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Some Canadians remain in hotel amid Mexican unrest, others see calm return

Some Canadian tourists in Mexico remained holed up in their hotel Friday while others saw calm return after the arrest of an alleged major drug cartel leader that led to violence in parts of the country.
Men carry furniture after looting a store, as a truck burns on a street in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Mexican security forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, an alleged drug trafficker wanted by the United States and one of the sons of former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in a pre-dawn operation Thursday that set off gunfights and roadblocks across the western state’s capital. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Martin Urista

Some Canadian tourists in Mexico remained holed up in their hotel Friday while others saw calm return after the arrest of an alleged major drug cartel leader that led to violence in parts of the country.

Vancouverite Dominique Carole Maraj said Mazatlan seemed to have mostly returned to normal with people back out enjoying the beach.

“It’s fairly calm and relatively uneventful,” Maraj said from an apartment on a private beach. “Everyone’s just hoping everything goes back to normal.”

Meanwhile, others continued to stay inside.

"They're safe in their hotel," Tina Dahl, of Edmonton, said of her relatives stranded in Mazatlan.

She said her six family members had been staying in their hotel rooms since Thursday afternoon.

Several cities in the Mexican state of Sinaloa exploded into violence Thursday after the arrest of alleged drug trafficker Ovidio (The Mouse) 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.

A Canadian government official said the Culiacan and Mazatlan airports reopened Friday, although it wasn't clear when Canadian flights would resume. The Los Mochis airport remained closed.

Dahl's brother, sister-in-law, their three children between the ages of seven and 10, and her sister-in-law's mother were supposed to fly out of Mazatlan Thursday evening, but street fighting closed the airport and buses that were to take them there were burned in front of the hotel.

Dahl, who has been in touch with her family through social media, said they described a scene of chaos. 

Stranded travellers who had checked out of their rooms but whose flights were cancelled slept in the lobby of the hotel, the gates of which remained barricaded, she said. Military and police vehicles trundled up and down beaches.

Helicopters patrolled the skies. One restaurant that remained open was packed, she said.  

"My brother did call my mom and dad yesterday and he's like, 'It's something I've never seen before. It's like something in the middle of a war zone and I don't know what to think and feel,'" Dahl said Friday. 

"He's definitely shaken, for sure."

Dahl said her family was to talk with Sunwing on Friday to see when they could get a flight home.

An employee of the hotel denied the account of Dahl's brother, saying no buses had been burned, the beaches were free of military vehicles and the city was quiet.

"Nothing is happening in Mazatlan," said the woman, who didn't want to be named.

Hailey Bronson said she expected to be heading home to Cochrane, Alta., as planned on Sunday, although a few of her friends had their flights rescheduled.

She was staying in an apartment downtown and said it was strange to see the usually busy town of Mazatlan turn silent Thursday.

“I’ve never seen Mazatlan so quiet in my life,” Bronson said in a message. “But today everything is back to normal.”

Winnipegger Sheila North, in Mazatlan with two adult children and her two-year-old grandson, was on a catamaran excursion when she saw plumes of smoke in two different areas and black helicopters flying around Thursday. 

"(The staff) wanted to create a sense of calm, but you could tell that they were being told stuff on their phones that something was going on," North said in a phone interview. 

"So we stayed on the excursion until it was done and when we came back to the hotel, that's when we saw long lineups."

People waited hours in line to get into the hotel restaurant, North said. 

Some families were forced to sleep in the hotel lobby, while some staff members opted to stay overnight at work, she said. 

North and her family were supposed to fly back to Winnipeg on Friday but said it has been changed to Sunday. 

"There's a general sense of uneasiness," she said. "People are regrouping, but I can see that some parents are really stressed."

The Canadian government advised travellers in Mexico to shelter in place, avoid crowds and demonstrations, and not to try to cross blockades, even if they appear unmanned. 

WestJet said it cancelled two flights in and out of Mazatlan on Friday. Air Canada said none of its flights were affected by the unrest. Sunwing did not respond to a request for information on its flights. 

On Thursday, at least two passenger airplanes were hit by gunfire. Alleged cartel members were also carjacking Culiacan residents and setting vehicles ablaze.

The fighting came days before President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was to host Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden at a summit in Mexico City.

A spokeswoman from Trudeau's office said his plan for the summit hadn't changed.

An attempt to arrest Ovidio Guzman also led to violence three years ago. An operation to capture him set off violence in Culiacan that ultimately led the Mexican president to order the military to let him go.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2023.

— With files from Kelly Malone in Saskatoon, Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg and The Associated Press 

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press