MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Saturday he received a phone call from U.S. President Donald Trump to express “solidarity” over the events this week in the northern Mexican city of Culiacan, where the government backed off from an attempt to arrest a drug suspect in the face of extraordinary cartel violence.
López Obrador thanked Trump in a Twitter message for showing “respect for our sovereignty and his willingness to maintain a good neighbour policy.”
Speaking later in the day at a public event in the southern state of Oaxaca, López Obrador elaborated on the call, saying he explained to Trump that “we Mexicans have to resolve in a sovereign and independent way” matters as delicate as those in Culiacan.
The gunfight in the city of roughly 800,000 residents was triggered Thursday by an attempt to arrest Ovidio Guzmán, son of convicted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, in response to a U.S. request for extradition.
López Obrador’s government came under heavy domestic criticism for releasing the son after gunmen took soldiers hostage and waged open battle in the streets for hours, with cartel foot soldiers patrolling with machine-guns mounted in truck beds. Five attackers, a member of the National Guard, a civilian and an escaped prisoner died in the gun battles.
The elder Guzmán has been sentenced to life in prison in the U.S. Ovidio Guzmán was indicted in 2018 in Washington, along with a fourth brother, on charges of trafficking cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.
The government said it decided to drop the operation Thursday to avoid further loss of life. Critics say it ceded territory to a cartel.
“We are not dictators, we are not tyrants,” López Obrador said Saturday. “We will always respect the life of all human beings, and that way peace can be achieved.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters Saturday that López Obrador and Trump agreed by phone the two countries will work together to “freeze” the flow of weapons into Mexico.
The high calibre, military-grade weapons deployed by cartel members on Thursday are not legal for civilian use in the country and Mexican authorities believe most of them came from the U.S.
Ebrard said that he will meet with his U.S. counterparts in the coming days to advance efforts to stem the illicit entry of weapons into Mexico.
Mexican officials estimate that more than 200 civilians would have died had they not turned over Ovidio Guzmán on Thursday. The cartel enforcers had positioned themselves in front of a housing complex where wives and children of soldiers live.
“Mexico has abandoned the idea of collateral damage,” said Ebrard.