Mexican President Felipe Calderon told an American newspaper the world's most wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, may be living in the United States.
"He is not in Mexican territory, and I suppose that Chapo is in American territory," Calderon said in comments published this week in the New York Times, according to a Spanish-language transcript the newspaper later published online.
The president added: "The surprising thing here is that he or his wife are so comfortable in the United States, which leads me to ask, well, how many families or how many Mexican drug lords could be living more calmly on the north side of the border than on the south side? What leads Chapo Guzman to keep his family in the United States?'"
Calderon was responding to a question that referred to a Los Angeles Times report that Guzman's wife had given birth to twin girls in an L.A. County hospital in August.
He said reporters should ask "American customs authorities" why Emma Coronel, 22, wasn't detained while inside the U.S. (A senior law enforcement official told The Times that authorities had tracked Coronel, a U.S. citizen, to Southern California but did not arrest her because no charges are pending against her.)
U.S. authorities have said they believe that Guzman is probably hiding out in the remote mountainous region of western Mexico, where he started his drug empire.
The president's office declined to elaborate on Calderon's comments. No response came from relevant agencies in the U.S. government.
But the almost casual declaration from Mexico's president that Guzman was assumed to be in the United States sparked an outburst of political chatter and confounded even longtime Mexico watchers.
"He's defensive, and what does he have to show for six years?" said George W. Grayson, a U.S. analyst.
Since taking office in 2006, Calderon has deployed troops in a bloody war against drug traffickers that has claimed tens of thousands of lives but, according to a recent U.S. government report, made no significant dent in the multibillion-dollar narcotics market in the United States.
His predecessor, fellow conservative Vicente Fox, has called for legalizing drugs and made headlines this week by repeating suggestions that Mexico's leaders negotiate a cease-fire with the cartels.
Guzman, meanwhile, remains at large.