Travellers in Mexico told to shelter in place due to violence
Canadian tourists were trapped in a Mexican hotel on Thursday when buses meant to take them to an airport and home safely burned outside.
“It’s just chaos,” said Edmonton’s Tina Dahl, whose family of six stranded in the popular tourist city of Mazatlan was scheduled to fly out Thursday night.
The federal government advised Canadians in Mexico to limit their movements and seek shelter due to the violence in the western part of the country.
The violence began after a security operation before dawn Thursday, during which security forces arrested suspected drug dealer Ovidio “The Mouse” Guzman, a son of former cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Ottawa said the violence was particularly intense in Culiacan, Mazatlan, Los Mochis and Guasave.
Dahl’s brother, sister-in-law, their three children and her sister-in-law’s mother were all trapped in their hotel room, she said.
“They were supposed to come back today but are stuck in their hotel because the three buses that were supposed to go to the airport were set on fire by the (drug) cartel,” Dahl said.
“There was a shooting at the airport, so the airports were closed and the cartel put their warriors in front of the hotel. All I know is that my brother and his family are stuck at the hotel right now.”
Dahl doesn’t have a phone line to the hotel, she said. But she was able to communicate with her family through Facebook.
“Sounds like they’re all fine,” she said.
“(They are) obviously shaken. Just because they’ve read between the lines of the lyrics and such, they’re pretty shaken up.”
The children are 10, 8 and 7 years old.
“I’m sure my brother probably has (the kids) at the pool and is trying not to keep them[focused]on it,” Dahl said.
Dahl quoted from a note from her sister-in-law: “The first time it happened they said we would try to get you on a 2am flight tomorrow.
“I don’t think they will fly home tomorrow. The gates are locked, the airports are closed and they are burning down the city of Mazatlan.
“The lobby is full of people who should be kicked out, and if they’re not out by 5 p.m., they throw them out. These people can’t go out on the street when buses are burning outside and the cartel’s are there.”
Canadian officials said on Twitter that cars were set on fire, guns were fired and essential infrastructure, including airports, was under threat. Culiacan and Mazatlan airports have been closed and all flights at Los Mochis Airport have been suspended until further notice.
Jason Kung, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, said Canadians should avoid all non-essential travel to different regions of Mexico due to high levels of violence and organized crime.
“Due to widespread violence and security operations in Sinola State, Canadians already in the area should limit movement and seek shelter where possible, avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place (and) not even attempt road blockades.” cross if they appear unattended,” he said in a statement.
He said Global Affairs Canada is aware of Canadians affected by these events and is providing consular services.
Canadians requiring emergency consular assistance are encouraged to contact the Global Affairs Canada Emergency Watch and Response Center by calling 001-800-514-0129 (toll-free from Mexico only), +1 613 996 8885, or texting +1 Contact 613-686-3658, WhatsApp +1 613-909-8881, Telegram Canada Emergency Abroad, or email [email protected].
Aeromexico airline said in a statement that one of its jets was hit by a bullet Thursday morning as it prepared to take off. Passenger video posted online showed people crouched on the floor of the plane. The company said passengers and crew are safe.
Later, Mexico’s civil aviation authority said in a statement that an air force plane in Culiacan was also hit by gunfire.
Alleged cartel members kidnapped residents of Culiacan and set fire to vehicles in the cartel stronghold.
“I’m in a hotel… They took my car three hours ago,” local reporter Marcos Vizcarra said via Twitter. He said gunmen broke into the hotel where he was sheltering “and are threatening guests to give them their car keys.”
Later, Vizcarra reported that they stole his phone but he made it home safely.
In Culiacan, intermittent gunfire continued into the afternoon as Mexican security forces continued to clash with cartel gunmen.
Mexican officials said cartel members set up 19 roadblocks, including at Culiacan’s airport and outside the local army base, and at all access points into the city of Culiacan.
Local and state authorities warned everyone to stay indoors. Global Affairs Canada advised Canadian tourists to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings and not try to cross roadblocks.
The fighting came days before President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was due to receive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden for a summit in Mexico City.
It’s not the first time Ovidio Guzman’s arrest has sparked violence.
An aborted operation to capture him three years ago sparked violence in Culiacan, which ultimately led Obrador to order the military to let Guzman go.
“This is a major blow to the Sinaloa cartel and a major victory for the rule of law,” Mike Vigil, former DEA chief of international operations. “However, it will not impede the flow of drugs into the United States. Hopefully Mexico will extradite him to the US”
According to Vigil, Guzman was involved in all of the cartel’s activities, most notably the production of fentanyl.
Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said Guzman’s capture was the result of six months of reconnaissance and surveillance on the cartel’s territory, followed by swift action on Thursday. National Guard troops spotted SUVs, some with homemade armor, and immediately coordinated with the army as they established a perimeter around the suspect vehicles and forced the occupants to be searched.
Security forces then came under fire but were able to bring the situation under control and identify Guzman among those present and in possession of firearms, Sandoval said.
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton, on file from the Associated Press
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 5, 2023.