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Why the arrest of El Chapo’s son caused a rampage of violence in a Mexican city

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The arrest of Ovidio Guzman, the son of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, has sparked a rampage of violence in the northwestern Mexican city of Culiacan, led by members of his Sinaloa drug cartel.

Gunfire has erupted, vehicles have been torched and roads blocked while cartel members clash with security forces. So far, at least 10 military personnel and 19 suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel have been killed.

The violence has prompted government authorities to warn residents to stay indoors. The Culiacan and Mazatlan airports have been closed and all flights had been suspended at the Los Mochis airport until further notice, according to Canada’s Global Affairs. The Canadian government is urging Canadians in Mexico’s Sinaloa state to limit their movements and to shelter in place.

CBC News explains what’s causing the violence, and how it’s impacting Canadians travelling in the area.

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Where is the violence taking place?

The violence is centred in northwestern Mexico, in the state of Sinaloa — specifically the state capital of Culiacan. This is about 1,200 kilometres northwest of Mexico City, and the home base of the Sinaloa cartel.

How is the violence affecting Canadians in Mexico?

Canadians vacationing in resorts in that area say they’ve been sheltering inside their hotels until the violence subsides.

On Thursday afternoon, Global Affairs Canada warned Canadians in Sinaloa to take extra care, especially in the cities of Culiacan, Mazatlan, Los Mochis and Guasave, and told Canadians to avoid non-essential travel in those areas.

Canadians in Mazatlan on impact of nearby violence

As the Canadian government encourages people travelling in Mexico to limit their movements in parts of the country due to an outbreak of cartel-related violence, two Canadians talk about how they’re getting through this challenging situation.

Patrick Hayden, a Canadian who is vacationing in Mazatlan, told CBC News that he was bit concerned — mostly because of reports of trouble at the nearby airport, where he had been scheduled to fly out on Friday.

“Also, where I’m staying is a very popular tourist destination and could be that we might be a target, but that doesn’t look like that right now,” he said.

“Today there is a lot of frustration and concern,” about being able to leave, he said. “But at this point we mostly recognize that it’s really out of our hands, so we’re just going to have to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.”

Who is Ovidio Guzman?

Guzman, 32, who goes by the nickname “The Mouse,” is the oldest son of El Chapo — Mexico’s most notorious drug lord. Guzman and his brothers emerged as leaders of one of the four factions in the cartel following their father’s arrest.

Juan Carlos Ayala, a Culiacan resident and Sinaloa University professor who studies the sociology of drug trafficking, told the Associated Press that Guzman was an obvious target since at least 2019.

Man in while collared shirt holding baseball cap mements before his detention.
This Oct. 17, 2019, frame grab from video provided by the Mexican government shows Ovidio Guzman during an earlier arrest in Culiacan. Later that same day, Mexican security forces were forced to release him after his gunmen shot up the western city of Culiacan. (Cepropie/The Associated Press)

“Ovidio’s fate had been decided. Moreover, he was identified as the biggest trafficker of fentanyl and the most visible Chapos leader.”

According to the U.S. and Mexican governments, Guzman had assumed a growing role among his brothers in carrying on their father’s business.

In December 2021, the State Department announced a $5 million US reward for information leading to the arrest of conviction of Guzman, who has been charged in the U.S. with conspiracy to traffic cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States.

The State Department said Guzman oversees methamphetamine labs in Sinaloa responsible for producing 3,000 to 5,000 pounds (1,360 to 2,268 kilograms) of the drug per month.

He is currently being held in a Mexico City maximum security federal prison.

His father is serving a life-plus-30-years sentence at a Colorado Supermax security prison for a series of drug-related charges.

Wasn’t Ovidio Guzman arrested before?

Guzman was detained in 2019 but was quickly released by orders of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador after hundreds of cartel henchmen overwhelmed security forces in Culiacan.

Obrador later acknowledged he released Guzman to end the violent retribution.

Why has the cartel reacted this way?

Such a show of force is not new in Mexico, said Angélica Durán-Martínez, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. She is also an expert in political and criminal violence, drug trade and crime in Latin American politics.

“That’s associated partially with all the changes the political and criminal landscape of Mexico has experienced over the past decade and a half,” she said. “[It’s] basically a situation of political fragmentation and criminal fragmentation which varies across the states. But that creates a situation where criminal actors have become more blatant in their power.”

Men holding machine guns wait in a jeep outside a building
Security personnel guard the prosecutor’s building where Guzman is in custody in Mexico City on Thursday. (Fernando Llano/The Associated Press)

Javier Osorio, an assistant professor at the school of government and public policy at the University of Arizona, who studies political and criminal violence in Latin American, said that around 20 years ago, cartels began acquiring high-powered military-grade weaponry.

That means they now have the capacity to fight back, “especially when the government strikes a very high target like this one. They will let the government know that they can fight,” he said.

How powerful is the Sinaloa cartel?

While other cartels have fragmented and lost their leader, or even dismantled, the Sinaloa cartel has managed to survive despite a lot of government effort to dismantle them, Osorio said.

In terms of drug-related activities, they control the Sinaloa corridor, which has traditionally been an opium-producing region. But over the last five years, the cartel has focused more on producing fentanyl, Osario said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers the Sinaloa cartel, along with the the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) to be responsible for most of the fentanyl inside the United Sates.

 

Federal government warns Canadians in Mexico to limit movement amid erupting violence

 

Canada’s government is urging Canadians in Mexico’s Sinaloa state to limit their movements and shelter in place amid an outbreak of violence in the country’s northwest following the arrest of Ovidio Guzman, a 32-year-old senior member of the Sinaloa Cartel and a son of jailed kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.

Since the arrest of El Chapo, the Sinaloa cartel has been composed of four key factions, one that includes El Chapo’s brother and another that includes his four sons, known collectively as Los Chapitos, according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington.

Durán-Martínez said there are sectors of the population that support the Sinaloa cartel, “because they have received social support from them and that became more blatant in the past few years, like giving food or giving groceries to people or giving money or sponsoring parties.”

But there are many people who are “absolutely tired” of the violence and of the reputation to their city and state from the cartel, and oppose their actions, she said.

What impact will his arrest have on the cartel?

When El Chapo was arrested, the cartel seemed to have a very clear succession plan in place, Osorio said.

“He was arrested and the cartel remains consolidated. They did not fragment like many other cartels when they lose their leadership,” he said.

A firefighter points a fire hose at a burned-out vehicle as another firefighter walks in front of them.
Firefighters extinguish a vehicle set on fire by members of a drug gang as a barricade, following the detention of Guzman, in Mazatlan, Mexico, on Thursday. (Reuters)

“If they will remain stable within and everybody stays loyal to the El Chapo legacy, then they’re going to keep the cartel intact and without much infighting.”

Durán-Martínez said it’s difficult to predict what will happen next, as incarceration of a major criminal leader can potentially lead to more infighting inside the organization, and therefore, to more violence.

“I think we may see some instability in the short term. The organization is, I think, a little bit more unstable internally than it was in the past,” she said.

“Whether that will lead to the dismantlement of the Sinaloa cartel or of criminal organizations in Sinaloa, I think the answer is no.”

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Federal government asking RCMP to ban use of sponge rounds, CS gas for crowd control

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OTTAWA — The federal government says it wants the RCMP to ban the use of two crowd-control tools that forces across the country say they have in their arsenals: sponge rounds and CS gas.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office confirmed that it wants the measures outlawed, even as the RCMP declines to say whether or not it will comply with that instruction.

The decision to restrict even the use of “less lethal” alternatives to crowd-control tools such as rubber bullets and stronger forms of tear gas has some critics questioning whether the federal Liberals are playing politics with policing.

“Removing less lethal options from our members’ available options raises real concerns for public and police officer safety,” National Police Union president Brian Sauvé said in a statement.

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The confirmation that the federal Liberals want the tools banned comes after The Canadian Press raised questions about a mandate letter Mendicino gave to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki last year.

The letter directed the force to stop using three use-of-force methods: the “carotid control” neck hold, rubber bullets and tear gas.

The RCMP made headlines recently when it confirmed that it still allows officers to use the controversial neck hold despite those instructions and the fact that other police forces have stopped using it.

The force does not use rubber bullets or the more-dangerous chemical compounds referred to as tear gas, which cause irritation to a person’s eyes and mucous membranes.

But the minister’s office is now clarifying that it wants similar tools banned, too.

Mendicino’s office said in a statement that it used the terms “rubber bullets” and “tear gas” in the mandate letter “as they are general language understood by most Canadians.”

It confirmed that it considers the milder CS gas and extended-range impact weapons, which fire foam rounds, to be the operational terms for such tools — meaning that it does want the RCMP to stop using them.

That came as news to Sauvé and other experts, who say that the decision is a departure from existing policy, since police forces across the country and around the world have such crowd-control methods in their arsenals.

The RCMP said in a statement that it is “working with partners, stakeholders and bargaining agents” to review the mandate letter — and gave no indication that it intends to follow Mendicino’s orders.

“The RCMP continues to report publicly on our use of police intervention options, including the carotid control technique and the 40 millimetre extended range impact weapon that fires sponge-tipped rounds, not rubber bullets, as well as the use of specialty munitions,” it said.

It added that its extended range weapons, in use since 2017, “provide an officer with more time and distance from an individual being responded to in order to better enable de-escalation and communication, when tactically feasible.”

Public disclosures show that the RCMP used CS gas 102 times in 2021, and it used extended-range impact weapons 86 times.

The public order units of major municipal police forces, including in Vancouver and Toronto, confirmed to The Canadian Press that they also have access to the tools.

In an interview, Western University criminologist Michael Arntfield argued that CS gas is “entirely different” than the compounds typically referred to as tear gas, and sponge rounds are different than rubber bullets.

He said tear and rubber bullets are “very inflammatory terms,” bringing up images of coups d’état, or of police attacking people who had been marching for Black civil rights outside Selma, Ala., in 1965.

“I’m not sure why those terms would be used if the government was serious about looking at less lethal alternatives.”

Arntfield said he is “genuinely confounded” about why Mendicino would “tack on” a request for the RCMP to stop using police tools that are commonplace across Canada in asking them to stop using the neck hold.

“It looks like political theatre and has absolutely nothing to do with law enforcement operations.”

On Parliament Hill this week, Mendicino said broadly that there is a need to reform law enforcement institutions.

“We are closely consulting and collaborating with law enforcement and experts in the area to take an evidence-based approach so that we can keep our community safe, while at the same time making sure that police have the tools they need when it comes to de-escalating,” Mendicino said.

But he would not answer questions about why the RCMP seems to be defying his instructions, walking away from reporters when the question was posed.

El Jones, an activist who helped lead a study on defunding police forces, says police are “an unaccountable force in Canada.”

The fact that the RCMP is not following political direction shows that impunity, she argued. “I think the police are very much signalling to us, no one can tell us what to do.”

The issue of which tools are and aren’t available to police is receiving heightened attention following the killing of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by police in Memphis, Tenn., in early January.

The “carotid control” neck hold, which the RCMP reported it used 14 times in 2021, had been widely condemned after George Floyd was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.

Jones said police are not transparent enough about their policies or how much training they provide for officers when it comes to the use of force.

“We don’t have good use-of-force study in Canada,” she said. “The picture of use of force in Canada, period, by the police, is just not very clear.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

 

David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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Inuit, environmental groups call for stronger measures to reduce underwater noise

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Hunters from Pond Inlet, Nvt. — known as Mittimatalik in Inuktitut — have said they’re seeing fewer narwhal in areas where they were once abundant, making it harder to feed their families, and that the whales’ behaviour is changing.

Lisa Koperqualuk, vice chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, says that’s because of noise from ships.

“It impacts our culture when marine animals are disturbed and are not in their usual places,” she said, adding hunters have to travel further to find narwhal.

Research has found narwhal are sensitive to noise. Aerial surveys indicate their numbers are declining in Eclipse Sound on the northeastern end of Baffin Island during the summer.

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A 2020 report by the Fisheries Department suggests that could be due to increasing ship traffic from mining, cruises, ice breaking and development, as well as other factors such as the presence of killer whales or natural movement in the region.

Newly revised international guidelines on reducing underwater noise from ships recognize the unique effects on Inuit, but environmental and Inuit organizations say stronger measures are needed.

The International Maritime Organization’s subcommittee on ship design and construction met in London last week, where members agreed on revisions to the 2014 guidelines. They include updated technical knowledge and sample templates for underwater noise management plans.

The draft updated guidelines also reference Indigenous knowledge and Inuit Nunaat, or Inuit homeland in the United States, Canada, Greenland and Russia. There, it states effects from underwater noise on marine life could be greater due to ice breaking, the presence of noise-sensitive species and Indigenous hunting rights.

“That is something ICC is really encouraged about because really we are the first Indigenous organization to have a voice at the IMO,” Koperqualuk said.

The council, which represents about 180,000 Inuit worldwide, wanted a separate section included in the guidelines focusing on challenges particular to the Arctic and Inuit Nunaat. For instance, it said noise travels further in cold water and expressed concern about the consequences for marine species Inuit rely on for food, culture and livelihoods.

Koperqualuk said there was interest in specific recommendations for ships operating in these waters, such as using Indigenous knowledge in voyage planning, but the north-specific section was ultimately not included in the guidelines because it’s not universally applicable.

Koperqualuk also noted the guidelines are voluntary and there has been little uptake by ship owners.

Andrew Dumbrille with the Clean Arctic Alliance, made up of 20 non-profit organizations, agreed there is a need for mandatory measures.

He pointed to a 2019 study on implementation of the existing guidelines overseen by World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Chamber of Shipping America, World Maritime University and Transport Canada. Several organizations reported they were a low priority as they are not mandatory as well as barriers such as the lack of baseline measurements for underwater noise or reduction targets.

“These new guidelines are more detailed and they have the latest science and latest perspective on not only underwater noise impacts but technology fixes and management solutions,” Dumbrille said.

“Unfortunately these guidelines are still voluntary and so that’s problematic on a number of levels.”

The revised guidelines are to be submitted to the Marine Environmental Protection Commission in July for approval.

A working group tasked with reviewing the guidelines ran out of time last week to finalize a list of suggested next steps, areas needing further research and assessment, and suggestions to increase awareness and uptake of the guidelines. Dumbrille said a correspondence group will continue that work.

“The pathway to regulatory measures is slow,” he said. “Some people are saying it’s not fast enough to respond to the threat and the urgency and the need around addressing underwater noise because our oceans are getting louder and that’s especially true for the Arctic.”

The Arctic has some of the lowest underwater sound levels on Earth, but research suggests that could change as new shipping routes open due to sea ice loss.

A study published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution in October predicts underwater noise emissions from ships could double every 11 and a half years on average without incentives or regulatory steps. A 2021 report by the Arctic Council found noise pollution from ships had doubled in some areas of the Arctic between 2013 and 2019.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says underwater noise has been linked to a wide range of effects on marine species that rely on sound, including behavioural changes, habitat loss, increased stress levels and permanent injury or death.

Transport Canada saidit’s pleased with the revised international guidelines, but acknowledged more work is needed.

In June 2021, Transport Canada announced the Quiet Vessel Initiative with $26 million in funding over five years to test the most promising technologies, vessel designs, retrofits and operational practices to make ships quieter. Ottawa has also been developing an Ocean Noise Strategy which, it expects to launch later this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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Extreme cold temperatures across Quebec, East Coast expected to linger until Sunday

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MONTREAL — Residents from Quebec to Newfoundland and Labrador are waking up this morning to more extreme cold weather.

Emergency officials warned people to seek shelter and monitor for frostbite if they had to be outside overnight, as the temperature across much of Eastern Canada was expected to feel like -40 C to -50 C with the wind chill.

Temperatures in Quebec City were forecast to fall to -30 C overnight — with a wind chill index of -45 — and the arctic weather was expected to last until Sunday.

Extreme cold warnings remain in effect across the East Coast, with temperatures in the Halifax area expected to feel like -39 C through the morning.

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Government and private agencies scrambled on Friday to provide shelter for vulnerable people in scores of cities and towns in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, as conditions risked giving exposed skin frostbite in minutes.

The City of Montreal opened two temporary emergency warming centres, each of which can accommodate up to 50 people between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. The centres are to close on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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