in on him four times and that soldiers had gotten close to Guzman even more often.
"I fled into the countryside. I know the vegetation, the rivers, the rocks, everything," Zambada said. "I'll get caught if I get complacent, careless, just like El Chapo."
Guzman, who escaped prison by hiding in a laundry truck nearly a decade ago, has made Forbes magazine's lists of wealthiest and most-powerful people.
"El Chapo Guzman and I are friends and we talk on the phone a lot," Zambada said. He even said he might try to arrange an interview between Guzman and Proceso.
Zambada insisted, however, that the drug trade would continue unabated if he was arrested.
"When it comes to the capos, jailed, dead or extradited - their replacements are ready," Zambada said.
Mexican officials blame the Sinaloa cartel for much of the country's staggering bloodshed. Drug violence has killed more than 18,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, and has made the border city of Ciudad Juarez, where Sinaloa is fighting a turf battle against the Juarez cartel, one of the world's most dangerous cities.
The interview comes as Zambada's son, Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, faces trial in Chicago on charges that he conspired to import and sell large amounts of cocaine and heroin in the United States. Zambada-Niebla, who has pleaded not guilty, was arrested last year in Mexico City and was extradited to the United States in February.
The U.S. indictment accuses both Ismael Zambada and his son of using planes, boats, trucks and cars to move nearly $50 million worth of cocaine from Colombia to New York, New Jersey, Chicago and California between August 2001 and June 2002.
In the interview, Zambada refused to answer questions about his son, saying only that he "cries for him."
In November, a nephew of Zambada, Jesus Zambada Reyes, who had been cooperating with authorities, was found dead in a house in Mexico City in an apparent suicide. Zambada Reyes had been captured in 2008 and accused of smuggling cocaine through Mexico City airports.
Scherer said he and someone sent to accompany him took four cars to a sparsely furnished house where they spent the night. The next evening, he took a long car ride through the mountains until he reached a rustic, two-room house where he met Zambada.
Zambada revealed no details about his alleged criminal activities, but offered some insight into his personal life. He said Zambada-Niebla was the oldest of his five children, and that he has five grandchildren and a great-grandson.
He said he had a wife and five mistresses.