Mexico arrests son of notorious drug lord “El Chapo”

Armored vehicles leave the Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations into Organized Crime (FEMDO) in Mexico City January 5, 2023, following the arrest of Ovidio Guzman, the son of jailed drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

CULIACÁN, Mexico (AFP) – Mexican security forces on Thursday captured a son of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and scored a high-profile victory in the fight against powerful cartels, days before U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit.

Ovidio Guzman, nicknamed “El Raton” (The Mouse), was caught in the northwestern city of Culiacan and flown to Mexico City on a military plane, Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval told reporters.

He said the arrest was the result of six months of intelligence work tracking down the 32-year-old, who is said to have helped run his father’s operations since El Chapo was extradited to the United States in 2017.

The United States had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Ovidio Guzman, accusing him of being a key figure in the notorious Sinaloa cartel.

Gunfire and arson rocked Culiacan after the arrest as Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador prepares to welcome Biden to a summit of North American leaders in Mexico City next week, where security is expected to be high on the agenda will stand.

A National Guardsman was killed and at least 28 people were injured in the violence, Sinaloa State Gov. Ruben Rocha said, while school classes were suspended and sporting events canceled in Culiacan.

When Guzman’s henchmen reacted angrily, a passenger plane and an Air Force plane were hit by gunfire at Culiacan Airport. Videos on social media showed passengers and Aeromexico airline staff at the terminal ducking behind counters as gunshots rang out. No injuries were reported there.

Cartel-armed cars and trucks were set on fire at several intersections in the city, and authorities reported 19 roadblocks.

El Chapo is serving a life sentence in the United States for smuggling hundreds of tons of drugs into the United States over the course of 25 years.

But his cartel remains one of the most powerful in Mexico, which Washington has accused of exploiting an opioid epidemic by flooding communities with fentanyl, a synthetic drug about 50 times more potent than heroin.

Ovidio Guzman and one of his brothers are accused of overseeing nearly a dozen methamphetamine labs in Sinaloa and conspiring to distribute cocaine and marijuana, according to the US State Department.

He also allegedly ordered the killing of whistleblowers, a drug dealer and a Mexican singer who refused to perform at his wedding, sources said.

– Previous failed arrest –
Ovidio Guzman was briefly captured before in 2019, but security forces freed him after his cartel waged an all-out war in response.

Several people were killed on that occasion in Culiacan when gunmen launched a massive machine gun attack, leaving the streets littered with burning vehicles.

His release drew sharp criticism from Lopez Obrador, who said the decision was made to protect the lives of civilians in the city of around 800,000.

Security expert David Saucedo said Ovidio Guzman’s arrest was “not a consequence of Biden’s visit, but rather of the pressure Americans have been putting on the government” since the failed arrest in 2019.

Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard downplayed prospects of expedited extradition, saying Ovidio Guzman is likely to face a court case in Mexico.

Since taking office in 2018, Lopez Obrador has struggled to curb the brutal violence ravaging Mexico.

He advocated a “hug not bullets” strategy to get to the root of violent crime by tackling poverty and inequality with social programs rather than the army.

The left-wing populist has urged the United States to invest in regional economic development instead of sending gunships and other weapons against drug traffickers.

Mexico has recorded more than 340,000 killings since the government controversially deployed the army to fight drug cartels in 2006, most of them blamed on criminal gangs.

On Sunday, cartel gunmen attacked a prison in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, killing nearly 20 people and allowing 25 inmates to escape.

The next day, seven people were killed during a police operation to recapture the prisoners.

A gang leader among the refugees was killed in a shootout with security forces on Thursday, authorities said.

© Agence France-Presse