Freeing El Chapo’s son prevented cartel slaughter that would have left 200 people dead, Mexican president says
- Ovidio Guzman Lopez’s arrest last October prompted cartels to lay siege to the streets of Culiacan, leaving military and police outgunned
- Lopez was released, in an embarrassing climbdown for authorities described by one journalist as ‘the capitulation of the state’
He defended the decision, saying it likely saved hundreds of lives.
The scenes of warlike violence stunned Mexicans watching a live broadcast from the besieged city. It ended only after outgunned military and police units retreated and handed Guzman over to his confederates.
At the time, the president voiced support for the retreat, but said that his security chiefs had made the decision. But on Friday, Lopez Obrador said he had chosen the best alternative in difficult circumstances.
“If we hadn’t suspended [the operation] more than 200 innocent people … would have lost their lives,” the president said.
His public revival of the debacle renewed debate.
“A humanitarian decision or the capitulation of the state?” Mexican journalist Víctor Trujillo asked on Twitter.
Ovidio Guzman Lopez and his older brother, Joaquin Guzman Lopez, face drug-trafficking charges in the United States.
Lopez Obrador said Friday that a day or two after the failed operation US President Donald Trump called to offer help.
The Mexican president said he declined that offer as well as a similar overture following the killings in November of nine dual US-Mexican citizens – all women and children members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect – in an apparent cartel ambush in northern Sonora state.
“In a very respectful manner, we thanked him [Trump] for his offer and he understood that it is our duty to respond to these cases,” Lopez Obrador said on Friday.
In his 18 months in office, Lopez Obrador has tried to avoid direct confrontations with the country’s well-armed criminal cartels. He has described his approach as “hugs not bullets”, voicing the hope that new job opportunities, training and scholarships would deter young people from joining violent gangs.
But homicides have continued to surge, even in recent months as much of the country was in semi-lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.