Mexican security forces on Thursday stormed Culiacán to capture Ovidio Guzmán López, son of notorious drug lord “El Chapo” (Joaquín Guzmán).
Ovidio was captured during an hours-long shootout that caused panic throughout the city, with cartel members engaging in more than 70 separate fights with law enforcement.
Members of the Sinaloa cartel attacked army barracks, government buildings, and gas stations, set fire to vehicles, and conducted a jailbreak that freed 55 inmates.
“The criminal organization’s ability to call on its members and power of response was underestimated,” noted Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval.
As the fight dragged on, authorities decided to release Ovidio to prevent further harm – prompting critics to accuse the government and police of being influenced by cartels.
“The capture of a criminal cannot be worth more than the lives of the people,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in response to the criticism. “Many citizens, people, human beings were at risk.”
The battle, which resulted in seven deaths, was the third major fight of the week. At least 13 police officers were killed Monday during a clash with the Jalisco cartel and 15 people died Tuesday during a shootout in Guerrero.
Thursday’s operation was launched after a judge’s order demanded Ovidio be extradited to the United States, where he and one of his brothers face charges of conspiracy to distribute illicit drugs. Ovidio and his brothers are believed to have taken on key roles in the cartel following their father’s extradition to the US in 2017. El Chapo was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year.
In the meantime, homicides in Mexico are on pace to reach a record high of 37,000 for 2019. To compare: the United States has roughly 15,000 homicides each year with a population three times that of Mexico.
“[President] López Obrador was confident his call for peace and love – and not going after narcos – would lower violence,” says analyst Raúl Benitez, referring to a policy that focuses on reducing poverty rather than attacking cartels. “It shows the peace-and-love strategy is not working.”
Even worse, releasing Ovidio sends a clear message to other cartels that officials will surrender in the face of widespread violence.
Editor’s note: This shows the degree to which Mexico has become a narco trafficker empire.