CIUDAD JUAREZ — Over the past four days, multiple Mexican cities faced an onslaught of attacks from drug cartel militias, showing the government’s continued inability to stop criminal groups from causing chaos in some of the country’s largest cities.
The western states of Jalisco and Guanajuato were under siege for around 10 hours on Aug. 9, reportedly after Mexican authorities busted up a meeting between several important leaders of factions of the hyper-violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG. The cities of Guadalajara, Irapuato, Celaya, and Leon saw numerous cars and buses engulfed in flames to block off traffic arteries, while a reported 25 convenience stores were also set on fire.
Rumors swirled throughout the following day about the capture of Ricardo Ruiz, alias “RR” or “Doble R,” one of the top leaders of the CJNG in western Mexico. But on Thursday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador denied the arrest took place after being pressed by journalists during his morning news conference.
He said that 16 people were arrested during the attacks, without providing their identities, “but they [the arrested] are supposed to be influential people, because that is why there was such a strong reaction.”
The president did not clarify who would have been arrested that caused such a response by the CJNG, and led to speculation in the media that perhaps Doble R was arrested, then released by authorities as a way to appease the assailants attacking the cities.
That sort of catch and release under duress by cartel attacks during López Obrador’s presidency is not without precedent.
In October 2019 Mexican authorities detained Ovidio Guzmán, the son of incarcerated Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in the city of Culiacan. Sinaloa Cartel associates laid siege to the city in an attempt to pressure the government to release Ovidio Guzmán, who relented, and allowed the younger Guzmán to escape. López Obrador later admitted that he gave the order himself to release Ovidio Guzmán to stop the attacks throughout the city.
“These acts are pressure tactics that have worked for the cartels to pressure the government in turn. And it’s nothing new,” Alejandro Hope, a prominent Mexican security analyst, told VICE World News. “Criminal organizations don’t really need an enormous amount of people. These kinds of attacks are pretty easy and cheap to carry and they generate huge chaos.”
The aftermath of the incident with Ovidio Guzmán appears to have set a framework for cartels to deal with the president, who came to office with a policy of so-called “Abrazos, no Balazos”—Hugs, not Bullets—aimed at reducing violence throughout the country. Criminal organizations appear to have recognized that by causing chaos in the public domain, they can affect the response of security forces.
López Obrador’s denial of the capture of RR came just hours before another large city in Mexico experienced similar attacks.
On Thursday, several men entered the main prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. They posed as a visiting family of an inmate and killed three inmates. In the immediate aftermath, hell broke loose around Juarez, which is just miles from El Paso, Texas.
Firefights took place at various places throughout the city. At least 10 people were killed during the attacks, including a pregnant woman who was burned alive inside a convenience store and four staff members of a local radio station. Authorities reported four convenience stores set on fire and at least one gas station.
The fight happened between alleged members of the “Mexicles,” a Sinaloa Cartel faction, and “La Línea,” working for the rival Juarez Cartel, according to local authorities.
López Obrador addressed the most recent spate of violence in Juarez during his Friday morning news conference, lamenting that “the innocent civilian population was attacked in retaliation. It was not a confrontation between two groups, they started shooting at civilians.”
The president did not explain how he intended to quell the ongoing violence. As López Obrador spoke, most businesses and schools remained closed as fearful residents barricaded themselves inside their homes.