By RICARDO CASTILLO
Well, what do you know, Mexico has a president who keeps his promises. On Friday, Oct. 25, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) made a commitment to make public the events on Oct. 17 that led up to the failed arrest of drug kingpin Ovidio Guzmán López, which led to four hours of open urban guerrilla warfare. (See Pulse News Mexico articles “Abortion of an Arrest” and “AMLO to Tell Truth about Culiacan Military Blunder.”)
On Wednesday, Oct. 30, AMLO summoned the two secretaries responsible for national security to tell the public what happened in Culiacán, Citizens’ Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo Montaño and Defense Secretary General Luis Cresencio Sandoval González.
Both secretaries spoke extensively and complied with the president’s orders to tell the truth in what amounts to a literally historical act of honesty on the part of the government. The two spoke during the president’s daily morning press conference at the National Palace for about 45 minutes each, with no Q&A session at the end.
To be brief about it, Durazo spoke about the current national security policy and the government’s allegedly “failed” performance in squelching the uprising of the drug lords who flood the U.S. market with meth, crystal and fentanyl, making a mint in the process.
Sandoval described the promised “minute-by-minute” account of the events, as well as making public the planning process and involvement of the Army, the National Guard (which lost one agent in the battle), the Federal Police and the Sinaloa State Judicial Police Department. In total, over 300 agents were involved in the arrest.
“These violent happenings,” Durazo said, “were propitiated with precipitate action. That must be reckoned with honesty. It definitely deserves criticism, but not so the general security strategy. Those are two different issues. Without trying to justify ourselves, there is always the possibility that an operative of this nature may go awry, notwithstanding the extraordinary experience of those who carry it out, as in the Culiacan case.”
In his intervention, Sandoval said that the Army has a special drug interdiction unit, something that has been there for years, but has never been made public before.
Durazo described what the main focus of critics of the incidence was the question: Why let go of arrested drug trafficker Guzmán López – son of the notorious “Chapo” Guzmán and one of the inheritors of his empire – during his intervention?
“In the decision to withdraw from the already-under-control building where the alleged criminal was located, there was a reason, which for being so deep, it becomes a reason of state: the safeguarding of the lives and physical integrity of those who were not part of the warrying sides. What could have been an episode of warfare and the spilling of innocent blood was resolved by prioritizing the return to peace and tranquility to the population, as we had been instructed to do by the president.
“No criminal organization, regardless of how well armed they are, is more powerful than the Mexican state in firepower terms. In Culiacán, it would have been easy to appeal to a relentless extermination combat with no respect for individual guarantees, and in the end we would have won, but, at what cost?”
Durazo blamed past administrations for having declared a “war” on drugs that has been overall useless.
“What was the use of a war against drug traffickers and so much death, so much pain from past administrations, if the criminal organizations proliferated and became stronger?” he asked rhetorically.
Durazo added: “We’re beginning a new era in terms of security, and this opens up the potential for a change in the future. The peace and security plan is part of a rector principle: Peace and tranquility are the fruit of justice. There is no other route to security. We do not believe in the false shortcuts of violence.”
Sandoval offered a recount of the events of Oct. 17 with minute details, describing the whereabouts of the different groups of soldiers participating in Guzmán López’s arrest. He vividly described how each of them were attacked by the mightily armed Sinaloa Drug Cartel henchmen, who wielded as many as 40 Barret .50 caliber rifles and who not only took the authorities by surprise, but finally forced the Mexican Army to hand the prisoner over to them.
Sandoval also said that a key element in making the decision to give up the prisoner was that, for a moment, the bandits surrounded several of the Army garrisons in the state of Sinaloa, where soldiers serve and live with their families. The gunmen threatened to attack women and children if they didn’t get Guzmán López back.
Once the prisoner was released to them, the gunmen all withdrew from the garrisons.
AMLO was the last to speak during the conference, taking time to attack all those who criticized the move to prevent bloodshed.
“There are those who have the mentality of war,” he said, since many have criticized the government’s “weakness” and “pussyfooting” on the day of the Culiacán Siege for releasing the arrested drug trafficker and shying away from combat.
AMLO warned that there will be law enforcement and that the drug cartels operating now in Mexico are targeted.
What’s a fact now is that is that this “war” is far from over as the United States pressures Mexico’s armed forces to go get the traffickers. Let’s not forget that Guzmán López was going to be extradited – without a trial in Mexico – directly to the United States on that now-notorious day. The gringos were left waiting, and they still badly want Guzmán López, considered to be the main retailer of fentanyl in America.
But for now, “The Mouse,” as Guzmán López is nicknamed, has managed to escape the trap. That does not mean that Mexican authorities are going to let him go.
Patience will surely pay off. It’s now just a matter of when and where Guzmán López will be nabbed again.