Hundreds march in Mexico calling for cartel boss 'El Chapo' to be freed
People play music and march in support of jailed top drug boss Joaquin Guzman Loera, 'El Chapo' in the city of Culiacan, Mexico, Wednesday Feb. 26, 2014. (AP / El Debate de Culiacan-Jonathan Telles)
Martin Duran, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, February 27, 2014 6:46AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 27, 2014 9:14AM EST
CULIACAN, Mexico -- Not everyone is happy over the capture of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
Hundreds of people marched on the streets of this western Mexico city on Wednesday demanding that Mexican authorities free the boss of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel. Many said he provides needed jobs in poor mountain areas.
Norteno musicians played trumpets while high school students in uniforms held up signs reading "We want Chapo free" and "We Love Chapo" as they paraded in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, which is the cartel's bastion.
Demonstrators also said they opposed any attempt to extradite Guzman to the U.S., where he faces several drug-trafficking charges in different states.
Police officers tried to scatter the protest, and a few of the demonstrators began throwing water bottles at them as the march broke up. Officers responded with tear gas and took some protesters into custody.
"We support Chapo Guzman because he is the one who gives us jobs and helps out in the mountains," said Pedro Ramirez, who said he travelled in a group of 300 from Badiraguato, a town in the Sierra Madre where Guzman was born poor 56 years ago.
It was a rare display even in a country where drug lords inspire folk songs and books and are looked up to by young men in rural areas. In December 2010, about 100 people marched through the state capital of Michoacan to show support for the chief of La Familia cartel, who had just been killed during two days of battles with federal police.
Wednesday's relatively large turnout may have to do with the uncertainty felt by Sinaloans over the future of the multibillion-dollar illegal drug business, which provides a boost for their agricultural state. Experts say Guzman's arrest won't slow the Sinaloa cartel, but many people are anxious the area's economy may be disrupted.
"El Chapo" is widely considered the world's most powerful drug lord. In rulings Tuesday, two federal judges said he will have to stand trial on separate drug-trafficking and organized-crime charges in Mexico. The Attorney General's Office said Wednesday he also faces organized-crime charges in six other cases in four Mexican states and in Mexico City.
Guzman, who escaped from a western Mexico prison in 2001, is to remain in Mexico's highest-security prison. The government has said he will not soon be extradited to the U.S., where Guzman has been indicted in California, New York and other states.
Earlier Wednesday, the self-described "assistant" to Guzman was charged with possessing illegal weapons when he was captured this weekend with his boss, the Attorney General's Office said.
U.S. officials have said that intelligence about the suspect, Carlos Manuel Hoo Ramirez, was key in leading Mexican marines to a condominium in the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlan where Guzman's years as fugitive came to an end Saturday.
The marines raided the condo and caught Hoo Ramirez, also known as "Condor," with two rifles, two handguns, ammunition and a grenade launcher.
Hoo Ramirez told authorities he had been working as an assistant to Guzman for three years, said an official, who agreed to discuss the suspect's status only if not quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak to the press. U.S. law enforcement has said he was Guzman's chief of communications.
Officials in the U.S. say a cellphone found Feb. 16 at a house Guzman had been using in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan belonged to Hoo Ramirez. Other arrests followed the phone discovery, and those detentions provided clues to the whereabouts of Guzman in Mazatlan.
Guzman was also with his 20-something former beauty queen wife and their twin toddlers. She was let go because there were no charges pending against her.
Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.