assessments

An Eruption of Violence Forces Mexican Security Forces to Release El Chapo's Son

3 MINS READOct 18, 2019 | 15:08 GMT
Bullet-ridden and wrecked vehicles in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan, Mexico, on Oct. 17, 2019.

Bullet-ridden and wrecked vehicles in the Sinaloa-state capital of Culiacan, Mexico, on Oct. 17, 2019.

(RASHIDE FRIAS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Mexican forces captured Ovidio Guzman Lopez, a son of Sinaloa cartel founder Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan on Oct. 17. After the arrest, cartel gunmen went on the offensive throughout the city, blocking roads with burning trucks and attacking security forces with heavy weapons, including M2 machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Large portions of the city were engulfed in the violence. The gunmen also stormed a military housing complex and kidnapped a number of soldiers as well as a group of wives and children of soldiers. This forced the government to conduct a prisoner swap, and they released Guzman Lopez in exchange for the soldiers and their families. 

This incident demonstrated the military might of the Sinaloa cartel in its core area of operations. It was able to rapidly mobilize hundreds of heavily armed gunmen, who poured into Culiacan from the surrounding hills in a wide variety of vehicles. Among them were large farm trucks with heavy machine guns mounted in their beds and clones of military and Telmex company trucks. These cloned vehicles may provide some clues on one way the cartel moves drugs, personnel and weapons around Sinaloa.

The government reported that Guzman Lopez was captured by accident.

The government reported that Guzman Lopez was captured by accident. It said a National Guard patrol was fired at from a house in Culiacan's Three Rivers section, and when the soldiers stormed the house, they captured four people, including Guzman Lopez. This account rings true because of the unpreparedness of the authorities for the blowback from the operation. Also, in past cases in which high-value cartel leaders were captured, they were quickly whisked out of the area, rather than detained for hours near the place of capture where there would be the threat of a rescue operation. 

This case also illustrates how the government's approach to battling the cartels hasn't changed, despite the campaign promises of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Mexican cartels are more than just street gangs; they are well organized and heavily armed. And, as seen in this incident, they can challenge the government's ability to govern. They are a criminal insurgency, and if the government wants to truly mitigate the threat they pose, it needs to adopt a more holistic counterinsurgency approach rather than rely solely on military force.

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