From Car Washer to Drug Kingpin: Origins of "El Mayo" Zambada

Discreet and violent, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada has managed to elude justice while other Sinaloa Cartel leaders like "Chapo" Guzman have fallen into the hands of the law.

From Car Washer to Drug Kingpin: Origins of "El Mayo" Zambada
Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. Image: Public domain

The declarations of former US Ambassador Roberta Jacobson on the case of former Public Security Secretary Genaro García Luna and former President Felipe Calderón, and their ties to organized crime, have put Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and the corrupting power of the Sinaloa Cartel back on the public agenda.

"The government of Felipe Calderón had in its possession information about Genaro García Luna's ties to drug trafficking when he was head of the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP)," reported the weekly Proceso, according to Jacobson's testimony.

In her most recent book, 'El Traidor' ('The Traitor'), which she presented last year, journalist Anabel Hernandez unveils passages of the Mexican drug trafficker. The book publishes an investigation that the journalist began in 2011, when Fernando Gaxiola, a lawyer for Vicente Zambada Niebla, alias "El Vicentillo", contacted her on his client's orders to provide documents and information that would shed light on things she had already published in her book, "Los Señores del Narco" (The Lords of the Narco).

Among the documents to which she had access were the diaries kept by Vicentillo during the negotiations to collaborate with the U.S. government, which until now were secret. "Everything went through 'El Mayo,' not 'El Chapo' Guzman.... He decided who lived and who died," he proves his research and his assertion already made in his previous publication: "Los Señores del Narco" (The Lords of the Narco).

But who was the character that helped Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada in his beginnings and introduced him to the world of narcotics? That is also one of the myths and episodes that Anabel Hernández unveils. "Who introduced him to the world of drugs is a Cuban man, Antonio Cruz," she said in an interview with Infobae Mexico, as part of the presentation of her book 'El Traidor' (The Traitor).

Hernandez points out that this story was not known. She was able to learn it firsthand thanks to Vicentillo's diary and later with the research she did to verify what she read in the document. The story goes back to the 1970s, when her brother-in-law, Antonio Cruz, was an important drug trafficker in Los Angeles, dealing in Las Vegas and other U.S. cities. However, he was arrested in 1977 and it was then, for the first time, that the Zambada family name appeared in criminal records in the United States.

"Then he moved to Tijuana and stayed for a long time traveling between Tijuana and Los Angeles. Then he would be associated with the Arellano Felix brothers. They begin to have a war, they turn their backs on him, tell him you are no longer the boss and make an attempt on his son's life in 1991. That's when 'El Mayo' decided to move his empire to Culiacán".

Hernandez affirms that the real boss of Mexican drug bosses is Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. He is the only one who has been in drug trafficking for decades without being arrested or killed; but also, because it is evident (in the personal diary of "Vicentillo" to which the journalist had access), the hierarchy he had over "El Chapo" or even Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias "El Señor de los Cielos" (Lord of the Skies).