CULIACÁN, Mexico (AP) — Residents of the northern Mexico city of Culiacan tried to get back to their routines Tuesday, five days after gunmen from the Sinaloa drug cartel sowed terror across the city.
Restaurants caught in the midst of last week’s shootings have repaired some of their plate-glass windows, but some outside walls are still scarred by bullet holes.
Hundreds of cartel gunmen took to the streets with heavy weaponry Thursday to open fire on soldiers and police, seeking to force the release of a drug lord held by a military patrol. Officials finally ordered the captive released, saying they wanted to avoid civilian casualties. Authorities say eight people died that day, though locals say the number was higher
Over the weekend, the government sent in an elite army unit as reinforcements. It now patrols the city streets in trucks and armored vehicles.
“Why now? They should have been here during the gunfight,” Oscar Alfredo, a high school student, said as an army patrol passed by.
People in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, debated whether Mexico’s government made the right decision in releasing Ovidio Guzmán, the son of infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, who is imprisoned in the U.S.
Luisa Valdez said that she and co-workers at a department store were trapped inside by the fighting for several hours, afraid to try to go home because of stray bullets flying across the city.
“I tell my co-workers that the government did the right thing, retreating to avoid more deaths,” she said. But “some of them say it would have been better to call for reinforcements and face them down,” Valdez added.
It is hard to say how the gunbattles affected the Sinaloa cartel, which has long been known to operate in Culiacan, but without as many grisly dismemberments, extortions and kidnappings as other cities in Mexico.
Like flowers after a rain, Sinaloa singers rushed out with new “corridos” or songs of praise, to honor Ovidio Guzmán and the gunmen who won his release.
“Everywhere you looked you saw support for the sons of the boss. There is only one boss, and that was demonstrated here,” sings one group, who posted a video of its members singing “El Mejor Corridazo de Ovidio el Chapito.”
Other Culiacan residents, however, are souring on the state’s home-grown cartel.
One man, who runs a half dozen small apparel stores, said there was a time when he did a booming business selling caps marked with the number “701,” a reference to the ranking of “El Chapo” on the Forbes magazine list of wealthiest people.
“They sold a lot, the ‘701’ ones, but not anymore,” said the owner, who gave only his first name, Rafael, out of fear of reprisals. “I don’t like to promote narco culture, even if it is good business.”
Once again Tuesday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stood by his government’s decision to release the drug lord.
“Let them say I am a wimp, that we got humiliated, that the government is weak,” he said. “That is nothing compared to saying we ordered a massacre.”
The president repeated his long-held argument that the key to lowering Mexico’s gang violence “is to strengthen cultural, moral, spiritual values.”
“They may say that is wishful thinking, and naive. No,” López Obrador said.
He denied there was any unrest in the army following last week’s events, which many people called a humiliation as cartel gunmen abducted some soldiers and attacked a housing compound where soldiers’ families live.
“In the case of the army, I am happy that they are receptive and loyal, and accept this new policy” of avoiding bloodshed, López Obrador said.