The Mexican president spoke out on Friday morning after a bloody night of warfare between cartel members and the army which was triggered by the brief arrest of El Chapo’s son.
The violence began when cartel leaders including Ovidio Guzman Lopez, one of the drug lord’s sons, who were hiding in a house in Culiacan, opened fire on a group of soldiers who had been patrolling the area.
The army returned fire, stormed the house and took four people into custody – including Ovidio.
But as word spread that they had come under attack, scores of other gang members descended on the house to try to save them.
They overpowered the authorities, who eventually retreated without Ovidio. It sparked a night of fighting in the area.
Videos emerged on social media of purported gang members taking to the streets with machine guns and grenade launchers. Children crouched next to cars and asked their parents why people were shooting.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday the decision to relase Ovidio Guzman Lopez was made to protect civilian lives and prevent bloodshed
A purported cartel fighter carrying a grenade launcher to take with him to fight the army in Cualican on Thursday after violence erupted over the arrest of El Chapo’s son
Military and civilians are shown at a check point. Roads shut down in the city on Thursday to try to limit the violence
Many asked who was really in charge in Mexico, with the military easily overpowered by the criminal organization.
At a press conference on Friday, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador did not acknowledge defeat, instead saying the decision to retreat was made to stop the bloodshed.
‘Decisions were made that I support because the situation took a difficult turn.
‘The lives of many residents, many people, many human beings, were at risk, and the decision was made to protect the lives of the people. I was in agreement with that.
A young girl crouches next to her family car asking her father why people were shooting on Thursday
A cartel sniper lies on the ground in the street in Cualican to take on the military
Cartel fighters walk through the street with machine guns on Thursday at the height of the fighting
Plumes of smoke from the many cars that were set on fire by the cartel to try to stunt the military’s movements
A common tactic for the cartel is to set cars on fire at the end of roads to block the military from closing in on them
‘You cannot put out the fire with fire. We do not want dead people. We do not want war. That is hard for many to understand.
‘We have to confront two mafias, white collar crime … we’re already battling it, and the delinquent gangs called organized [crime].
‘The decision was made by the security cabinet. I supported that decision because I considered that the protection of the people was more important.
‘It was more important that there weren’t any deaths. What is more important is that there is peace,’ he said.
He later added, when asked if his critics would see it as a defeat: ‘We have no doubt that it was the best decision.
‘Power is not arrogance, power is not violence, power is humility, power only makes sense and becomes as virtue when it has the power of others.’
The shootout between the cartel and the army came in two blasts. One started at 3.30pm and went on for around 20 minutes before a second one erupted.
The second gun battle went on late into Thursday evening and lasted for four hours.
Riodoce reported that gunmen had blocked entrances to the city with burning vehicles, a common tactic to make it difficult for security forces to maneuver.
A shattered car window which was pierced with bullets on Thursday during the gun battle
The official death toll is two but photographs taken on the ground on Thursday indicate that it is much higher. Bodies were strewn across the street
Ovidio, along with his brothers, is believed to be influential in the cartel since their father was jailed for life in the United States.
Despite the reaction to his arrest, Ovidio is not one of El Chapo’s best-known sons.
Iván Archivaldo Guzmán and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán are known as ‘los Chapitos’, or ‘the little Chapos’, and are believed to currently run their father’s Sinaloa Cartel together with Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada.
Following the apprehension of Ovidio on Thursday, Culiacan exploded in violence with armed civilians in trucks roaring through the city’s center shooting what appeared to be .50-caliber sniper rifles and machine guns.
Gunmen later blocked streets with burning vehicles, a common tactic to make it difficult for security forces to manoeuvre. Simultaneously, some 20 to 30 prisoners escaped though some were quickly recaptured, he said.
State officials asked residents to avoid going out in parts of city.
Sinaloa’s soccer club Dorados announced that it had cancelled its game on Thursday due to security concerns.
Ovidio Guzman (left), along with his brothers, is believed to be influential in the cartel since their father, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, (right) was jailed in the United States
Govervor Quirino Ordaz confirmed that school classes had been suspended but that businesses would open on Friday.
Mr Gonzalez, however, doubted this.
“There is no public transportation, no taxis, people outside the city remain blocked outside and tomorrow will be the same,” he said, adding that Culiacan had not seen such a scene for almost a decade, when the Sinaloa Cartel was experiencing an internal war.
Sinaloa is home to the cartel by the same name, which was led by “El Chapo” Guzman. Guzman was sentenced to life in prison in the United States in July. He has many children.
After Guzman’s third arrest in 2016, an internal battle for succession began playing out. The battle was resolved with the arrest of Damaso Lopez Nunez and his son Damaso Lopez Serrano, who led a rival faction.