MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities captured a son of drug lord El Chapo in a morning operation in Culiacán, a northwestern city that has long been the base of the Sinaloa cartel, according to three Mexican government officials.
The officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the raid, said security forces had arrested Ovidio Guzmán López, son of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the infamous crime lord known as El Chapo. Guzmán López was transferred to a military base in Mexico City, two of the officials said.
The capture of El Chapo’s son, a prominent cartel leader, allows the government to claim victory in its faltering efforts to combat violence during one of the deadliest periods in recent Mexican history.
It was unclear what actual effect the capture of Ovidio, long known as the least successful of Guzmán’s sons, will have on the cartel’s activities.
But it was an opportunity for the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to make amends for a similar botched operation three years ago, when Mexican authorities briefly detained Guzmán López but were later forced to release him after cartel hitmen took over. the law. app.
It also represents a public relations victory for the government days before López Obrador hosts President Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada at a North American Leaders Summit in Mexico City.
Armed groups responded to Thursday’s raid by burning vehicles and blocking the main roads out of the city, according to one of the officials. Videos shared on social media showed buses and tractor-trailers on fire. The Culiacán airport confirmed, via Twitter, that it had closed for security reasons.
“Culiacán is a desert,” said the official. “The Red Cross has been deployed throughout the city, as well as the fire department.”
The Guzmán family has a long history of escaping capture by Mexican authorities. El Chapo escaped from prison twice. Federal prosecutors in the United States say his children helped orchestrate his infamous escape from a maximum-security detention center in 2015 through a mile-long tunnel dug into his cell’s shower room.
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Guzmán López’s US attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, who also represented the father, declined to comment on Thursday’s arrest. U.S. Department of Justice officials, who brought charges against Mr. Guzmán López and one of his brothers in 2019, declined to comment on whether prosecutors requested extradition.
In October 2019, security forces stormed Culiacán, detained El Chapo’s son, Mr. Guzmán López, and then released him after cartel hitmen unleashed a wave of automatic gunfire in the city, burning cars and taking over members of the security forces as hostages.
At the time, López Obrador defended the release, saying authorities had to balance detaining Guzmán with ensuring the safety of the public.
“The situation got very bad and many citizens were at risk, many people, and it was decided to protect people’s lives,” López Obrador told reporters. “The life of a criminal cannot be valued more than the life of people.”
But the episode became a national humiliation for the López Obrador administration and cast doubt on the government’s ability to confront the cartels in the parts of the country where they have the most power.
Mr. Guzmán López and his brother, Joaquín Guzmán López, were charged in February 2019 by federal prosecutors with “knowingly, intentionally, and willfully” distributing cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana for importation into the United States.
Those charges were made public just a day after the aging Guzmán was convicted after a three-month trial in Brooklyn that revealed the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel and how it shipped tons of drugs to the United States.
The same team of prosecutors also filed federal drug charges against the elder Guzman’s most recent wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro. Subsequently, Ms. Coronel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.
alan feuer contributed reporting from New York.