MEXICO CITY – Italy-based ‘Ndrangheta, one of the world’s most powerful criminal organizations and allegedly the biggest cocaine distributor in the United States, must get the green light from Mexican drug kingpin Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia before buying narcotics in South America.
Such is the level of influence and power exercised by the El Mayo in the global drug-trafficking industry, Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez reveals in her latest book, “El Traidor: El diario secreto del hijo del Mayo” (Traitor: The Secret Diary of Mayo’s Son).”
“El Mayo is a stabilizing factor for the global drug market. He’s the one who guarantees a price, defines part of the market, the quality or lack thereof of the merchandise and even the distribution channels,” she said in an interview with EFE.
Hernandez relied on thousands of documents, including the diary of former drug trafficker Vicente Zambada Niebla - El Mayo’s son, who was arrested in 2009 and sentenced in the US last year to 15 years in prison - to provide a look inside the notorious Sinaloa cartel that Zambada Garcia leads.
Her book also explores the violence that drug gangs resort to, the myriad of ways narcotics are smuggled internationally and the complicity of Mexican politicians, business leaders and authorities in the drug business in recent decades.
But the focus of Hernandez’s 240-page book is El Mayo, whom the journalist terms the godfather of drug trafficking in Mexico and the world for the past 50 years.
As she asserts in “El Traidor,” the power wielded by that 72-year-old kingpin has made the Sinaloa cartel an institution that, in practical terms, is now too big to fail.
“When you see the scope of how the business now functions, we know there will always be another (Joaquin) Chapo (Guzman), but there will never be another Mayo,” the journalist said.
Over the course of 50 years, Zambada Garcia “has calmly been there, because he’s become a factor that brings balance, stability” to the narcotics market from Mexico to the US and also a part of the global market.
In that regard, Hernandez said that ‘Ndrangheta and other criminal organizations “need Zambada’s blessing” to operate in South America and that the Mexican drug lord determines who is reliable and who isn’t and who must be killed.
“That’s his level of criminal influence,” she added.
People on the outside may think El Mayo and the Sinaloa cartel are virtually one and the same, but “there are a ton of players who come and go, business leaders who say, ‘I have an economic crisis. I’ll go and carry or transport however many tons with the merchandise (meat, fruit, fabrics) I export and they’ll pay me these profits.’”
“They later go away and maybe never do it again.”
Likewise, politicians obtain money for their campaigns by “offering Petroleos Mexicanos’ (the Mexican state oil company’s) ships to transport drugs,” Hernandez said, adding that “with two tons that they smuggle, millions are made ... and they have funds for their political campaigns.”
The cartel “is a black hole where everything can exist but we can’t see it. All the material is inside,” the journalist said.
That is why efforts to combat that drug-trafficking organization, whose tentacles extend across 70 percent of the globe, are beyond the capacity of Mexico’s government.
“Corruption, impunity and the fact the Mexican government sells itself to the cartel exacerbate all these circumstances. And so the solution to combating it not only is in the hands of the Mexican government; instead it’s a decision and an all-out fight by everyone,” Hernandez said.
“But does the world want to embark on that struggle? I don’t think so,” she added.
Referring to El Mayo’s partners, the journalist said they might change every month, every six months or every year.
“That’s why it doesn’t matter if they arrest them. When they arrested Chapo, that didn’t affect the cartel in the slightest because it didn’t depend on Chapo,” Hernandez said.
(Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman was widely regarded as the world’s most powerful drug lord when he was definitely captured in 2016 in Mexico; he was subsequently extradited to the US, where he is serving a life sentence for his role in leading the Sinaloa cartel.)
“He was an important buyer, but he wasn’t the balancing factor, and when Chapo became inconvenient for everyone, including El Mayo, he didn’t kill him, but he was partly responsible for his arrest,” Hernandez said.
Her book, whose cover features Zambada Niebla’s disturbing self-portrait as a clown, was nearly a decade in the making.
In January 2011, one of the attorneys for El Mayo’s son - Fernando Gaxiola, who later died of cancer - contacted Hernandez to share documents and stories with her that expanded upon and clarified some of the episodes she had explored in her 2010 book “Los señores del narco” (Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers).
The journalist said Zambada Niebla had reconstructed his diary - which delved into his own life story and the history of the Sinaloa drug cartel - as part of a plea deal with the US government that included testifying in El Chapo’s trial last year.