MS Risk Blog

Mexican Cartel Launches Bold Attack to Free El Chapo’s Son

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On Thursday, heavy fighting broke out in northern Mexico after security forces attempted to seize one of the sons of jailed drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Fighting lasted for several hours after Ovidio Guzmán López was found during a routine patrol in the city of Culiacán, some 1,235 km (770 miles) northwest of Mexico City.  After entering the house, they found four men, including Guzmán, who is accused of drug trafficking in the United States.  Footage depicted heavily-armed men firing on police, with cars, bodies and burning barricades strewn in the road.  According to the country’s Security Minister Alfonso Durazo, a patrol of National Guard militarized police came under intense fire from outside the home where they had located Guzmán, adding that police were forced to retreat from the building without Guzmán in custody for their own safety and “to recover calm in the city.”  A lawyer for the Guzmán family has confirmed that “Ovidio is alive and free.”  The chaos continued as night fell.  A large group of inmates escaped from the city prison while residents cowered in shopping centres and supermarkets as gunfire continued to be heard across the city.  A state police spokesman confirmed that several prisoners escaped from a prison during the chaos, with video footage depicting a group of at least twenty prisoners running in the streets.  It was not immediately clear how many had escaped.  Cristobal Castaneda, head of security in Sinaloa, told the Televisa network that two people had been killed and a further 21 were injured, according to preliminary information, adding that police had come under attack when they approached roadblocks manned by gunmen.  Officials have advised residents not to leave their homes.

Meanwhile Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has disclosed that he would hold a meeting of his security cabinet in order to discuss the incident.

Under El Chapo’s leadership, the Sinaloa cartel was the biggest supplier to the US, according to officials, and with El Chapo currently in prison, the cartel is said to be partially controlled by Guzmán, who has been accused of drug trafficking in the US. He is believed to be in his twenties. El Chapo, who ran the cartel for decades and escaped from prison twice before being arrested and extradited to the US, was found guilty in a US court in February of smuggling tons of drugs and sentenced to life in prison.  He is believed to have twelve children, including Ovidio.  In February, the US Department of Justice unveiled an indictment against Ovidio and another of the brothers, charging them with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana in the US.  The indictment gave Ovidio’s age as 28 and stated that he had been involved in trafficking conspiracies since he was a teenager.

Thursday’s chaos in Culiacan, which has long been a stronghold for the Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel, will likely increase pressure on President Obrador, who took office in December 2018 on a promise to pacify the country, which is weary after more than a decade of drug-war fighting.  The release of Guzmán however is likely to send the wrong message as it indicates that the state, including the army, could potentially be blackmailed and that overall, officials are not in control.  Reports have indicated that presumed cartel members apparently intercepted a radio frequency used by security forces warning of reprisals against soldiers if Guzmán was not freed.  Overall security in Mexico has declined this year, and officials are already reporting that murder rates for 2019 are set to be at a record high. Furthermore, Thursday’s incident follows the massacre of more than a dozen police in western Mexico earlier this week and the killing of fourteen suspected gangsters by the army a day later.