The Mexican government struggled to defend its decision to release the son of Sinaloa cartel leader El Chapo after heavily-armed narcos broke dozens of reinforcements out of prison and turned Culiacan into a bloody war zone.
Previous governments’ strategy “turned this country into a cemetery, and we don’t want that anymore,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters on Friday, defending his decision to release Ovidio Guzman, one of the sons of notorious incarcerated drug lord El Chapo.
Capturing a criminal can’t be worth more than people’s lives… We don’t want dead people, we don’t want war.
War is what authorities got after national guard and army troops raided a house where Guzman and three associates were staying.
At least eight people were killed and 21 wounded as hundreds of heavily-armed cartel gunmen took the city hostage, blocking off roads with burning vehicles, occupying toll booths, and surrounding the house where some 35 military and police forces had cornered Guzman.
Some 56 prisoners at nearby Aguaruto prison escaped during the chaos, taking guards hostage, seizing their weapons, and commandeering vehicles at gunpoint as they rushed out into the streets. By Friday, 49 were still on the loose.
Numerous videos taken by shocked locals show heavily-armed men riding around in vehicles, some with mounted machine guns, terrorizing the city as civilians dived for shelter. Gun battles raged for hours between the cartel and the government.
Cartel gunmen sent several threatening videos to military commanders in the area, one showing army troops being held hostage and another showing a uniformed soldier executed with a shot to the head – though it was unclear if the latter was filmed on Thursday as the violence engulfed the city.
Heavily outnumbered, and with nine of their own men reportedly taken hostage by cartel forces, Security Minister Alfonso Durazo made the decision to retreat and release Guzman. Blaming a group of police eager to nab Guzman without consideration for the cartel’s reaction, Durazo called the arrest attempt a “failure,” pointing out that they didn’t even wait for a search warrant before rushing into the house.
A lawyer for the Guzman family said they would cover medical expenses for the wounded – and funeral expenses for the dead. “The family apologizes to the people of Sinaloa, and particularly to the people of Culiacan,” José Luis González Meza told a news conference on Friday.
“The message of the family, and of the mother of ‘El Chapo’, María Consuelo, and (the mother) of Ovidio, Griselda López, is of thanks to the President of the Republic, López Obrador… We have a human, Christian president, who finally did not make the decision to harm Ovidio.” Another family lawyer, Juan Pablo Badillo, praised “a manly order, an intelligent order, a sensible order” given by the president to release Guzman.
The city was still largely shut down on Friday, with schools closed, most public transportation offline, and businesses asking employees to stay home. The battle was the second clash between police and the cartels this week – the Jalisco New Generation cartel, a rival of the Sinaloa, ambushed and killed 13 police officers on Tuesday.
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