MEXICO CITY — The Mexican authorities captured a son of the drug lord El Chapo in an early morning operation in Culiacán, a northwestern city that has long been the home base of the Sinaloa cartel, according to three Mexican government officials.
The officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the raid, said that security forces had arrested Ovidio Guzmán López, a son of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the infamous crime lord known as El Chapo. Mr. Guzmán López was transferred to a military base in Mexico City, two of the officials said.
The capture of El Chapo’s son, himself a prominent cartel leader, allows the government to claim a victory in its halting efforts to combat violence during one of the deadliest periods in Mexico’s recent history.
It was unclear what real effect the capture of Ovidio, long known as the least-accomplished of Mr. Guzman’s sons, will have on cartel activities.
But it was an opportunity for the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to make amends for a similar, botched operation three years ago, when the Mexican authorities briefly detained Mr. Guzmán López but were then forced to set him free after cartel gunmen overpowered law enforcement.
It also represents a public relations win for the government days before Mr. López Obrador is set to host President Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada at a North American Leaders Summit in Mexico City.
Armed groups responded to the raid on Thursday by lighting vehicles on fire and blocking major thoroughfares out of the city, according to one of the officials. Videos shared on social media showed buses and tractor-trailers aflame. The Culiacán airport confirmed, via Twitter, that it had closed down for security reasons.
“Culiacán is a desert,” the official said. “The Red Cross has deployed across the city as well as the fire department.”
The Guzmán family has a long history of escaping capture by the Mexican authorities. El Chapo broke out of prison twice. Federal prosecutors in the United States say his sons helped orchestrate his infamous escape from a maximum-security detention center in 2015 through a mile-long tunnel dug into the shower of his cell.
Mr. Guzmán Lopez’s American lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, who also represented the father, declined to comment on Thursday’s arrest. Officials with the United States Department of Justice, which filed charges against Mr. Guzmán Lopez and one of his brothers in 2019, refused to comment on whether prosecutors have requested extradition.
In October 2019, the security forces stormed Culiacán, detained El Chapo’s son, Mr. Guzmán López — and then released him after cartel gunmen unleashed a wave of automatic gunfire on the city, burned cars and took members of the security forces hostage.
At the time, Mr. López Obrador defended the release, saying that the authorities had to balance detaining Mr. Guzman against ensuring the public’s safety.
“The situation turned very bad and lots of citizens were at risk, lots of people, and it was decided to protect the life of the people,” Mr. López Obrador told reporters. “You cannot value the life of a delinquent more than the lives of the people.”
But the episode became a national humiliation for the López Obrador administration and cast doubt on the government’s ability to take on cartels in the areas of the country where they have most power.
Mr. Guzmán López and his brother, Joaquín Guzmán López, were charged in February 2019 by federal prosecutors for “knowingly, intentionally, and willfully” distributing cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana for import into the United States.
Those charges were made public just one day after the elder Mr. Guzmán was convicted after a three-month trial in Brooklyn that revealed the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel and how it sent tons of drugs into the United States.
The same team of prosecutors also brought federal drug charges against the elder Mr. Guzman’s most recent wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro. Ms. Coronel later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Alan Feuer contributed reporting from New York.