Residents from the Mexican town of El Verano are claiming that the Mexican Marines who conducted the recent raid on Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán terrorized the locals before and after the raid on the drug lord’s compound. There is reason to suspect the validity of those claims due to the fact that many of the locals are known to be loyal to El Chapo. It could be a case of them trying to tarnish the reputation of the Marines. Still, many of their stories corroborate each other.
Guzmán was nabbed by federal police in the adjacent state of Sinaloa this month, a victory for the Mexican government. But the ferocity of the military action seems to have further alienated the people in this region, where many of the farmers grow opium poppy and marijuana.
The marines now based at El Limón, a rustic settlement with grapefruit and guava trees and a private airstrip, refused last week to describe their operation or give a tour of the premises. They have draped metal spikes across the entryway to block visitors. They clearly have a dangerous mission: Many of the farmers in this region are heavily armed. And cartel gunmen have shot down government helicopters in other parts of the country.
One of the marines acknowledged the difficulty of separating good from bad characters in the fight against illegal drugs.
“It’s hard to know who is involved,” the marine said, “and who isn’t.”
About 7 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, at least three marine helicopters descended on the ranch, according to interviews with five people who live in or near El Limón. Later, airplanes and drones circled overhead.
“No one attacked them; the soldiers arrived attacking,” said Lorena Zeron Nuñez, 20, who lived for the past two years at El Limón. “We had to run and hide. It didn’t matter to them whether you were carrying children; they would still shoot at you.”
Authorities said Guzmán escaped that morning, carrying the daughter of one of his cooks in his arms, a human shield that gave helicopter gunners pause. He stumbled on the steep slopes below El Limón and injured his face and leg, officials said.
None of the area residents would confirm that Guzmán had been at the ranch, and many declined to speak about him. One said that more men than usual had arrived at the ranch in the days before the marines arrived.
A presidential spokeswoman said the operation started Oct. 8, but that was not corroborated by the residents and other news reports that say the operation started Oct. 6.