Mexico captures son of ‘El Chapo,’ sparking wave of violence

MEXICO CITY, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Mexican security forces on Thursday arrested drug cartel leader Ovidio Guzman, son of kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in prison ahead of a visit by US President Joe Biden next week.

Three years after a failed operation to detain Ovidio that ended in humiliation for the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the arrest sparked a wave of violence that forced authorities to close airports and schools in the city of Culiacan.

Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval told a news conference that security forces arrested the 32-year-old senior member of the Sinaloa Cartel. Ovidio, a fugitive from the previous arrest attempt, was now being held in the capital in Mexico City, Sandoval said.

Videos shared on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, appeared to show heavy fighting overnight in Culiacan, the capital of the northern state of Sinaloa, with the sky lit by gunfire from helicopters.

The Shinaloa state government said three members of the security forces were killed in the clashes.

The city’s airport was engulfed in violence, and Mexican airline Aeromexico ( AEROMEX.MX ) said one of its planes had been hit by gunfire before a scheduled flight to Mexico City. No one was hurt, he said.

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A Mexican air force plane was also shot down, Mexico’s federal aviation agency said, adding that the airport in Culiacan, as well as the Sinaloa cities of Mazatlan and Los Mochis, would remain closed until security could be ensured.

Ovidio, who has been a key figure in the cartel since his father’s arrest, was briefly detained in 2019 but quickly released to end violent reprisals in Culiacan from his cartel. The incident was an embarrassment to Lopez Obrador’s government.

His latest arrest comes ahead of a summit of North American leaders in Mexico City next week, which will be attended by US President Joe Biden and security issues will be on the agenda.

The United States has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Ovidio’s arrest or conviction.

It is not yet clear whether Ovidio will be extradited to the United States like his father, who is serving a life sentence at Colorado’s Supermax, the most secure federal prison in the United States.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard said any extradition would have to follow a formal process and would not be immediate.

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A rise in overdose deaths in the United States, fueled by the synthetic opioid fentanyl, has increased pressure on Mexico to crack down on the organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel, responsible for producing and shipping the drug.

The cartel is one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world.

Guzman’s capture helps save lives for law enforcement in Mexico after El Chapo’s son escaped in 2019, said Tomas Guevara, a security expert at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa.

“The detention of Ovidio is the culmination of something that was planned three years ago,” he said.

It could also herald a change in the government’s approach, Guevara said, following criticism from many security experts that Lopez Obrador was soft on the cartels, a charge he denies.

The president insists his predecessors’ confrontational tactics have failed and have only created more bloodshed, saying he would instead pursue a “hugs not bullets” strategy.


On Thursday morning, security forces were trying to contain a violent reaction to the arrest of Guzman’s associates in the Culiacan area.

Burnt vehicles littered the streets and heavily armed law enforcement patrolled in pick-up trucks.

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“We continue to work to control the situation,” said Cristobal Castaneda, Sinaloa’s chief of public security.

The local government urged people to stay indoors and said schools and administrative offices were closed due to the violence. Street barriers were also erected.

Joaquin Guzman, 65, was convicted in New York in 2019 of trafficking billions of dollars in drugs to the United States and of conspiring to murder enemies.

Eduardo Guerrero, director of Lantia Consulting which analyzes Mexican organized crime, said a recent push by the Biden administration to target Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel likely spurred going after Guzman.

But he warned that while Ovidio’s arrest would likely weaken that cartel, it could help their main rival, the violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

“It is very important that the government remembers that the weakening of the Sinaloa Cartel could lead to even greater expansion, and a greater presence of the Jalisco Cartel.”

Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Dave Graham and Diego Ore, additional reporting by Tomas Bravo, Kylie Madry and Jackie Botts, Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer Editing by Alistair Bell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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