Mex­i­cans out­raged af­ter cor­nered son of ‘El Chapo’ re­leased and min­is­ter ad­mits fail­ure

The National - News - - NEWS WORLD -

The de­ci­sion by Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s se­cu­rity Cabi­net to re­lease the cap­tured son of the world’s most no­to­ri­ous drug lord has left him strug­gling to con­tain the dam­age amid pub­lic out­rage.

Mr Lopez Obrador said the gov­ern­ment took the de­ci­sion af­ter Mex­i­can forces were over­pow­ered on Thurs­day as they at­tempted to take in Ovidio Guz­man Lopez, son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guz­man. The son is said to have taken over some crim­i­nal op­er­a­tions from his fa­ther. The con­fronta­tion, which left eight dead, oc­curred in the western state of Si­naloa.

His pub­lic se­cu­rity min­is­ter, Al­fonso Du­razo, ad­mit­ted that the op­er­a­tion to cap­ture Mr Guz­man Lopez was a fail­ure.

“The gov­ern­ment clearly looks bad af­ter this,” Daniel Kerner, an an­a­lyst at Eura­sia Group, wrote in a re­search re­port. “It looks like it had no strat­egy and no co-or­di­na­tion.” The in­ci­dent presents the big­gest se­cu­rity chal­lenge yet to Mr Lopez Obrador, who was elected on prom­ises to stop years of vi­o­lence and has main­tained an ap­proval rat­ing of more than 60 per cent in polls de­spite a stag­nant econ­omy.

Homi­cides are on track to break last year’s record, ac­cord­ing to data un­til Au­gust, ris­ing more than three per cent to more than 23,000.

Car­tel mem­bers on Thurs­day turned Cu­li­a­can, the cap­i­tal of Si­naloa into a war zone af­ter au­thor­i­ties sur­rounded Mr Guz­man Lopez at a house where he was tak­ing refuge.

Home-made tanks with ma­chine guns rum­bled through the streets, stop­ping traf­fic and fir­ing re­peat­edly. The city was lit­tered with burn­ing ve­hi­cles as res­i­dents posted videos on Twit­ter of gun­fire and chaos. Plumes of smoke rose over build­ings.

“This de­ci­sion was taken to pro­tect cit­i­zens,” Mr Lopez Obrador said on Fri­day in the south­ern state of Oax­aca. “You can’t put out fire with fire. That’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween our strat­egy and what pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments have done. We don’t want deaths, we don’t want war.”

Re­spond­ing to the vi­o­lence in Cu­li­a­can by let­ting Mr Guz­man Lopez go free sends a dan­ger­ous mes­sage to drug car­tels that the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment can be cowed by ter­ror­ist-like at­tacks against civil­ians, said Ale­jan­dro Sch­tul­mann, who heads Mex­ico City-based po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tancy Em­pra.

It is also em­bar­rass­ing be­cause the Si­naloa car­tel’s fire­power has been di­min­ished in re­cent years and pales in com­par­i­son to that of other as­cen­dant groups such as the Jalisco New Gen­er­a­tion.

Now, other groups when fac­ing an ar­rest may “re­sort to the same meth­ods”, Mr Sch­tul­mann said.

The case re­opens an old wound for Mex­ico, where El Chapo twice es­caped from prison be­fore he was re­cap­tured and fi­nally ex­tra­dited and con­victed in the US.

It comes in a week when more than a dozen po­lice were killed in an am­bush in the dead­li­est at­tack on law en­force­ment since Mr Lopez Obrador took of­fice last De­cem­ber. At least 15 more peo­ple were killed in another shoot-out with the mil­i­tary in the na­tion’s south.

Mr Lopez Obrador said that the sus­pect had an ar­rest war­rant and an ex­tra­di­tion re­quest. His fa­ther was sent to the US in 2017 just as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was tak­ing of­fice.

The son’s re­lease was de­cried across Mex­i­can news me­dia, with one of the na­tion’s largest news­pa­pers, Re­forma, run­ning a head­line say­ing “Lit­tle Chapo Sub­dues the Fourth Trans­for­ma­tion”, re­fer­ring to the nick­name that Lopez Obrador has given to his gov­ern­ment.

Mex­ico has fought a long war against drug gangs, in part be­cause it serves as a con­nec­tor be­tween co­caine-pro­duc­ing na­tions in South Amer­ica and con­sumers in the US.

Mr Lopez Obrador’s strat­egy fo­cuses on de­ploy­ment of tens of thou­sands of mem­bers from a new Na­tional Guard force to the most vi­o­lent parts of the coun­try, as well as ed­u­ca­tion and sub­si­dies for youth. But the phrase he has used to sum­marise his phi­los­o­phy, “hugs, not shots”, has been crit­i­cised by po­lit­i­cal ri­vals and se­cu­rity an­a­lysts as naive.

The re­lease of Mr Guz­man Lopez “sends a mes­sage of weak­ness”, said Veron­ica Or­tiz, a lawyer and co-host on Mex­ico’s non-par­ti­san Con­gress chan­nel. For cit­i­zens, we’re left un­pro­tected against crim­i­nals.”

Reuters

Mex­ico’s Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Al­fonso Du­razo and Si­naloa State Gov­er­nor Quirino Or­daz Cop­pel at a news con­fer­ence

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