August 04, 2020

Mexico: President admits he ordered El Chapo's son's release during cartel gun battle

June 20, 2020

Mexico's president said he personally ordered the release of drug lord El Chapo's son during a shoot-out between a cartel and security forces - and claimed he saved hundreds of lives in doing so.

An operation in October caused Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's government considerable embarrassment after security forces briefly captured Ovidio Guzman, one of the sons of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, leader of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel.

They were forced to let the 30-year-old go just hours later after soldiers were overwhelmed by cartel forces.

Most likely tipped off, hundreds of heavily armed gunmen from the cartel poured into the city of Culiacan, the capital of western Sinaloa state, during an hours-long siege broadcast on television.

The cartel members put up flaming roadblocks in the city of a million people and gunfire was heard throughout the streets in an ultimately successful effort to free the younger Guzman, who is thought to be leading the cartel with his brothers as their father is in prison in the US.

Mr Lopez Obrador had previously said his security cabinet had decided to release Ovidio, who is wanted on drug-trafficking charges in the US, and he had endorsed the decision to protect residents from crossfire - although at least 14 people died, according to official accounts.

But on Friday, he openly acknowledged for the first time he gave the order himself.

"So as not to put the population at risk I ordered that this operation be stopped and that this alleged criminal be
released," he said.

"If we hadn't suspended [the operation] more than 200 innocent people would have lost their lives."

The bungled operation drew widespread condemnation around the world as evidence that criminal gangs, not the government, are in charge in Culiacan and large swathes of Mexico.

But Mr Lopez Obrador defiantly revealed a couple of days after the skirmish Donald Trump had offered to help crack down on the cartel, but he did not accept the offer.

A month after the incident, the police officer who had arrested Ovidio was killed by two attackers who fired 155 bullets at him in a car park before fleeing.

The Mexican leader has promised to tackle increasing violence in a country where the number of homicides has been on the rise since 2014, with four times more people killed in 2018 than in 2007.

Much of the violence stems from powerful criminal groups, such as the Sinaloa Cartel, which for decades has smuggled cocaine, marijuana, heroine and methamphetamines over the border to the United States, the world's largest market for illicit drugs.

Despite Mr Lopez Obrador's "hugs not bullets" policies focusing on relieving rampant poverty and youth unemployment, homicides in Mexico climbed to record levels during the first four months of the year - despite most of the country being in semi-lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, his first full year in office, homicides hit an all-time high.

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