The Mexican city of Culiacan resembled a war zone on Thursday afternoon and evening as security forces battled members of the Sinaloa drug cartel after police and the military attempted to arrest one of the sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Mexican security secretary Alfonso Durazo said 30 members of the National Guard and army were patrolling in Culiacan when they were fired on from a house. They repelled the attack and inside the house found Ovidio Guzmán López.
The house was then surrounded by heavily armed gunmen who had “a greater force” and authorities decided to suspend the operation, Durazo said. He did not say if Ovidio Guzmán was arrested or went free.
Authorities are now saying that Guzman was either released or escaped custody, but the bottom line is Ovidio Guzman is not in custody at the moment. Meanwhile, the city is still reeling from the violence that erupted yesterday afternoon.
Following Thursday’s localization of Ovidio Guzmán, Culiacan exploded in violence with armed civilians in trucks roaring through the city’s center shooting what appeared to be .50-caliber sniper rifles and machine guns.
Videos published on social media showed a scene resembling a war zone, with gunmen, some wearing black ski masks over their faces, riding in the back of trucks firing mounted machine guns as vehicles burned. People could be seen running for cover as machinegun fire rattled around them. Drivers drove in reverse frantically to get away from the clashes.
“Nothing is working,” said Ricardo González, a worker in the state’s congress who shut himself up in his house after picking up his 15-year-old son from school. “There is a psychosis. No one knows what is going on but everyone is afraid and they have told us to not come in to work tomorrow.”
Sinaloa public safety director Cristóbal Castañeda told Milenio television that there were people wounded but did not provide a casualty figure. He did not rule out that there were deaths.
Despite the media reports, these weren’t “armed civilians” driving around with mounted machine guns. These were cartel members, and they didn’t buy their machine guns from a Texas gun store or Mexico’s lone gun store, located on an army base in Mexico City. The Sinaloa cartel is a multi-billion dollar, multi-national criminal organization, and can easily acquire military hardware from corrupt military and the illicit market in Mexico and several Central American countries. Based on the outcome of yesterday’s battle in Culiacan, they may even be a more effective fighting force than the soldiers and police who engaged cartel members.
Castañeda said gunmen blocked streets with burning vehicles, a common tactic to make it difficult for security forces to maneuver. Simultaneously, some 20 to 30 prisoners escaped though some were quickly recaptured, he said.
State officials asked residents to avoid going out in parts of city.
Sinaloa’s soccer club Dorados announced that it had cancelled its game Thursday due to security concerns.
Gov. Quirino Ordaz confirmed that school classes had been suspended but that businesses would open on Friday.
González, however, doubted this.
“There is no public transportation, no taxis, people outside the city remain blocked outside and tomorrow will be the same,” he said, adding that Culiacan had not seen such a scene for almost a decade, when the Sinaloa Cartel was experiencing an internal war.
We’ll see what today brings for the residents of Culiacan, but one thing is for certain: the Mexican government will still have guns, as will the cartel members, but the average citizen is still going to be unarmed and defenseless in the city under seige.