Culiacán (Mexico) (AFP) – Mexico’s president faced a firestorm of criticism Friday as his security forces confirmed they arrested kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s son, then released him when his cartel responded with an all-out gun battle.
Admitting his forces carried out a “badly planned” operation, Defense Minister Luis Sandoval said soldiers briefly arrested Ovidio Guzman — one of several sons who have taken control of the Sinaloa cartel since their father was extradited to the United States in 2017 — but released him after being overpowered by cartel gunmen.
“It was a badly planned strategy,” Sandoval told a news conference in Culiacan, the western city of 750,000 people that was turned into an urban war zone Thursday.
“The task force acted too hastily. (The operation) wasn’t improvised, there was planning, but… it takes time to obtain an arrest warrant. When the operation was already under way, they decided to improvise and try to obtain a positive result,” he said, after flying into the city — the state capital of Sinaloa, the Guzmans’ bastion — for an emergency security cabinet meeting.
He added that Guzman, 28, was never “formally detained.”
– Stinging criticism –
Heavily armed cartel gunmen surrounded the house where Guzman was being held Thursday afternoon and launched a massive machine-gun assault on various parts of the city, sending terrified residents fleeing for safety and leaving the streets strewn with blazing vehicles.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who faced stinging criticism over the episode, defended the decision to free Guzman.
“I support the decisions that were made. The situation turned very difficult and many citizens’ lives were at risk,” he told a separate news conference.
“Catching a criminal can’t be worth more than people’s lives,” added the leftist leader.
“You can’t fight fire with fire.”
But the incident turned what was already a difficult week on the security front — with two other gun battles that killed 28 people — into a total nightmare for the leftist leader.
“Little Chapo brings (the government) to its knees,” newspaper Reforma said in a banner headline.