Mexican authorities battled the Sinaloa cartel over El Chapo's son and lost

Last Thursday, there was a huge firefight in broad daylight between Mexican authorities and members of the Sinaloa cartel. They were fighting over one of El Chapo’s sons, nicknamed “the mouse” who was arrested but later released in order to end the violence.

The battle started when a group of police stormed a house belonging to the girlfriend of Ovidio Guzman. They captured him but soon cartel members took over the streets. This video shows some of the cartel gunmen on their way to the fight (the video was taken from WhatsApp):

Those weren’t the biggest weapons that showed up:

This portion of the gunbattle was captured by a reporter:

There was a large gun battle in the streets, with cartel members burning buses and large trucks to limit the ability of authorities to call in reinforcements:

In the midst of the chaos, the cartels apparently staged a jailbreak. Here you can see some of the 50 or so escaped prisoners swarming into the street:

Eventually, the outnumbered and outgunned authorities released El Chapo’s son. This video has been circulating and appears to show the cartel members shaking hands with the military:

Some praised the government’s decision not to prolong the fighting and thereby turn the capital of Sinaloa into a war zone, but other observers worry the cartels just let it be known they are in charge.

The gunbattle Thursday paralyzed the capital of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, Culiacan, and left the streets littered with burning vehicles. Residents took cover indoors as automatic gunfire raged outside.

It was the third bloody and terrifying shootout in less than a week between security forces and cartel henchmen, raising questions about whether President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s policy of avoiding the use of force and focusing on social ills is working.

López Obrador defended the decision to back down, saying his predecessors’ strategy “turned this country into a cemetery, and we don’t want that anymore.”

But Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who worked undercover in Mexico, called the violence “a massive black eye to the Mexican government” and a “sign that the cartels are more powerful” than it is.

That conclusion, that the cartels just showed Mexico who is boss was widely shared:

“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.

The NY Times published a story focused on the locals in the city of Culiacan who were happy the government had relented rather than let the battle continue. However, even one of the locals predicts the result of giving in to the cartels once will be future violence:

As the city tries to get on with life, some residents worry about the repercussions of Mr. Guzmán López’s release. Once the cartel leaders were able to force the authorities to bend to their will by turning on the population, they might try to do it again, said Osvaldo García, an employee at a tapestry shop.

“This will cause a reaction similar to a small child throwing tantrums,” said Mr. García, who saw armed men set fire to a bus to block a road. “The cartel men will throw violent fits from now on every time they don’t get what they want.”

Mexico’s president Obrador has created a new National Guard which was intended to secure the country from cartel violence but most of those troops are reportedly working to prevent caravans of illegal immigrants from making their way to the United States. If he decides to reassign those troops in the wake of this gun battle, that could have an impact down the line on the number of Central Americans arriving at the US border.