The chaos began after 30 soldiers reportedly took control of a home in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa State. They arrested four men, including one of El Chapo’s sons, Ovidio Guzmán López, who is now a leader in the Sinaloa cartel, which his father ran for decades. Cartel gunmen, however, soon surrounded the house and opened fire, ultimately prompting the soldiers to free Guzmán López.
Following the initial incident, fighting continued, with soldiers and cartel forces squaring off in shootouts that lasted well into the night. Videos of the violence were uploaded to social media, including some that showed men in ski masks blocking streets and others that revealed the heavy artillery the cartel forces were using.
Ernesto Martínez, a local crime reporter, told The Times, “In my 21 years of covering crime at the heart of drug world, this has been the worst shootout and the most horrible situation I have ever encountered… The sound of the bullets was so strong I could almost smell the gunpowder.”
The shootout and the failed attempt to capture Guzmán López is being viewed as a setback and an embarrassment for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who vowed to crack down on the violence and corruption of the cartels. But even prior to Thursday’s shootout, Obrador and his government have struggled to contain the violence, with murders in the country reaching a record high of 14,603 between January and June of this year (in 2018, there were 13,985 during that same period, per Reuters).
The fighting Thursday also marked a shift in behavior from the Sinaloa Cartel. While the cartel remains powerful, it was hobbled by El Chapo’s arrest, conviction and life sentence in the United States, and has reportedly favored a lie-low approach in recent months. But some analysts believe, El Chapo’s arrest deepened various rifts in the cartel, and the fighting Thursday may have been launched by a faction looking to garner more control over the group.
“The ability to exercise restraint is key to an organization’s survival in the long term,” said Jaime López Aranda, a security analyst in Mexico City. “Successful criminal organizations are able to restrain themselves, and Sinaloa has been successful for a long time.”