Mexico’s capture of a son of former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán this week was an isolated nod to a drug war strategy that Mexico’s current administration has abandoned rather than a sign that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s thinking has changed, experts say.
Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest in the Sinaloa cartel stronghold of Culiacan on Thursday came at the cost of at least 30 lives — 11 from the military and law enforcement and 19 suspected cartel gunmen. But analysts predict it won’t have any impact on the flow of drugs to the United States.
It was a display of muscle — helicopter gunships, hundreds of troops, and armored vehicles — at the initiation of a possible extradition process rather than a significant step in a homegrown Mexican effort to dismantle one of the country’s most powerful criminal organizations. Perhaps coincidentally, it came just days before U.S. President Joe Biden makes the first visit by a U.S. leader in almost a decade.
López Obrador has made clear throughout the first four years of his six-year term that pursuing drug capos is not his priority. When military forces cornered the younger Guzmán in Culiacan in 2019, the president ordered him freed to avoid loss of life after gunmen started shooting up the city.
The only other big capture under his administration was the grabbing of a geriatric Rafael Caro Quintero last July — just days after López Obrador met with Biden in the White House. At that point, Caro Quintero carried more symbolic significance for ordering a DEA agent’s murder decades ago than real weight in today’s drug world.
“Mexico wants to do at least the bare minimum in terms of counter-drug efforts,” said Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations who spent 13 years of his career in Mexico. “I don’t think that this is a sign that there’s going to be closer cooperation, bilateral collaboration, if you will, between the United States and Mexico.”