MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexican drug cartel leader Ovidio Guzman, a son of incarcerated kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, has been arrested by Mexican authorities, five officials familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.
News of the capture came after a night of violence in the city of Culiacan in the northern state of Sinaloa, home to the drug cartel of the same name, and one of the world’s most powerful narcotics trafficking organizations.
Ovidio, who has become a key figure in the Sinaloa Cartel since the arrest of his father, was briefly detained in 2019 by security forces, but quickly released to end violent retribution from his gang in an embarrassing setback for the government.
His capture comes just days before a North American leaders’ summit in Mexico City next week, which U.S. President Joe Biden will attend and at which security issues are on the agenda.
One of the Mexican officials said Guzman’s arrest was likely to prove a welcome addition to U.S.-Mexico cooperation on security ahead of Biden’s visit.
The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Ovidio.
A surge in overdose deaths in the United States, fueled by the synthetic opioid fentanyl, has led to increased pressure on Mexico to combat the organizations – such as the Sinaloa Cartel – responsible for producing and shipping the drug.
For Tomas Guevara, a security expert at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa, Guzman’s arrest helps save face for Mexican law enforcement following the humiliation of having to let El Chapo’s son go in 2019.
“The detention of Ovidio is finally the culmination of something that was planned three years ago,” he said.
It might also herald a change in approach by the government, Guevara added, after criticism from many security experts that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had gone soft on the cartels, an accusation he denies.
The president argues the confrontational tactics of his predecessors were unsuccessful and only caused more bloodshed, saying he would instead pursue a strategy of “hugs not bullets.”
On Thursday morning, security forces were attempting to contain a violent reaction to the arrest in the Culiacan area by Guzman’s associates, the same official said.
The city’s airport was closed and will remain so until Thursday night, it said on Twitter.
Local government urged people to stay indoors and said schools and administrative offices were closed due to the violence. Unverified videos on social media appeared to show heavy gunfire, including from helicopters during the night. Street blockades had also been erected.
“We ask the citizens of Culiacan not to leave home due to the blockades that have occurred in different parts of the city,” Culiacan Mayor Juan de Dios Gamez wrote on Twitter.
Joaquin Guzman, 65, was convicted in New York in 2019 of trafficking billions of dollars of drugs to the United States and conspiring to murder enemies. He is serving a life sentence at Colorado’s Supermax, the most secure U.S. federal prison.
Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Dave Graham and Diego Ore, additional reporting by Tomas Bravo, Writing by Isabel Woodford and Stephen Eisenhammer Editing by Alistair Bell