THE CITY OF MEXICO — Authorities in northern Mexico reported on Friday that the city of Culiacan had descended into chaos as a result of the operation to capture Ovidio Guzman, the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval gave a detailed account of the battles that resulted in the deaths of 10 servicemen and 19 suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel. He said that cartel gunmen opened fire on troops with.50-caliber machine guns.
On Thursday, the army responded by dispatching Blackhawk helicopter gunships to attack a convoy of 25 vehicles belonging to the cartel, including truck-mounted cartel gun platforms. One Culiacan cop was killed and 17 others were injured in the running gun battles, while 35 members of the military were also injured.
The cartel then began firing on the military planes, shooting down two of them with “a significant number of impacts” in each, as stated by Sandoval. Gang members then dispatched waves of gunmen to shoot down military and civilian planes at the city’s international airport.
Just one civilian plane was destroyed. In an additional effort to stop the captured cartel boss from being flown out of the city, the gunmen opened fire on airport buildings. On the other hand, according to Sandoval, Ovidio Guzman was loaded into a military helicopter and taken to Mexico City because authorities expected resistance.
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A former head of Mexico’s special prosecutor’s office for organized crime, Samuel González, called Guzmán’s capture a “gift” in advance of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. A peaceful visit is something the Mexican government is working toward, he said.
Juan Carlos Ayala, a professor at Sinaloa University who specializes in the sociology of drug trafficking and a native of Culiacan, has stated for years that Ovidio Guzmán was a prime target.
The outcome of Ovidio’s life was already determined. To top it all off, he was named the most prominent Chapos leader and the largest fentanyl trafficker.
Friday was quieter, according to Ayala, “but there are still a lot of burned-out vehicles blocking the streets.”
Governor Ruben Rocha of Sinaloa claimed that cartel gunmen showed up at local hospitals on Thursday, attempting to abduct doctors so that they could treat wounded fighters. Gunmen who show up at hospitals will be treated, according to Rocha, so they shouldn’t try to kidnap doctors or nurses.
Rocha remembered that at one point the doctors were saying “we’re getting out of here,” but that police had increased security and convinced them to stay.
Culiacan locals took to social media on Thursday to share footage of armed men in pickup trucks and SUVs driving down the city’s boulevards. An armored flatbed truck was part of the convoy.
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Perhaps it’s the money the gang brings to the area, but more likely it’s the knowledge that the cartel will remain long after federal troops leave. The cartel may be a bad thing, but it has brought about peace or at least stability.
United States federal prosecutors filed drug trafficking charges against Ovidio Guzmán in 2018. His brothers, including longtime cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, were responsible for continuing their father’s business, and both governments claimed he had taken on a more prominent role in this.
In 2019, federal forces attempted to apprehend Guzmán, and the cartel responded with a violent assault on Culiacán. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador eventually released Guzmán.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard confirmed this week that the United States had requested the extradition of Guzmán in 2019. This request, he said, would need to be revised and processed, but Guzmán must first deal with an outstanding legal matter in Mexico.
Ismael Bojorquez, the head of the Riodoce news outlet, which focuses on drug trafficking in the region, claimed that the president of Mexico’s softer stance toward organized crime was to blame for the recent violence.
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A previous 2019 capture of Guzman by federal police resulted in his immediate release out of concern that his detention would spark further violence. Even though then-President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador backed the decision, it was still widely seen as a humiliating setback in Mexico’s war on drug cartels.
On Thursday, a firefight broke out between members of the Sinaloa cartel and Mexican security services across the city of Culiacan. Culiacan locals were warned to stay inside as police barricaded major thoroughfares.
Later on Thursday, the government of Sinaloa state reported that three security personnel had been killed during the day’s fighting.
Obrador stated that a federal police operation had been ongoing within the state, but he was unable to provide any additional information at this time.
Videos uploaded to social media showed widespread chaos at the Culiacan airport, in and around buildings, and on the streets. The Culiacan airport later announced on Twitter that it would be shut down until at least 10 p.m. (0400 GMT). Shots were fired at a passenger plane, but according to the airline, no one was hurt.
It is believed that Guzman, now 32 years old, began working with his father’s drug trafficking operation while still a young man. Since El Chapo’s 2016 arrest, authorities believe he has taken a more active role.
El Chapo, who was once the most powerful drug trafficker in the world, was extradited to the United States and is now serving a life sentence for crimes committed while leading the Sinaloa cartel.
The US government had previously offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Ovidio’s capture or conviction.
After his predecessors’ drug war tactics failed to significantly reduce trafficking, Obrador took office in 2018 vowing to take a new approach to the cartels. In spite of the fact that he is four years into his six-year term, drug-related violence in some Mexican states is still a major problem.
Since the government controversially deployed the army to fight drug cartels in 2006, Mexico has registered more than 340,000 murders, most of which have been attributed to criminal gangs.
Almost twenty people were killed and twenty-five inmates escaped when cartel gunmen stormed a prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez on Sunday.
Seven people were killed the following day in a police operation to recapture the inmates.
Ernesto Alfredo Pinon, better known by his gang name “El Neto,” was among the escapees. His gang was affiliated with the Juarez drug cartel.