But on Thursday in the Sinaloan city of Culiacan, the cartel gunmen were everywhere. They openly drove in trucks with mounted machine guns, blockaded streets flashing their Kalashnikovs and burned trucks unleashing plumes of smoke like it was a scene in Syria. They took control of the strategic points in the metro area, shut down the airport, roads, and government buildings and exchanged fire with security forces for hours, leaving at least eight people dead. In contrast, everyone else had to act like ghosts, hiding behind locked doors, not daring to step outside.

And in this unusual battle, the Sinaloa Cartel won. Their uprising was in response to soldiers storming a house on Thursday and arresting Ovidio Guzman, the 28-year old son of convicted kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. In February, the U.S. Justice Department announced it had indicted Ovidio Guzman on trafficking cocaine, marijuana and meth. But after hours of cartel chaos, Mexico’s federal government gave soldiers the go ahead to release him. It capitulated…

“The Sinaloa Cartel demonstrated a tremendous ability to mobilize rapidly and take effective control of the city,” says Raul Benitez, an expert on Latin America’s armed conflicts. “They showed that in Sinaloa, they are the ones who run things.”

In contrast, the Mexican military was in shambles. Officials made contradictory and confusing statements about why the soldiers had gone to Guzman’s house without enough back up. In many points in the city, the cartel gunmen went unchallenged. There were reports that the cartel had held various soldiers hostage and threatened to kill them. And in these circumstances, it was best to let the suspect go, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Friday.