Mexican authorities have arrested Ovidio Guzmán, son of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, a source from the federal government of Mexico told CNN, in a dramatic operation in the northern state of Sinaloa on Thursday that led to clashes around the city of Culiacán.
Guzmán is described as “a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel” in a press release issued by the United States State Department on December 16, prior to his arrest.
He was previously arrested by federal authorities in October 2019 but was released on the orders of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to avoid further bloodshed.
Chaos broke out in the city around Guzmán’s arrest on Thursday, with local officials telling citizens to shelter at home amid clashes with cartel members in various parts of Culiacán.
Social media videos appear to show trucks on fire and intense shooting near the airport, which was closed for most of the day due to the violence. CNN has not yet verified these videos.
Passengers appeared to crouch for cover in an Aeromexico plane according to a video shared on social media, which was hit by a bullet while grounded in Culiacán.
No injuries were reported, said Aeromexico, which has canceled all its operations to and from the Sinaloan cities of Culiacan, Los Mochis and Mazatlan.
Culiacán International Airport closed after Guzmán’s arrest for security reasons, airport authorities said on their Twitter account.
In a morning address on Thursday, President López Obrador said the operation in Culiacán had been underway since dawn.
As the arrest unfolded, Sinaloa Secretary of Public Security Cristóbal Castañeda said that vehicles were being looted and blockades “are taking place in different parts of the city” as he asked the public not to leave the city.
The state’s education secretary also announced that school and administrative activities had been suspended in Culiacán and urged those who are in a risk area to take refuge in a safe place.
The state of Sinaloa is home to the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most powerful narcotics trafficking organizations. “El Chapo” was the leader of the cartel before he was sentenced to life in prison in 2020.
The arrest comes days before US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visit Mexico City to attend the North American Leaders Summit.
Capturing Guzmán could be a way for López Obrador to show the US that he is “in control of the armed forces and Mexico’s security situation,” Gladys McCormick, an associate professor at Syracuse University who focuses on Mexico-U.S. relations, told CNN in an email.
“It also defuses the power behind any ask from the Biden administration to stem the tide of fentanyl and other narcotics across the border,” she added.
The State Department, which was offering a $5 million reward for information leading to Guzman’s arrest, wrote that law enforcement investigations indicated that Guzmán and his brother, Joaquín Guzmán-López, “inherited a great deal of the narcotics proceeds” following the death of another brother, Edgar Guzmán-López.
They “began investing large amounts of the cash into the purchasing of marijuana in Mexico and cocaine in Colombia. They also began purchasing large amounts of ephedrine from Argentina and arranged for the smuggling of the product into Mexico as they began to experiment with methamphetamine production,” the State Department said.
The brothers are also alleged to oversee an estimated 11 “methamphetamine labs in the state of Sinaloa,” the State Department says.
Their father “El Chapo” Guzmán was convicted in the US in 2019 of 10 counts, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, drug trafficking and firearms charges. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years and ordered to pay $12.6 billion in forfeiture.