POLICE in northern Mexico detained about 100 people in a failed attempt to stop the second demonstration in less than a week in support of captured drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
A march on Wednesday demanding Guzman’s release drew about 1,000 supporters into the streets of Culiacan, the capital of northern Sinaloa state, which is the home to the Sinaloa Cartel supposedly led by Guzman.
In the latest rally, on Sunday, a crowd of about 150 people gathered at a shrine to Jesus Malverde, a folk saint viewed as the patron or protector of people involved in the drug trade.
Many of the protesters shouted “Long live Chapo!”
Messages on social networking sites had urged people to gather at the shrine for a march in favour of Guzman, who is alleged to be the hemisphere’s most powerful drug lord and whom some local residents say provided jobs, money and security for inhabitants.
About 20 police patrol vehicles were sent to the scene, but many of the demonstrators refused police orders to disperse.
Daniel Gaxiola, spokesman for the Sinaloa state public safety department, said 40 people were detained then for disturbing the peace.
Later, several hundred people evaded the heavy police presence by splitting into groups and marching toward downtown as dozens were detained along the way.
Culiacan judge Gabriel Pena Gonzalez said more than 100 people in total had been brought in on disturbing-the-peace and other charges by late Sunday.
Some of the marchers were, like Guzman, from Badiriguato. The township is in the mountains near Culiacan. Some said they had been promised 700 pesos (about £31) for attending the protest, and people could be seen at the end of the march writing down participants’ names in notebooks.
As the disorganised march reached the centre of Culiacan, shots rang out and protesters scattered. It was unclear who fired the shots, but Francisco Cuamea, editor of the Noroeste newspaper in Culiacan, said two of its photographers were roughed up by police when they tried to photograph shell casings left behind.
In Wednesday’s march, musicians played trumpets while high school students in uniforms held up signs reading “We want Chapo free” and “We love Chapo.”
After that march, authorities said they would not seek to limit freedom of expression, but would not tolerate marches that disturbed the peace or provided support or justification for criminals.
Guzman was arrested on 22 February in the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlan. Mexican federal judges said he would have to stand trial on separate drug-trafficking and organised-crime charges in Mexico. The Attorney General’s Office said he also faced organised-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.
He employed hi-tech communications gadgetry and sophisticated counterespionage practices to elude an international manhunt for 13 years.
Guzman grew up in the mountain village of La Tuna de Badiraguato, Sinaloa, on the country’s Pacific coast.
His father supposedly raised cattle but, authorities have said, actually worked in the region’s main industry — growing and smuggling opium and marijuana.
By the early 1990s, the DEA considered Guzman among Mexico’s top ten drug traffickers.