What Just Happened In Mexico? The Disaster of Culiacan

Shameen Yakubu
Oct 20, 2019 · 6 min read

On Thursday afternoon, October 17, one of the biggest stories in the ongoing saga of the Mexican Drug War occurred.

That day in the city of Culiacan in Sinaloa, police and soldiers from the Mexican government arrested Chapo “El Chapo” Guzman’s son, Ovidio Guzman.

And what happened next might as well have come right out of a movie.

Chapo “El Chapo” Guzman, pictured on the left. His son Ovidio Guzman, pictured on the right.

Ovidio Guzman is not only El Chapo’s son, but a high-level trafficker in the Sinaloa Cartel who was indicted by the US Justice Department in February on drug trafficking charges.

When the cartel found out El Chapo’s son had been arrested and taken, they decided to act.

The cartel started fighting and causing mayhem all over the city to recapture Chapo’s son from the government. It looked like something you’d expect to see happening in Syria, not a Mexican city.

Scenes from the attack on Culiacan, on October 17, 2019

On Thursday in the Sinaloan city of Culiacan, the cartel gunmen were everywhere.

They openly drove in trucks with mounted machine guns, blockaded streets flashing their Kalashnikovs and burned trucks unleashing plumes of smoke like it was a scene in Syria.

They took control of the strategic points in the metro area, shut down the airport, roads, and government buildings and exchanged fire with security forces for hours, leaving at least eight people dead.

— Ioan Grillo, Time Magazine

At one point in the chaos and confusion, cartel members even went into a prison, freed around 50 inmates, armed some of them, and recruited them to help them fight the government.

Civilians in the area were forced to stay inside and hide or find some sort of refuge.

Some weren’t even able to get home and had to hunker down in stores and restaurants as the city escalated into a total warzone.

There were videos and transcripts of cartel members radioing the government forces and demanding them to give up El Chapo’s son or their families would be murdered.

And there were reports that members of the military had their family members taken hostage.

Eventually, the government forces decided to release Ovidio in order to avoid more bloodshed.

When it was officially announced my jaw dropped.

I was in utter disbelief.

The next morning, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico gave a statement justifying the decision of Mexican security forces to release El Chapo’s son under pressure from the cartel.

“ You can’t fight fire with fire. That’s the difference with this strategy compared with what previous governments have done. We don’t want deaths, we don’t want war.”

— President Lopez Obrador

There you have it straight from the mouth of the highest-ranking official in Mexico.

The cartel just waged all-out war against the government. And they won.

More scenes from Culiacan on October 17, 2019, showing widespread destruction

These narcos literally shut down an entire city of 800,000 people and forced the government to surrender to them.

This is history unfolding in Mexico.

It’s completely unprecedented and it feels like here in America, no one’s even talking about it!

That just underneath our border, an entire city was at the mercy of drug traffickers and even the President of the country had to admit the best option was to capitulate to them.

I can only speculate on some reasons that the American mainstream media isn’t giving this story the attention it deserves but I do have a few guesses:

  1. The mainstream media in the United States doesn’t want to spread any stories about Mexico that would validate Trump’s statements on border security or criminality/lawlessness in Mexico.
  2. The story brings too much attention to the War on Drugs, which has been for all intents and purposes, an utter and complete failure.
  3. Possible fear of the organization and discipline that was displayed by the cartel? Maybe they think the cartel’s willingness to arm themselves and mobilize against state authority could give people ideas.

Whatever the reason, I have to wonder.

Why isn’t the 24/7 news cycle that loves to have stories of conflict, war, and struggle, jumping on this story? This is one of the worst security crises Mexico has seen in years.

This situation in #Culiacan is one of the biggest stories from the Mexican drug war to ever develop.

No one can deny the power of the cartel at this point

AFP Graphics

The cartel has power and influence at every level of the Mexican government, military, and police.

It seems they just don’t flaunt it unless necessary.

What this disaster in Culiacan just did was expose to the outside world who truly runs Mexico.

Even from the perception of Mexican citizens this level of brazenness and boldness by the cartels is unprecedented.

This is going to cause a lot of people to start talking and asking questions.

President Lopez Obrador is going to have to address this new reality in Mexico.

While some people may agree with backing down to the cartel in order to avoid violence, many people also consider the move to be cowardly and shameful.

“His idea of peace and love doesn’t work. He is making the cartel stronger, I don’t even know what his strategy is.”

— Raul Benitez (Security Expert)

For the cartel to be able to act with such impunity and demonstrate such an impressive projection of force is truly unsettling.

But I’m not sure what the alternative is.

It’s crazy to think that these criminal organizations have become so vastly influential that trying to take them on directly would potentially mean civil war.

This entire situation in Mexico has become a whole other animal.

Removing the drug traffickers forcibly would mean all-out warfare against the cartels, unimaginable levels of counter-intelligence operations, extensive surveillance & undercover work, and a comprehensive purging of large portions of the Mexican government, from the politicians to the military, to all levels of law enforcement.

In other words, it would take a miracle.

The cartels are so powerful, so dominant, and so embedded in the infrastructure of Mexican society that I’m not sure if forcibly removing them is even an option at this point.

What this means moving forward

There’s no denying that what we’ve just witnessed in Mexico is historic.

It’s an unprecedented development and evolution in this ongoing Mexican drug war.

It’s completely blurring the lines between organized crime and outright insurgency. I think this is something new that we haven’t seen before where you have a criminal organization that has grown this powerful.

Narcos in Mexico have completely shattered the pretense of a government monopoly on violence.

This could have huge repercussions and implications on Mexican domestic and foreign policy. International relations might very well be affected because one can make the argument that the official government of Mexico isn’t truly in power.

This also calls into question so many things about the War on Drugs and Mexico’s relationship with the United States.

With so much money and guns moving south into Mexico and so many drugs moving north into America, this has got to spark a serious conversation.

I‘m not sure what this really means for Mexico and its government moving forward.

The government itself showed a complete failure in maintaining law and order. It showed that they’ll negotiate with terrorists. It showed that the government can be defeated with violence and it might set a precedent for how Mexican drug traffickers respond to future arrests of high-level targets.

This is a dark and challenging time for the people of Mexico and this is a complex and nuanced situation.

I don’t have any answers or solutions but I‘ll be continuing to watch how things develop and I hope the people of Mexico can find peace and prosperity.

I’ve also covered one of the most recent attacks that occurred in northern Mexico on November 5, 2019.

Navigating Life

Navigating Life

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