Chronicle: ‘It rained lead in Culiacán, that day the rule of law was lost’

In the handwriting of Ernesto Martínez, the Línea Directa police reporter who lived ‘El Culiacanazo’ firsthand and who was at the epicenter of the chaos that gripped the entire city

Culiacán, Sinaloa.- Thursday, October 17, 2019, was a different day from the previous five days of that week. The absence of murders, accidents, and even natural deaths made the authorities “relax”, but not the funeral home employees and journalists, whose sixth sense, foreboding, and even historical data, made them feel that the worst was yet to come. And it is that as an old journalist said: “when it is calmer is when the hare jumps”, referring to the fact that when the city is calmer in terms of violence is when high impact events are approaching or something is being forged by part of criminal groups. 

That day, from an early hour, city activity was out of the ordinary, a heavy downpour fell in the morning and made the government authorities suspend classes at all educational levels in the afternoon shift. Five people were also found shot to death in the municipalities of Culiacán and Navolato in a period of four hours, thus mobilizing the police forces. The floods brought relief forces in check and the experts of the State Attorney General’s Office could not cope with the places where the bodies were found. 

That morning, from the Navolato Valley, one could see how “the sky was falling” in Culiacán. A large dark cloud covered the state capital, while people listened to the thunder of the heavy downpour that lasted just over an hour, without imagining that hours later it would “rain lead” that would change the lives of more than 14 people and injure another 19 (according to official figures) among alleged criminals, state, municipal, military and civilian police who were left in the midst of the crossfire. 

‘Nunca se va a acabar el dolor’: Alcalde de Culiacán recuerda el ‘Jueves Negro’  (archivo)

Early that day there were almost no traffic jams. Most preferred to stay in their homes, in the air conditioning due to the high temperatures that were registered after the rain. In some cases it was possible to observe one or another student in the parks who took advantage of the suspension of school activities to go for a walk, others more in cinemas and shops in the City Center. 

Just five minutes before 3:00 in the afternoon, the routine was interrupted by loud detonations of large caliber weapons in the Tres Ríos Urban Development. No one knew where they came from. The “hail of bullets” was very strong. Some motorists said it was there for the City Club directions. But the presence of armed people everywhere began to create chaos among motorists and passers-by. 

The activity on the Enrique Sánchez Alonso Boulevard stopped with the wailing of the sirens of the patrols that came to the scene of the shooting. A few meters from the headquarters of the State Attorney General’s Office, in charge of procuring justice, the police and uniformed units mixed with armored cars and hitmen who got out of the vehicles wearing civilian clothes with tactical equipment, bibs, helmets, glasses, Communication radios, bulletproof vests, and heavy-caliber weapons in attack and defense positions on a busy cruise ship, where dozens of workers sold their regional products and others cleaned windows. 

Así reportó la prensa internacional el Culiacanazo el 17 de octubre del 2019

The shots and the presence everywhere of armed people who lost their fear of the police, made citizens quickly seek a shelter to avoid being injured or even dying from a stray bullet. The uniformed men, seeing that large groups of hitmen passed by in armored trucks and pickup-type vehicles, were left without knowing what to do and only tried to speed up traffic to avoid congestion. Everything was chaos and confusion, they knew that if they faced the gunmen they were dead, because they were outnumbered and outgunned. 

During the first confrontations in four points of Tres Ríos, some brave municipal police officers dared to shoot at young people who were not over 30 years old. They were armed with assault rifles and anti-aircraft rifles embedded in armored trucks. Those youngsters seemed to enjoy the moment. The whole movie-like scene was suicidal on both sides. On the one hand, the commitment to safeguard the rule of law by the local police and the military; and on the other, the adrenaline and hunger to fire a weapon against the federal forces by the gunmen, who longed to defend their bosses and thus climb one more rung in the criminal organization. 

But in the scuffle that lasted more than four hours in the most intense part, most of the local policemen were ignored by the gunmen. They fired at military targets, at the soldiers who made up the security rings of the operation and only some local agents were stripped of their vehicles by the armed groups, to burn them or to integrate the official units into the terror convoys that took over the streets of Culiacán that afternoon, for more than 7 hours. 

At that time uncertainty took hold of the general population, no one knew what was happening. Everything was confusing. There was no citizen who did not realize the chaotic situation. Some terrified police officers ran out of ammunition in the first minutes of the “grab”. They chose to take off their uniforms, retreat on foot, and abandon the place where they were entrenched. Still, others said that the “cob had been shelled” and that it was the beginning of another “narco-war” like the one in 2008. Uncertainty and confusion reigned for more than two hours between the elements that had to try their luck that day and some of them currently take it as a new birth, by making it out alive. 

After almost two hours of chaos, the Federal Government confirmed the versions of the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, son of the drug trafficker imprisoned in the United States and sentenced to life imprisonment, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. At that moment the local policemen withdrew. They knew that the fight was not with them and now they understood why some of them were not massacred by the artillery vehicles when they ran into them head-on. 

The defensive strategy that the military forces expected to see turned into an offensive plan of terror that shook the deepest foundations of the Government of the Republic. Not having the sufficient capacity of personnel to face organized crime, a plan to contain the war attack, the impossibility of extracting the target by air and the attacks that the military families were being subjected to, it was decided to release Ovidio Guzmán and at that time the rule of law was lost. 

All the respect that the Mexican Army had accumulated during these years, and that at times was questionable due to the participation of troops in illegal activities and attacks against citizens, fell apart. An order “from above” was enough for the group led by “El Chapo” Guzmán to be invested with power and glory. They had won and the entire city was theirs. The operation started with the expectation of one hour had failed. The criminals were free again and were no longer bothered by the Army. 

Frustration was seen on the faces of some soldiers when they received the withdrawal order. Some of them still pointing their rifles back, as if looking for a possible attack, slowly lowered their guard and climbed into the trucks defeated. Still, others took advantage of the truce to change tires punctured by the bullets that went through the rubber and some saw tears of impotence and courage roll in their companions because they could not see their objective fulfilled, simply because they had to comply with the rule of “following orders” without question them. 

After that pause of fire, the silence in the streets lasted for hours until the next day. The great columns of black smoke were lost in the sunset like an image of a Middle Eastern city under war. The trucks crossed in main roads, some of them burning and other vehicles, in the same way, completed the scene. We had gone through a small war, they said, a war where the Federal, State, and Municipal governments were unable to guarantee the safety of their citizens and left them in the hands of criminals. 

Liberación de Ovidio Guzmán durante operativo fallido en Culiacán, Sinaloa (Cortesía)

That night 99% of the businesses closed their doors after the shootings. Those who wanted to dine did not find any open premises. Gas stations were closed. The city stopped and a voluntary curfew was carried out by the citizens, but that night no one slept, some because they had to stay awake in places such as shopping centers, where they took refuge or were shopping at the time of the attack. Others were afforded protection by good citizens who lent their homes to strangers as a gesture of brotherhood. 

But others did not fall asleep because they lived closely with the detonations and were etched in their minds forever and these images that spread like wildfire through social networks will be integrated into the social imaginary of our entity. That day, the fifth power was expressed through social networks, which were the first to make the news known. The media fell short in spreading what was happening at the time and it was the citizens who saturated with video messages and alerts of what was happening in all corners of the municipality in the absence of official information, while the governments They told the people “nothing happens, the city is quiet.” 

Sinaloa a before and after the “Culiacanazo”: QOC

An event that marked the entity at the international level, an operation with errors and a decision that privileged life, includes the Governor of Sinaloa

In Sinaloa, particularly in Culiacán, October 17, 2019 undoubtedly left marked a before and after: a day that placed the entity on the international plane, an operation with errors and a correct decision, as well The Governor of the State included the fact, one year after that “black Thursday”.

“I think we have to keep looking forward, Sinaloa is at peace, calm, stability.”

Was there a before and after?

“Of course there was a before and after, I think it was an operation that we never expected, that really had errors and that affected us all. Of course, it was marked because there were people injured, it generated a high negative impact at the national and international level. We are very pleased with all the actions taken by the federal government, the president, to have saved and privileged lives, “he argued.

The day of Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest, the one called Black Thursday, will remain in the conscience of the people who experienced the event closely, who lost relatives or who were affected in their belongings, the state president mentioned.


The Mazatlan Post