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Culiacán: The fictitious return to normality in Sinaloa after another battle against drug traffickers

Tension reigned in the environment of one of the first planes that landed in Culiacán this Friday. The State had been completely isolated for some 24 hours and the airport had not seen anyone arrive after closing its doors due to the shooting that organized crime perpetrated on a Mexican Army aircraft and an Aeroméxico commercial flight. A dozen shootings and a score of drug blockades had scared people enough, nobody wanted to travel to Sinaloa this Friday morning. Neither the airlines, nor those passengers who had their itinerary ready. The Volaris flight, one of the few companies that dared to make the trip, did so with two-thirds of the plane empty, with just a few locals who wanted to go home and a handful of journalists. “Let’s go, but with a lot of fear, we just want to lock ourselves in with the family,” says Doña Ana —fictitious name for security reasons—, who lives with her son in the city.

From Thursday morning to Friday morning, Sinaloa spent 24 hours under fire. The first signs that the war had broken out again came around four in the morning on Thursday from a ranch in the town of Jesús María, 45 kilometers from Culiacán, the state capital. They had caught one of the darlings of the Sinaloa Cartel, Ovidio Guzmán, from the faction the little boys. As in 2019, when the security forces first caught Joaquín’s son El Chapo Guzmán, the response of organized crime was to paralyze the entity throughout the day until they were released. This time they did not succeed and Black Thursday, the second in the recent history of the State, left a balance of 29 dead, 35 injured and 21 detained.

Culiacán was this Friday the epicenter of a fictitious return to normality. There were barely a few shops open and a few cars circulating on the streets, while on one side were the still hot remains of the charred structures of trucks and cars. Vestiges of bonfires that terrified an entire city that hours later continued to emit a smell of gasoline mixed with burnt oil. A few policemen were guarding hospitals, where on Thursday organized crime tried to kidnap doctors who could treat wounded criminals in their hideouts. Another handful of soldiers guarded the forensic medical service, so that the cartel could not take the bodies of the fallen members. A few kilometers from there, the remains of cars in the hands of armed men continued, but in much smaller numbers, something daily for the population of one of the most dangerous states in Mexico.

The fictitious return to life did not reach 45 kilometers from the state capital, in the town of Jesús María. Few dare to visit that corner dominated by drug trafficking and where Ovidio Guzmán grew up on any given day. A journalist who prefers not to give his name did so the day after the war broke out. It has been, she describes, one of the “most difficult” tasks she has had to do in his career. There he found himself in a town besieged by the armed forces, without communication, electricity or food.

It relates images worthy of a battle scenario. “The houses had impacts from rifles, carpets of shell casings. The neighbors wanted us to know: ‘The authorities say that nothing is wrong, but my neighbor has a stray bullet.’ If there was one thing those people had, it was fear”. On the way, she found a dozen active grenades, ready to fly into the air, and the bodies of two lifeless young men lying on a mound of rubble. In the background, already empty and with the doors wide open, the Guzmán house. Where the entire battle on Thursday saw its beginning, but not its end.

A cyclist passes by the remains of a charred car in the Tres Ríos sector in Culiacán.
A cyclist passes by the remains of a charred car in the Tres Ríos sector in Culiacán.Gladys Serrano

The airport had, after the chaotic hours, only a few shops open and few visitors. Almost no presence of the armed forces. Bryan Alonso, a Viva Aerobus employee, returned to work after spending the worst working day of his life. Around seven o’clock on Thursday morning, he remembers, they began to hear shots at the airport gate. “They came from there where the National Guard stops forever,” he says. People started screaming and running to hide. Nobody understood what was happening, organized crime had never gone so far.

Alonso recounts that many passengers took shelter along with the workers behind the airline counter. Faced with the impossibility of entering the facilities, the criminals surrounded the place and began shooting at the planes from a mesh that surrounds the landing and takeoff runways, says another airport worker. They wanted to prevent security forces from taking Guzmán from Sinaloa.

The failure to stop the military operation sparked revenge. Organized crime took to the streets with the forcefulness of all its power. Dozens of criminals subdued for hours a population accustomed to living with the monster of organized crime. But what happened this Thursday was something more than that violence that they see every day: it was the fury of the drug trafficker in all its splendor. They blocked at least 19 points throughout the state, and at those checkpoints, at gunpoint, they stripped citizens of their cars and journalists of their cell phones. They threatened anyone they came across, set dozens of vehicles on fire and shot the policemen they met on the road.

Despite people’s fear of going out, dozens of people approached the Prosecutor’s Office this Friday to report the theft of their car. Cecilia Machado was one of those affected. The 29-year-old woman, a worker at the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), was going to get milk for her daughter when a van cut her off and two men of about 25 got out with rifles in their hands. They took the vehicle from her, leaving her with nothing. “The boy told me: ‘It’s part of my job,” he recounts at the gates of the Prosecutor’s Office, “he was very nervous, like he didn’t know how to steal.” A couple who were on the site received her at her house so that she would not be left unprotected in the street. “He is very ugly, it’s already scary to go out, I didn’t go with my baby, but I was scared,” she says with a broken voice.

A man, sitting on the sidewalk of the Prosecutor’s Office, tells that they took a truck from his boss who was driving on the highway to Badiraguato, the birthplace of Guzmán’s father, one of the founders of the Sinaloa Cartel. Around 5:40 in the morning, a commando of ten armed men ambushed him to take his vehicle. “The fear remains that one goes out into the street and he doesn’t know what will happen to him,” says the driver, who does not want to give his name out of fear. Hours later they found the truck “all burned”, a few meters from the place where it was taken from them. This Friday he had to leave his house to report the robbery, despite the panic of facing the outside. Rumors that there will be a greater revenge have not stopped circulating. “It’s scary, but you have to push in life, you don’t have anything left at home.”

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