MEXICO CITY – Mexico decried Forbes magazine's decision to name the country's most-wanted drug lord to its "World's Most Powerful People," calling it an insult to the government's bloody struggle against drug cartels.
In comments to The Associated Press, a spokesman for the Interior Department — which oversees domestic security — described the listing of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman as No. 41 of the 67 most powerful people as "a justification of crime."
"(This) is a mockery of the struggle the government is waging against organized crime," Luis Estrada said. "This not only goes against the efforts of the Mexican government, but the international fight to eliminate mafias and organized crime."
Nearly 14,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels in late 2006.
Some residents in the border city of Ciudad Juarez — which has suffered the highest rate of drug violence, with about 2,000 killings this year — also expressed outrage.
"I think this is bad, because the news media are putting a drug trafficker above people who have legitimate businesses," said Josefina Ramirez, a Ciudad Juarez accountant.
Guzman is even considered more powerful than Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — No. 67 — and France's Nicolas Sarkozy — No. 56 — according to Forbes magazine's list of the 67 "World's Most Powerful People." Guzman was just below Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Another Mexican — telecom magnate Carlos Slim Helu, who Forbes listed as the world's third-richest man — was named No. 6 on the most-powerful list, just five steps behind No. 1, President Barack Obama.
Guzman's vast drug-trafficking empire is worth an estimated $1 billion, according to Forbes. Yet unlike other, flashier smugglers, few details are known about the Sinaloa cartel boss and the actual power he wields inside his gang.
He escaped prison by hiding in a laundry truck nearly a decade ago, and his legend and fortune seem to grow with each passing day he eludes capture.
The Sinaloa cartel violently seized lucrative drug routes from rivals and built sophisticated tunnels under the U.S. border to move its loads. Mexican officials blame Guzman's cartel for much of the country's staggering bloodshed.
"Of course he's influential, rich and powerful, but he has cost so many lives, so many youths," said Gabriela Lopez, a 25-year-old businesswoman in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa. "I wish they would make a list pointing out that as well."
Forbes said Guzman's ranking was intended to spark conversation, and asked readers: "Do despicable criminals like billionaire Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman (No. 41) belong on this list at all?"
Last March, Mexican officials also criticized Forbes' decision to include Guzman on its list of the world's billionaires.
Without explicitly naming the publication, Calderon said at the time that "magazines are not only attacking and lying about the situation in Mexico but are also praising criminals."