Violence paralyzes western Mexican city of Culiacan



MEXICO CITY — Organized crime again paralyzed the western Mexico city of Culiacan Thursday as alleged cartel members carjacked residents and set vehicles ablaze, leading authorities to warn everyone to stay inside.

Authorities did not immediately explain what triggered the outburst of violence, but such displays often come in response to arrests of cartel figures as their allies attempt to create chaos.

Sinaloa state security chief Cristóbal Castañeda warned citizens via Twitter, adding that the state was responding and would inform when they could.

The city of Culiacan posted on social media “Don’t leave home! The safety of Culiacan’s citizens is the most important.” It said work was suspended for all municipal employees. State education authorities announced that all administrative and teacher activities were also suspended Thursday in Culiacan.

During his morning press conference, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed there was an ongoing operation in Culiacan, but they would share information on it later.

The operation comes just days before López Obrador will host U.S. President Joe Biden for bilateral talks followed by a North American Leaders’ Summit with Biden and Canadian Primer Minister Justin Trudeau.

Culiacan has seen such displays before. One of the most notorious occurred in October 2019, when federal security forces corned Ovidio Guzmán, one of the sons of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán. When gunmen began shooting up the city with high-powered weapons, the government retreated and let the younger Guzmán escape.

The 2019 debacle was a black eye for López Obrador’s administration in the realm of security and raised even more questions about Mexico’s commitment to battling the country’s powerful drug cartels.

López Obrador entered office highly critical of the toll of his predecessors’ drug war. He embraced the phrase “hugs, not bullets” to describe his approach to Mexico’s chronic violence, which would focus on social programs aimed at weakening the draw of organized crime.

But four years into his six-year term, violence levels remain high.

On Thursday, local news outlet Riodoce, which specializes in coverage of drug trafficking, said the operation had started in an area north of the capital and included helicopters.

The area, called Jesús María, is apart from the city, but included in the municipality. Relatives of Ovidio Guzmán are known to live there, according to Riodoce, which reported dozens of roadblocks across the city.

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