MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday a decision was made to release a son of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman from custody to avoid putting people’s lives in danger.
Ovidio Guzman Lopez was briefly held by security forces on Thursday in the western city of Culiacan by a commando of soldiers and National Guard personnel before being set free by order of Lopez Obrador’s security Cabinet.
“We can’t put a higher price on a criminal’s capture than people’s lives. They (the security Cabinet) made this decision (to release him) and I supported it,” Lopez Obrador said in his regular morning press conference, which on this occasion took place in the southern city of Oaxaca.
The situation in Culiacan – which was besieged by gunfire for several hours – severely deteriorated on Thursday, according to the president, who said that the suspect was released because many citizens’ lives were at risk.
Lopez Obrador said he backed the decision of the security Cabinet, which includes Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval and other senior officials, because “this isn’t about (provoking) massacres.”
He said the Mexican army had acted on an order to apprehend a suspect but that “there was a very violent reaction (by criminals) and we couldn’t put the lives of numerous people in danger.”
Lopez Obrador said criminal groups throughout the city of Culiacan mobilized, seized toll booths and even spread out into El Fuerte and other municipalities of the western state of Sinaloa.
The president added that “you can’t put out fire with fire” and recalled that his government is pursuing a different strategy from the hard-line approach adopted by his predecessors.
“We don’t want deaths. We don’t want war. It’s hard to understand, but the strategy that was being applied previously turned the country into a cemetery,” he said in reference to the 2006-2012 administration of Felipe Calderon and the 2012-2018 tenure of Enrique Peña Nieto, a 12-year period in which the country’s war on drug gangs is estimated to have left more than 250,000 dead and more than 40,000 missing.
“It’s not easy (to combat crime). It’s a process. It’s not simple because the problem of violence was allowed to greatly advance, and we have to confront two mafias – white-collar crime and organized crime. That’s what we’re up against,” he said.
Mexico’s army, for its part, said Friday that a commando made up of 30 soldiers and members of a recently created National Guard force had acted “precipitously” in capturing Guzman’s son, who is wanted for extradition by the United States.
“El Chapo” Guzman, co-founder and former leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, is serving a life sentence in the US on multiple drug trafficking and murder charges.
“In its eagerness to obtain a positive result, (the commando) acted precipitously, with insufficient planning and a lack of foresight about the consequences,” Sandoval, the defense secretary, said in a press conference following the meeting of the security Cabinet in Culiacan and just minutes after Lopez Obrador had made his remarks in Oaxaca.
He said the commando entered a home in Culiacan, Sinaloa’s capital, at around 3.45 pm on Thursday and identified Guzman Lopez, subsequently remaining in that residence until around 5 pm.
Shortly afterward, disturbances erupted throughout the city, leading to the security Cabinet’s unanimous decision to withdraw security personnel from that residence.
“Formally, no arrest occurred,” Sandoval said.
For his part, the head of the Security and Civilian Protection Secretariat, Alfonso Durazo, said a relative calm was gradually being restored in Culiacan, adding that there is “absolutely no pact” between the government and organized crime.
“And there’s also not a “lack of state (presence) nor an absence of government,” he said.
The incidents in Culiacan reflect the enormous control still exercised by the Sinaloa drug cartel and its cells in the region, where violent crime figures had seemed to be trending downward.
According to the most recent figures from Mexico’s Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System, a total of 577 people were killed between January and August of this year in Sinaloa state, down from 747 intentional homicides during the same period of last year.