The massive pre-dawn raid by Mexican security forces that led to narco drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán’s son’s capture has now ignited a bloodbath that has already left 29 people dead in violent clashes around the city of Culiacán, officials said Friday.
Ovidio Guzmán-López (cartel moniker “El Raton,” or “the Mouse”) is notorious in the Sinaloa region, where U.S. officials say he and his brother, Joaquín Guzmán-López, took over their father’s international narco-trafficking operation. He was taken into custody by hundreds of heavily-armed security forces on Thursday.
As the 32-year-old was bundled into a helicopter for transport to Altiplano maximum security prison in Mexico City, Sinaloa cartel hitmen quickly turned the area into a war zone as they attacked security forces. Men with the criminal enterprise were seen setting up roadblocks with burning cars, exchanging gunfire from powerful weapons on the ground and in the air in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the narco heir.
At least 19 suspected gang narcos and 10 military personnel died during the violent clashes, while another 21 people were wounded, Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval told reporters. No civilian deaths or injuries have been reported.
“The aggressors used 50-caliber machine guns, so it was necessary to give fire-cover from airplanes,” Sandoval explained. Airport traffic at Culiacán International Airport was suspended after a commercial flight came under fire.
Ovidio’s father escaped from Altiplano prison through a tunnel in July 2015 and remained free until he was tracked down by authorities six months later. “El Chapo” was extradited to the U.S. to face trial in a heavily-secured Brooklyn federal courtroom, where he was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years after his 2019 conviction on 26 drug-related violations and one murder conspiracy. He is being held at the ADX Supermax in Colorado alongside other notorious killers, including Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and FBI double-agent Robert Hanssen, who spied for the Russians.
The Guzmán-López brothers have been wanted in the U.S. since 2018, when a grand jury in the District of Columbia indicted the siblings on one charge of conspiracy to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, 500 grams of methamphetamine, and 1,000 kilograms of marijuana in the U.S. The State Department later offered a $5 million reward for information that led to arrests in the leadership of the Guzmán-López empire.
“Ovidio and his brother, Joaquín Guzmán-López, function in high-level command and control roles of their own drug trafficking organization, the Guzmán-López Transnational Criminal Organization, under the umbrella of the Sinaloa Cartel,” the State Department said. A third brother is also suspected of being part of the organization. The brothers took control of their father’s empire after the murder of the eldest brother, Edgar Guzmán-López, who was executed by assassins in a 2008 ambush.
The savagery that their father had become notorious for was passed onto Ovidio, according to U.S. officials. “Ovidio Guzmán-López has ordered the murders of informants, a drug trafficker, and a popular Mexican singer who had refused to sing at his wedding,” the State Department said.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came under fire in 2019—the first time Ovidio was arrested on a slew of charges connected to his grip on the Sinaloa region’s drug trafficking and its unfettered violence—when he ordered security forces to release El Chapo’s son. At the time, he told reporters this was to protect civilians.
“The situation became very difficult and many citizens, many people, many human beings, were at risk. And, it was decided to protect people’s lives. I agreed with that because it’s not about massacres — that is over,” Obrador said at a press conference at the time.
On Friday, Obrador celebrated the second arrest of the drug kingpin as a victory that came days before U.S. President Joe Biden is slated to visit Mexico City. Biden arrives there next week for the North American Leaders Summit.
The arrest also comes just days before the trial of a longtime Mexican law enforcement official, Genaro García Luna, the former Secretary of Public Security in Mexico from 2006 to 2012, is scheduled to begin on corruption charges connected to what federal prosecutors say was his role in facilitating the Guzmán clan’s Sinaloa cartel narco trade and laundering up to $50 million of its proceeds in a byzantine scheme. Jury selection is slated to begin on January 9 in Brooklyn federal court.
García Luna was a one-time ally to the U.S. and its DEA in the so-called war on drugs until his arrest in Texas in 2019. But during his time as a public official, according to a federal indictment, he was secretly working for El Chapo and his associates.
“While at times there were rifts and infighting among the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, they generally coordinated their criminal activities, shared and controlled Mexico’s trafficking routes, resolved conflicts over territory, minimized inter-organization violence and ensured that the Sinaloa Cartel received the protection of corrupt public officials,” prosecutors said. The former Secretary of Public Security was one of the “high-level officials in the Mexican government who protected the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for millions of dollars of bribe payments.”
After his arrest, García Luna’s lawyers submitted letters that supported his request for a U.S. visa written by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
A judge in Mexico City denied a U.S. State Department request to extradite Ovidio, citing the charges he is facing in Mexico.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.