2 Mexican airports reopen amid unrest, but Canadians still advised to take caution

Click to play video: '2 Mexican airports reopen amid unrest, Canadians still advised to take caution'
2 Mexican airports reopen amid unrest, Canadians still advised to take caution
WATCH: Some Canadian tourists in Mexico's Sinaloa state are returning home after a wave of violence erupted this week, but Canadians are still being advised to avoid travel to the region if possible. Farah Nasser has more – Jan 7, 2023

Two airports in Mexico’s Sinaloa state reopened Friday after violence sparked by the arrest of an alleged cartel leader and drug trafficker this week grounded flights and stranded tourists, but Canadians are still being advised to avoid travel to the region if possible.

The airports in Culiacan and Mazatlan restarted operations at 10 a.m. local time, the local airport authority OMA reported and the federal government confirmed. Some flights between Canada and Mazatlan were still cancelled or delayed Friday, and the federal government warns flight schedules have changed as a result of Thursday’s closures and ongoing safety concerns.

Transport Canada advised “several flights” from Sunwing, Swoop and WestJet may still be affected by the unrest.

The airport in Las Mochis remains closed, the government’s latest travel advisory says. However, Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico, which manages the airport, said it expected operations to return late Friday afternoon.

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Click to play video: 'YVR flights to Mazatlan cancelled, delayed as violence continues'
YVR flights to Mazatlan cancelled, delayed as violence continues

The federal government continues to advise Canadians already in Sinaloa to shelter in place and limit their movements, as well as to avoid large crowds and demonstrations.

Several cities in the Mexican state of Sinaloa exploded into violence Thursday after the arrest of alleged drug trafficker Ovidio Guzman, who is a son of former cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The violence is particularly fierce in Culiacan, Mazatlan, Los Mochis and Guasave.

Fierce firefights between Mexican security officials and suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel in the streets of Culiacan and near that city’s airport have killed at least 30 people, authorities said Friday.

No civilians have been reported among the dead, which include a Culiacan policeman, 19 alleged gang members and 10 military personnel.

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Burning vehicles, gunfire and “threat to essential infrastructure” were still being reported on Friday, the federal government’s advisory said.

Click to play video: 'Violence breaks out in Mexican state after arrest of drug lord'
Violence breaks out in Mexican state after arrest of drug lord

Global Affairs Canada says it is “aware of Canadians affected by these events and is providing consular services.”

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A statement from spokesperson Charlotte MacLeod provided to Global News says 13,349 Canadians in Mexico are registered with the agency as of Friday — up from over 12,000 reported the day before — but that number “is not a complete picture of the number of Canadians in Mexico” as registration is voluntary.

Canadians in Sinaloa are being urged to sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad database, and to reach out to Global Affairs Canada or the Canadian embassy in Mexico if they are in need of emergency assistance.

WestJet said it had cancelled two flights in and out of Mazatlan on Friday. Air Canada said none of its flights were affected by the unrest.

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Sunwing said it was cancelling all southbound flights to Mazatlan on Friday “out of an abundance of caution” and after consultation with government. Flights to Canada from the region were delayed as a result, and recovery flights were being scheduled, the airline said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said cartel gunmen opened fire on fixed-wing aircraft, both military and civilian, at the city’s international airport on Thursday. One civilian airliner was hit but no one is believed to have been injured.

The gunmen also shot up airport buildings and set up roadblocks of burning vehicles in a bid to prevent authorities from flying the captured cartel boss out of the city. But, Sandoval said, authorities anticipating the resistance had loaded Ovidio Guzman onto a military helicopter to fly him back to Mexico City.

Trudeau prepares for travel to Mexico

The unrest comes days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to join U.S. President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and International Trade Minister Mary Ng are also set to join Trudeau on the trip to the Mexican capital, which is nearly 1,300 kilometres south from Sinaloa state.

“We’re monitoring the situation in Mexico very closely,” a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told Global News in an email, adding there was no change to plans for the trip “at this time.”

A spokesperson for Joly’s office did not say whether any extra precautions were being taken.

Click to play video: 'Mexican government better prepared in 2nd arrest of ‘El Chapo’s’ son: Expert'
Mexican government better prepared in 2nd arrest of ‘El Chapo’s’ son: Expert

Canadians still stuck in Mazatlan

Several Canadians were still waiting to see if they can get back home from vacations in Mazatlan that were underway when the violence erupted.

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Those who spoke with Global News described Mazatlan as a ghost town, as businesses remain closed based on local government orders.

“Normally the streets have people walking, coming, going, taxis at all hours of the night. None of that is really going on right now,” said Justin Noga, who proposed to his fiancee shortly before they were forced to shelter in place at their hotel.

Although they remain safe, Noga says his family back home remains concerned.

“Even my youngest son Cole called me this morning, because he heard that his dad is in a place where there is shooting going on,” he said.

Click to play video: 'U.S. State Department advises Americans against travel to Sinaloa, Mexico amid increased violence'
U.S. State Department advises Americans against travel to Sinaloa, Mexico amid increased violence

Tina Dahl, an Edmonton woman whose relatives are stuck in Mazatlan, told the Canadian Press they were speaking with Sunwing about getting a flight out of the country on Friday.

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Dahl’s brother, sister-in-law, their three children and her sister-in-law’s mother are all in Mazatlan. The children are ages 10, eight and seven.

They were to fly out Thursday evening, but street fighting closed the airport and buses that were to take them there were burned in front of the hotel.

Officials have assured residents and tourists that they will remain safe as long as they don’t venture outside, particularly in affected areas.

An attempt to arrest Ovidio Guzman also led to violence three years ago. An aborted operation to capture him in October 2019 set off violence in Culiacan that ultimately led Lopez Obrador to order the military to let him go.

The Mexican president said there were no immediate plans to extradite Ovidio to the United States, where his father is in a maximum-security prison after being extradited in 2017 and found guilty in a New York court.

“The elements (of the case) have to be presented and the judges in Mexico decide,” the president said. “It is a process…It is not just the request.” No U.S. forces had assisted in Ovidio’s capture, Lopez Obrador said.

An enhanced security presence will now remain in place in Sinaloa to protect the public, with an additional 1,000 military personnel traveling to the region today, Sandoval said.

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—With files from Global’s Kyle Benning, Amy Judd and Paula Tran, the Canadian Press, the Associated Press and Reuters

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