Connect with us

Métis Nation Saskatchewan Business Magazine | Sask Métis News | Métis Nation Entrepreneurs

Métis Nation Saskatchewan Business Magazine | Sask Métis News | Métis Nation Entrepreneurs

Here’s what led to violence erupting in Mexico’s Sinaloa state — and how Canadians there are faring


Here’s what led to violence erupting in Mexico’s Sinaloa state — and how Canadians there are faring

Several cities in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa exploded into violence this week after the arrest of alleged drug trafficker.

The dramatic conflict included a battle between a heavily armed cartel convoy and Blackhawk military helicopters. In the end, 10 military personnel and 19 suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel were left dead.

The showdown and its fallout came days before President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was to host Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden at a summit in Mexico City.

It had the Canadian government warning citizens in the area to shelter in place, and served to once again cast a spotlight on the problem-plagued country that’s a common vacation destination.

In a pre-dawn operation Thursday north of Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacán, a stronghold of the drug cartel by the same name, Mexico’s military forces captured Ovidio Guzmán — one of the six sons of the notorious former cartel boss Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzmán.

Samuel González, who founded Mexico’s special prosecutor’s office for organized crime in the 1990s, said Guzmán’s capture was a “gift” ahead of Biden’s visit. The Mexican government “is working to have a calm visit,” he said.

Juan Carlos Ayala, a Culiacan resident and Sinaloa University professor who studies the sociology of drug trafficking, said Ovidio Guzmán has been an obvious target at least since 2019.

“Ovidio’s fate had been decided. Moreover, he was identified as the biggest trafficker of fentanyl and the most visible Chapos leader.”

Ovidio’s famous father, Joaquin Guzmán, was once considered one of the most powerful drug lords in the world. The former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, is serving a life sentence in the United States and is incarcerated at a maximum-security facility in Colorado.

Mexican Defence Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval told media Friday that the cartel had opened fire on troops with .50-calibre machine-guns. The army responded by calling in Blackhawk helicopter gunships to attack a convoy of 25 cartel vehicles, including truck-mounted cartel gun platforms. The cartel then opened fire on the military aircraft, forcing two of them down with “a significant number of impacts” in each of the two aircraft, Sandoval said.

The gang then sent hordes of gunmen to attack fixed-wing aircraft, both military and civilian, at the city’s international airport.

One civilian airliner was hit. The gunmen also shot up airport buildings in a bid to prevent authorities from flying the captured cartel boss out of the city. But, Sandoval said, authorities anticipating the resistance had loaded Ovidio Guzmán onto a military helicopter to fly him back to Mexico City.

Meanwhile, hotels in the area barricaded their gates in the face of this week’s violence, with tourists and Mexican citizens sheltering inside, as helicopters patrolled the skies and military and police vehicles trundled up and down beaches that had been recently full of suntanning vacationers.

The violence was particularly fierce in Culiacán, Mazatlán, Los Mochis and Guasave.

On Friday, Winnipeg resident Sheila North said she’s frustrated with a lack of communication from the Canadian government as she awaits further instructions. She travelled with her two adult children and her two-year-old grandson on Dec. 30 and was scheduled to leave Mazatlán on Friday, but found out her flight is now delayed until Sunday.

She said that they had gone out for an excursion Thursday morning when she noticed plumes of smoke and black helicopters flying overhead.

“It seemed on both ends of the city. We didn’t really know what was going on. … I just thought it was a fire of some sort. But I got kind of concerned when it lasted all day long,” she said.

She said she saw updates on social media that informed her of what was unfolding, but no one directly told her or her family to shelter.

“We didn’t feel safe to go back out after we came back. And I don’t think anyone really did either because the hotel was packed,” she said.

She said there was a sense of panic and uncertainty, and that the airline she had flown with, Sunwing, had been helpful in providing updates.

“But as far as the Canadian government, I haven’t heard much, and there’s a lot of families here with a lot of little kids. So someone should be updating us,” she said.


There's no credit card required! No fees ever.

Create Your Free Account Now!

North says Sunwing told her to stay put in their hotel room until their flight, and they were told the cost would be covered, but she’s not sure by whom.

On social media, groups for tourists and ex-patriates, Canadians were posting accounts of what they had witnessed; Dale Kennedy, whose Facebook account says that he lives in Prince George, B.C., painted a picture of a ghost town Thursday evening, writing that when he went out for a beer, about 200 kilometres south of Culiacán he noticed local restaurants were closed and streets were deserted.

“I happened to run into 2 Canadians at the intersection and asked if there was a holiday I was unaware of. That’s when I found out there was a major security alert for the city due to a big shootout between law enforcement and the cartels,” Kennedy wrote.

“I walked around a couple more blocks and yup pretty much everything was already either closed in the process of closing. So I headed home cerveza-less and am now watching the hockey game.”

By Friday afternoon, he said, “everything seems back to normal like nothing even happened yesterday.”

The cascade of violence appears to be an “automated” response from the cartel — much like one might see if a country’s military launched an immediate counteroffensive in response to an attack from another country, cartel expert Nathan Jones told the Star.

Jones, an associate professor of security studies at Sam Houston State University, said this isn’t the first time violence has erupted due to the arrest of a high-level cartel member.

“I think it’s strategic and automated and well-funded,” he said.

The response protocol a country might have in a geo-political dispute allows lower-level military decisionmakers to take immediate action if provoked without necessarily having to run the decision up the chain, Jones explained.

But with cartel violence, he said, the people currently carrying out that response on the ground are more likely to be “unhinged.”

“The gunman might be a guy who is not particularly disciplined, not particularly well-trained, and might be high on drugs,” he said.

Jones said the cartel’s drug-trafficking operations will likely continue, and that the blow to the organization should be minimal, at least operationally. However, it could make his faction look weak, which could result in more cartel infighting or fighting between factions.

“He does appear to be somebody who is active and playing a major leadership role,” said Jones.

It is not even the first time Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest has led to conflict. An aborted operation to capture him three years ago set off violence in Culiacán that ultimately led Lopez Obrador to order the military to let Guzmán go.

Ayala told The Associated Press that the atmosphere was calmer Friday, “but there are still a lot of burned-out vehicles blocking the streets.”

Canadian tourists in the affected areas posted on social media that they could hear sirens, that streets were empty and restaurants were closed.

Others scrambled to navigate airport closures and flight cancellations. The Culiacán and Mazatlán airports reopened Friday, while Los Mochis airport remains closed.

The federal government continues to advise Canadians in Mexico to shelter in place, avoid crowds and demonstrations and not to try to cross blockades, even if they appear unmanned.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

Joanna Chiu is a B.C.-based staff reporter for the Star. She covers global and national affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu

Kieran Leavitt is an Edmonton-based political reporter for the Toronto Star. Follow him on Twitter: @kieranleavitt

Subscribe to the newsletter news

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Metis Studies

Online Entrepreneurs

Top Stories

To Top