CULIACAN, Mexico – The terror lives on in the western Mexican city of Culiacan a year after an attempt to detain a son of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman led to pitched battles that left at least eight people dead.
The din of automatic weapons fire that rang out as men, women and children ran for their lives on Oct. 17, 2019, is never far from the minds of residents of Culiacan, capital of Sinaloa state.
On “Black Thursday,” as the fateful day is known in Culiacan, Ovidio Guzman surrendered to members of the army and National Guard only to be released hours later on orders from Mexico City after gunmen from the Sinaloa cartel, formerly led by El Chapo, laid siege to Culiacan.
“That day we learned that is narcos who command in Sinaloa and today we know that what happened that Oct. 17 can happen again at any moment if organized crime gets the urge,” Kevin, a reporter who covers the police beat for a local newspaper, tells EFE.
A year ago, Kevin found himself in the middle of the action, at the spot where the bulk of the more than 300 Sinaloa men sent to rescue Ovidio battled security forces.
He recalls ducking into the state Attorney General’s Office in search of refuge and having to walk over dozens of shell-casings.
Miriam Ramirez, coordinator of the #BlackThursdayNeverAgain campaign, agrees with the journalist that not enough has been done to prevent a recurrence of those events.
“We have no doubt that a situation of that magnitude could be repeated at any time, as the power of organized crime was demonstrated and the incapacity of the local authorities was also demonstrated,” she says.
Black Thursday shattered “the romantic idea that organized crime in Sinaloa was good, that it was the noble bandit who helps communities, provides employment or generates well-being,” Ramirez tells EFE.
Twelve months later, the federal and state governments continue to present conflicting accounts of Black Thursday.
Eight people were killed and 19 others wounded, according to a detailed report by federal officials, while the Sinaloa administration puts the death toll at 13, including three civilians.
After initially saying that the soldiers stumbled on Ovidio Guzman by chance, the military quickly amended its story, acknowledging that a task force was sent to detain him for extradition to the United States, where his father is now serving a life sentence for drug trafficking and murder.
Mexico’s defense secretary, Gen. Luis Cresencio Sandoval, went so far as to call the operation “hasty and poorly planned.”
Within an hour of Ovidio Guzman’s arrest, reports came of trucks full of armed men surrounding the home in Culiacan where he was detained.
Other groups of gunmen surrounded three military bases in Sinaloa, preventing the personnel from coming to the aid of their comrades in Culiacan, where gunmen commandeered trucks and buses to block roads.
As the situation continued to escalate, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador instructed the security forces to release Ovidio.
After saying at the time that the decision was made by the security Cabinet, the president revealed in June that he had acted alone in ordered Ovidio Guzman freed.
The home of university professor Pepe Delgado became a shelter for people trapped in downtown Culiacan on Black Thursday.
“What I experienced that day was a kind of demonstration of how things are in the city,” he tells EFE. “The groups that exist in this city, the power they have, the way they are armed, the capacity for organization.”
The founder of the civic group Brave Culiacan, Esteban Garcia, told EFE that Sinaloa had been characterized by a “tolerance toward the culture that drug trafficking imposed.”
He spoke of a “permissive attitude” that allowed the cartels to flourish in the state.