Arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, Sinaloa Cartel kingpin and son of ‘El Chapo,’ turns Culiacán into a war zone

The drug lord’s detention has sparked widespread violence, with shooting and narco-blockades reported across the Mexican state of Sinaloa

Ovidio Guzmán in an image taken after his first arrest in 2019.
Ovidio Guzmán in an image taken after his first arrest in 2019.RR SS

Mexican security forces on Thursday recaptured Ovidio Guzmán, the son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, official sources confirmed to EL PAÍS. The cartel leader was arrested early in the morning in Jesus Maria, a neighborhood in the Mexican city of Culiacán, which is the capital of Sinaloa. Guzmán was detained in October 2019, but released within hours to avoid violent retribution from his drug gang.

Thursday’s arrest has sparked widespread violence in Sinaloa, where road blocks and shooting have been reported across the state, with the attacks concentrated at entry points to the city. Authorities have asked people to avoid going out, while classes and activities have been suspended in several municipalities. Social media has been inundated with videos and photographs of burned-out cars and trucks, in scenes reminiscent of the bloody aftermath of the 2019 arrest.

Guzmán’s arrest comes just days before US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visit Mexico. Biden’s team arrived this week in Mexico City to prepare for the president’s security detail.

The governor of Sinaloa, Rubén Rocha Moya, has called for calm. He confirmed on social media that the Mexican army carried out a special operation against Guzmán on Thursday morning. “This has given rise to some violent events in the capital [Culiacán and other places in the state. It will be the federal authority itself who will report the results of said operation once it concludes,” he shared on Twitter.

A truck set is set on fire following the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán.

In his daily press conference, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that Rosa Icela Rodríguez, the federal secretary for security, will be in charge of reporting on the situation. “We don’t know what events have transpired in Sinaloa. There is an operation that began in the early hours of the morning, and later we will report on it,” said López Obrador.

State Security Secretary Cristóbal Castañeda was one of the first officials to report on the narco-blockades. At around 8am on Thursday, he tweeted that drug traffickers were being blocking vehicles in various parts of the city. “We ask citizens not to go out, we are acting accordingly, we will report more when we can,” he posted. Castañeda added that security had been reinforced at Culiacán prison, but confirmed that no inmates had escaped.

Images of Culiacán shared on social media show deserted streets, cars on fire, charred husks of trucks and armed men on patrol. One video showed a Mexican security forces plane being shot at as it landed at Culiacán airport. Neighboring cities such as Los Mochis and Guasave have also reported road blocks and attacks, despite being up to 140 miles away.

The US Embassy in Mexico issued a security alert about the violence triggered by Guzmán’s arrest. “Sinaloa: Reports of gunfire occurring in multiple locations in the state, including Culiacan, Los Mochis, and Guasave. Monitor local news. The US Consulate reminds US citizens that classifies Sinaloa as level 4 do not travel,” it posted on Twitter.

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