MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican security forces had a son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán outside a house on his knees against a wall before they were forced to back off and let him go as his cartel’s gunmen shot up the western city of Culiacan.
Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval on Wednesday showed video and presented a timeline of the failed operation to arrest Ovidio Guzmán López on Oct. 17 — an incident that embarrassed the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The video shot by soldiers shows Guzmán exit the house with his hands up. Soldiers order him to call off the attacks around the city as gunfire is heard in the background.
Guzmán called his brother Archivaldo Iván Guzmán Salazar on his cellphone and told him to stop the chaos.
Archivaldo refused and shouted threats against the soldiers and their families. The attacks continued and eight minutes later the first wounded soldiers were reported.
Archivaldo Guzmán surely knew at that point that the cartel had the upper hand.
Thirteen people were killed in gunbattles around the city. Officials in Mexico City ultimately ordered security forces to withdraw four hours after the operation began to avoid more bloodshed.
Mexico’s Public Safety Secretary Alfonso Durazo said that the aborted operation to arrest Guzmán was a “hasty action” that deserves criticism — but the details revealed Wednesday showed that the arrest had been in the works for more than a week.
The government’s timeline of events showed that the U.S. government requested Guzmán’s arrest for extradition on Sept. 13, and on Oct. 9 a special Mexican army anti-drug unit travelled from Mexico City to Culiacan to prepare.
If Mexican authorities felt rushed in moving on Guzmán, who was pressuring them? The presentation included no mention of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Critics have argued that the government should have anticipated the overwhelming response by the Sinaloa cartel and sent in a larger force, and that by withdrawing they gave cartels a roadmap on how to avoid capture.
Durazo described the action as a “tactical stumble,” but said it doesn’t invalidate the security strategy, which has moved away from the “war on drugs” to focus more on the root causes of violence.
Security analyst Alejandro Hope said it was ludicrous for Durazo to argue that the government has left behind the drug war. “I can’t think of anything more ‘drug war’ than an operation against a son of Chapo Guzmán in Culiacan,” he said.
Authorities were still in the process of obtaining a search warrant when the operation began Oct. 17 outside a large home where Guzmán had been located. As they moved on the house, gunmen began attacking those involved in the operation.
Sandoval said that once lawmen came under attack, the search warrant was no longer needed.
What seemed clear was that once the operation started, government forces were quickly outmaneuvered by the Sinaloa cartel.
Military planners had four additional teams forming an outer security ring for the operation, but the cartel’s gunmen cut off the routes for three of them preventing additional support from arriving.
Meanwhile, the cartel sent convoys of gunmen to several military installations around the city to attack soldiers and their families. At one military housing block, a sergeant ushered children who were playing outside to safety, but he was taken hostage.
In all, two officers and nine soldiers were taken hostage by the cartel, according to Sandoval. The bulk of them were providing security for two fuel tanker convoys at a toll plaza on the outskirts of the city. Sandoval said soldiers estimated that 150 gunmen in 30 vehicles arrived.
Once Guzmán was released, all the military personnel were let go as well and the team that had captured Guzmán left.
It was unclear was who was negotiating with cartel during the confrontation.
Sandoval said that the leader of the team with Guzmán was offered $3 million to let him go, but refused and was then told the cartel would kill him and his family.
The timeline also showed the president boarding a flight to the southern state of Oaxaca minutes before the operation was officially cancelled.
Hope said the presentation seemed aimed at steering responsibility away from López Obrador.
“What did the president know and when did he know it?” Hope said.
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