The federal government is asking Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to over a dozen areas of Mexico due to widespread violence and security operations underway in the state of Sinaloa, particularly in the cities of Culiacan, Mazatlan, Los Mochis, and Guasave, following the arrest of the son of a former cartel drug lord.
Mexican law enforcement captured Ovidio Guzman Lopez, nicknamed “The Mouse,” on Jan. 5, one of the sons of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman and allegedly a notorious high-ranking drug dealer wanted in the United States on drug trafficking-related charges. He was taken by helicopter to Mexico City following his arrest in Culiacan, capital of the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, which is just over 1,200 kilometres’ driving distance from Mexico City.
After the arrest, a number of flights were cancelled and Canadians were told to shelter in place and remain in their hotels or resorts, barricaded. It was reported Jan. 6 that 30 people had been killed in gunfire between police and suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Reports indicate that one police officer, 10 Mexican military personnel, and 19 alleged cartel members have been killed.
The Canadian travel advisory, last updated Jan. 7, says certain Mexican regions have “high levels of violence and organized crime” and asks travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution” and avoid non-essential travel to those areas.
One Canadian who left for Mazatlan from Winnipeg with her children and other family members on Dec. 30 tweeted on Jan. 5 that “there’s a sense of panic and uncertainty at the moment at our resort.” Sheila North described spending a beautiful day on a boat and seeing “plumes of smoke and black helicopters.”
She said “we didn’t know until we got back to our hotel that there was a drug war happening.” Her flight was delayed, but on Jan.7 she tweeted that her family was safe at the airport and will be returning home to Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden are scheduled to be in Mexico City on Jan. 10 for the North American Leaders’ Summit. Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and International Trade Minister Mary Ng announced on Jan. 6 that they will be accompanying Trudeau to the event, which is sometimes referred to as the “Three Amigos” Summit.
The Canadian government has not made any updated statement to date about the summit.
Gunfights erupted between cartel members and the Mexican military after the arrest. An Aeromexico passenger jet was struck by a bullet while preparing for takeoff. While no one was hurt, a video posted to Twitter shows passengers taking cover on the floor.
A Mexican air force plane was also hit by gun fire, airport buildings were shot at, and alleged members of the cartel were setting vehicles on fire to form roadblocks and carjacking residents in Culiacan.
Canadians described being told to stay in their hotel rooms, and some stranded travellers who had already checked out of their hotels slept in hotel lobbies, with the exterior gates barricaded.
A reported 13,349 Canadians have registered their presence in Mexico with Global Affairs Canada, which maintains a database of citizens abroad. Registration is voluntary, and not all Canadians register.
Witnesses report military and police vehicles patrolling beaches that just a day before were filled with tourists soaking in the sun and sand.
Jan. 5 video footage posted of Mazatlan showed airport entrances blocked off by the cartel. Other unconfirmed video footage posted on Jan. 6 showed soldiers from the Mexican army arriving via water on a beach in Mazatlan after Guzman Lopez’s arrest.
On Jan. 6, Sunwing Vacations tweeted that after consulting with the government, the company was cancelling all southbound flights that day to Mazatlán from Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, and Vancouver.
Also on Jan. 6, airports in Culiacan and Mazatlan reopened at 10 a.m. local time, according to a Mexican airport authority, but some flights continued to be delayed or cancelled.
Guzman Lopez and his brother Joaquin Guzman Lopez were both indicted in April 2018 by a Federal Grand Jury in Washington, D.C., on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. Mexican authorities allege that Ovidio is the leader of “los menores,” or “the juniors,” a faction of the drug cartel, and is wanted particularly for alleged involvement in fentanyl production.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.