The Weekly | The Plan to Rescue El Chapo’s Son: Chaos, Guns and Fear

The Weekly | The Plan to Rescue El Chapo’s Son: Chaos, Guns and Fear

[indistinct shouting in Spanish] <i>PAULINA: On Thursday, October 17th,</i> <i>Mexican forces arrested</i> <i>the son of former drug lord El Chapo.</i> <i>AZAM: An image appeared online.</i> <i>The expressionless face or almost a slight smirk,</i> <i>like, “Yeah, you want to take my picture?</i> <i>Sure. We’ll see how this ends.”</i> <i>[dramatic music]</i> [gunfire] We suddenly just saw this eruption of forceful violence. [gunfire, woman screams, man shouts in Spanish] <i>Immediately we all went to social media</i> <i>and started reviewing the footage that was coming out.</i> It was astounding. [gunfire] – Video from eyewitnesses… cartel men… footage from the Mexican security forces. [gunfire] <i>AZAM: It was an interesting prism through which to watch</i> <i>a conflict between cartel gunmen and armed forces.</i> <i>It wasn’t told through any one narrative.</i> It was told through the eyes of a thousand people. <i>PAULINA: Minute by minute, hour by hour…</i> <i>And a fuller story emerges.</i> It is a story about how the Sinaloa Cartel took on the Mexican government and won. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>PAULINA: It started as an ordinary day in Culiacán,</i> <i>a city of one million people.</i> <i>PAULINA: But in the afternoon, people started hearing gunshots.</i> [siren wailing in the distance] [loud gunfire] [pop music playing] [gunfire] <i>AZAM: Culiacán’s the capital city of Sinaloa state,</i> which is a state probably most well-known for being the home of the Sinaloa Cartel. <i>PAULINA: People in Culiacán are also well-accustomed to violence,</i> <i>but this was different.</i> <i>Intense firefights were breaking out across the city.</i> <i>Why? Because around 2:30 p.m.,</i> security forces had launched an operation to capture a high-value target. <i>It was one of the sons of El Chapo Guzmán</i> <i>and one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel…</i> <i>Ovidio Guzmán.</i> <i>This was supposed to be a quick arrest,</i> <i>an extraction operation</i> <i>to extradite him to the United States.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>In this video, we see Mexican security forces</i> <i>surrounding this upscale house.</i> <i>It was supposed to take 25 minutes</i> <i>from the house to the airport.</i> [gunshots] But something clearly went terribly wrong. [indistinct shouting in Spanish] <i>AZAM: So Ovidio Guzmán</i> <i>is one of El Chapo Guzmán’s younger sons.</i> <i>As one of Chapo’s sons,</i> <i>he’s sort of one of the cartel elite.</i> We do know the U.S. had requested the extradition of Ovidio Guzmán. <i>We do know he’d been indicted in U.S. courts.</i> There was a fentanyl lab that was actually raided earlier this year, and it was believed that he might have been one of the people overseeing that. <i>PAULINA: Ovidio was trying to avoid being extradited</i> <i>to the United States, as his father was.</i> <i>NEWSCASTER: Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán</i> <i>was once named the world’s most wanted man.</i> <i>AZAM: He was known for showing up at restaurants</i> <i>and then paying for meals for everyone before he left.</i> <i>That kind of outward expression</i> <i>of “I’m a man of the people”</i> <i>is something people want to believe in.</i> <i>So he became an iconic drug dealer,</i> <i>the same way that the train robbers of American history</i> became iconic figures. <i>PAULINA: Part of the myth that is El Chapo</i> has a lot to do with his multiple Houdini-like escapes from prison, <i>from two of the most secure federal prisons in Mexico.</i> <i>NEWSCASTER: It’s the second escape for the notorious drug kingpin.</i> <i>NEWSCASTER 2: Incredible story.</i> <i>NEWSCASTER 3: The spectacular escape…</i> <i>NEWSCASTER 4: The Sinaloa Cartel</i> <i>are well known for their super tunnels…</i> <i>NEWSCASTER 5: El Chapo most likely had help from the inside.</i> <i>PAULINA: This was possible only because of the wide</i> <i>and deep political connections he had</i> <i>and his incredible capacity</i> to bribe pretty much anyone he wanted. [man speaks Spanish] <i>And, of course, the United States steps in,</i> <i>and the last time El Chapo was captured</i> <i>was highly successful.</i> <i>That ultimately led to his extradition a year later.</i> <i>NEWSCASTER: He was thought untouchable</i> <i>until he was charged in the U.S. and extradited here.</i> <i>NEWSCASTER 2: Today Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán</i> <i>was sentenced to life in prison.</i> <i>PAULINA: What the United States was seeking</i> was to set an example. <i>AZAM: This big, iconic drug dealer,</i> <i>this source of pride for the Sinaloa Cartel</i> was just sort of shunted off into a maximum-security prison and into obscurity. <i>NEWSCASTER: Like father, like sons,</i> <i>the children of infamous drug lord El Chapo</i> <i>are running his empire.</i> <i>ALEJANDRO: Chapo apparently had 10 children.</i> The number is undetermined, but apparently he had, I mean, at least ten recognized offspring. <i>AZAM: Four that we know of that are primarily involved</i> <i>in drug trafficking,</i> and they are suddenly trying to figure out how they can fill the power vacuum. <i>They’re known for spending money, partying hard,</i> <i>being out on the scene,</i> but their father grew up almost as a peasant. He grew up a poor farmer in a rural area of Sinaloa. <i>NEWSCASTER: Last month Mexico’s army</i> <i>says El Chapo’s sons were behind an ambush</i> <i>that left five soldiers dead.</i> <i>PAULINA: So here’s Ovidio facing down his captors.</i> <i>We’ve all seen this movie before,</i> but this time things are different. The Sinaloa Cartel, his brothers, an army of hit men, they are all determined to not let that happen again. [gunshots, tires squealing] [man shouting in Spanish] <i>PAULINA: The cartel moved with incredible speed.</i> <i>[man shouting in Spanish]</i> <i>Within minutes,</i> <i>battles were already raging on the streets.</i> [gunshots] [gunfire] [indistinct shouting] <i>By the time that video was taken,</i> <i>they had activated a plan to get him back</i> to avoid his father’s fate. <i>The Mexican security forces asked Ovidio</i> <i>to call his people.</i> <i>Ovidio makes this phone call. We don’t know who he calls.</i> But whoever was on the phone clearly didn’t listen. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>AZAM: They think at that point,</i> <i>nobody was sure what was happening.</i> <i>The information that came out was coming from the streets,</i> <i>was coming from witnesses, was coming from local media…</i> [loud gunfire] <i>Was coming from recordings that were captured.</i> It was all through social media. <i>PAULINA: Mexicans, we are used to living with violence…</i> <i>Which often includes clashes</i> <i>with Mexican security forces,</i> <i>but not in the middle of a capital city,</i> <i>putting innocent people in danger.</i> [indistinct chatter in Spanish] <i>You can see an officer telling people, “It’s bad.</i> Get out of here because it’s gonna get worse.” <i>AZAM: Some of the videos were harrowing.</i> There was almost nowhere to hide. – During that same time, there was another shootout <i>right in front of this grocery store, City Club.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> [gunfire] [phone ringing] <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>AZAM: What the people of Culiacán did not know at the time</i> is that this was the very beginning of a long and drawn-out gunfight that would take place across the city and be arguably the most public display of cartel force the city had ever seen. [gunfire] [gunfire continues] <i>[dramatic music]</i> [gunfire] – By 3:30, you were really seeing things heat up, <i>cars getting shot at…</i> <i>the military staging and trying to fight back.</i> [gunshots] <i>At this point, we don’t know</i> <i>where Ovidio Guzmán is being held,</i> <i>but we do know that he was unable</i> to be taken out of the city. <i>PAULINA: We also start seeing evidence of blockings</i> <i>on bridges, cars, and vehicles that were hijacked,</i> <i>including buses.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> What we’re seeing is a systematic plan. Bridges, intersections, routes in and out of the city all were being taken. <i>AZAM: Essentially they were creating a chokehold</i> <i>so that no reinforcements could get in there,</i> <i>they could sow terror, and they could sort of overwhelm</i> <i>that particular space with violence.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>I’ve seen cartel people operating in cities.</i> <i>I’ve seen them move around</i> <i>but never in such a brazen way.</i> <i>It was staggering.</i> <i>You were seeing cartel henchmen</i> <i>deployed like soldiers.</i> <i>They were moving around different parts of the city,</i> <i>operating with mounted .50-caliber machine guns.</i> <i>What became clear</i> <i>was that the people who actually had a strategy…</i> [gunshot] <i>Had a plan…</i> [gunfire] Were the cartel people. [indistinct chatter in Spanish] <i>And the military and the police</i> <i>and others involved on the government side</i> <i>were simply trying to survive.</i> [man speaking Spanish] <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>AZAM: To the south of the city, at this</i> caseta, <i>which is a tollbooth, it became a chokepoint.</i> It was a place to get reinforcements from the south for the government. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>The cartel shows up.</i> <i>You see them sort of surrounding</i> <i>seven, eight soldiers.</i> <i>What it looked like was the cartel guys going up</i> <i>and basically slapping five with these military guys.</i> <i>Now, it’s not clear what exactly it was</i> <i>that we were seeing.</i> What is clear is that the soldiers were completely overwhelmed. There’s no way they were gonna take on that many guys, so they were either gonna die there, or there was going to be a détente. <i>PAULINA: There were reports that cartel men</i> <i>were able to pick up new recruits</i> <i>so they could maintain their advantage.</i> And then video emerges taken by <i>sicarios</i> themselves. [man speaking Spanish] <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>AZAM: Amid all the chaos,</i> there was also a breakout at Aguaruto prison. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>PAULINA: They stormed into the prison’s main gate.</i> – Go inside and just start letting guys go. 50-some guys got out. <i>♪ ♪</i> – Basically, the inmates were pretty easily— astoundingly easily were able to walk away. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>AZAM: And, of course, security forces,</i> <i>they can’t get to it so easily</i> <i>because there’s been barricades and blockades.</i> <i>PAULINA: So what appeared to be</i> <i>total and utter chaos around the city</i> was actually a very strategic and planned counterresponse. <i>AZAM: The strategy was just sow chaos,</i> create yet another leverage and pressure point to release Ovidio. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>Among the targets that day was a housing complex</i> <i>for military families.</i> <i>PAULINA: Wives or daughters of military soldiers told me</i> <i>that they were having a normal day,</i> <i>watching TV, cooking meals, when…</i> <i>all of a sudden, they heard vehicles</i> <i>parking in front of the main gate.</i> <i>AZAM: A convoy of cartel gunmen stormed the facility.</i> <i>It’s essentially a hostage situation,</i> <i>which is extraordinary leverage.</i> Now, witnesses there that we spoke with said these gunmen also carried with them gasoline, <i>and the plan was, if they didn’t release Ovidio Guzmán,</i> <i>to set these buildings on fire.</i> <i>Now, you’ve got women, children,</i> <i>others who have nothing to do with anything.</i> It was both the crossing of a line to go after innocent, unarmed civilians, and it was also a stroke of strategic genius because it worked. [man speaking Spanish] <i>PAULINA: That evening, after hours of carnage,</i> the Mexican government decided to do something unprecedented. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>AZAM: In that murky sort of press statement,</i> <i>the government said the operation was halted,</i> <i>but then sure enough, it came out.</i> They let this guy go. <i>PAULINA: They released Ovidio Guzmán.</i> The cartel had won. <i>[soft music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>PAULINA: The morning after the pandemonium, the chaos,</i> <i>the city of Culiacán</i> <i>was in total shock and lockdown…</i> <i>quiet, eerie,</i> <i>the ambience of a tense calm.</i> <i>[dramatic music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> – [sighs] <i>♪ ♪</i> [sniffles] <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>AZAM: I think the implications of this failed operation</i> are not just the short-term humiliation of the government. I think it raises a few questions. [indistinct shouting in Spanish] <i>Why was it so poorly planned and poorly executed</i> <i>that you were forced to choose</i> <i>between innocent civilian lives</i> <i>and arresting a narco trafficker?</i> <i>PAULINA: The cartel moved with incredible speed.</i> <i>Within minutes, they had already mobilized.</i> <i>Why did that happen, and how did that happen?</i> <i>Were they tipped off</i> <i>by someone involved in the security operation?</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>AZAM: Are they emboldened now?</i> <i>Does that mean that things that they weren’t gonna do before,</i> like threatening civilian populations, are now on the table? What lessons did they learn from this? <i>PAULINA: What happens</i> <i>when criminal groups mix with impunity, corruption?</i> <i>When all this is left unchecked,</i> what are the actual consequences? <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>After this very dramatic episode,</i> <i>we have no idea where Ovidio or the other sons are.</i> <i>Sources on the ground</i> <i>say the sons and other cartel members,</i> <i>they’re hiding in the mountains.</i> <i>We don’t even know</i> if the Mexican authorities are going after him. <i>[man singing in Spanish]</i> – Every time something like this escape happens, for instance, <i>narcocorridos</i> will come out, <i>songs about the heroic exploits</i> <i>of the various cartel leaders.</i> <i>PAULINA: There is a capital city in this country</i> <i>where a drug cartel actually rules.</i> <i>They are in charge,</i> and they learned that whenever they want to bring the Mexican government to its knees, they can. [man continues singing in Spanish]

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