Crime and Violence · Organized Crime

Four Americans kidnapped in Matamoros by members of the Gulf cartel

03/21/2023 (written by jcarrillo) –Last week, four American citizens were kidnapped after crossing into Matamoros, Tamaulipas, prompting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to offer $50,000 for their safe return. However, Governor Americo Villarreal of Tamaulipas, reported two were found dead, one was “severely” injured, and the other was in good condition. The group of four were traveling from South Carolina into Mexico for a cosmetic procedure in Matamoros. Minutes after crossing the borders, a gunman fired at the group and proceeded to force them into a vehicle. 


FBI investigators believe the Americans were abducted by members of a faction of the Gulf Cartel that may have mistook the group as Haitian drug smugglers (CNN). During the incident between the group and gunmen, a Mexican citizen, reported to be an innocent bystander, was also killed. The two American survivors were transported to the port of entry at Brownsville, Texas and escorted by the FBI to a nearby medical center. 

The Gulf Cartel later released an apology letter to the families of the Americans and the city of Matamoros, condemning the violence. In the letter, the group stated the members responsible acted against the rules of the Gulf Cartel and turned them in for the incident.

After Governor Villarreal reported the four Americans were found, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) reported the Mexican government is pursuing those who were involved in the crime, asserting “they are going to be punished” (Milenio). He reported the Mexican government already had one person in custody. The FBI has been working alongside its Mexican counterpart, the Secretary of Security, in pursuit of those involved and in hopes to bring justice for the families affected. During his morning conference, AMLO expressed his condolences to the families that were affected and claimed Mexico is attempting to fix its “security strategy”. In parallel, spokesman for the White House National Security Advisor, John Kirby, stated that any attack on a U.S. citizen is “unacceptable” (El Pais). 

Increase in violence in Matamoros, Tamaulipas

Prior to the incident, the United States had a “Level 4: Do not travel” advisory on the state of Tamaulipas, citing crime and kidnapping as the reason for a high-level advisory. As a result of the incident, the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros has issued a travel advisory in conjunction with the Texas Department of Public Safety advising people to not travel to Mexico as well. Matamoros is considered one of the more dangerous cities in Mexico. More recently, the city has been caught in the crossfire between warring cartels associated with the Gulf cartel. According to Eduardo Guerrero, head of Lantia Intelligence, a security consulting firm in Mexico City, Matamoros has been experiencing a surge of violence that has been affecting local citizens. He furthered by stating the local population has been “suffering from constant roadblocks, carjackings, and express kidnappings” (Wall Street Journal). 

Tensions between Mexico and the U.S. rise

The recent kidnapping has drawn attention to Mexico as U.S. media has heavily covered the news story. Multiple U.S. media outlets (CNN, New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times)  have questioned whether Mexico is a safe destination for tourists, given the surge in cartel violence. Moreover, the incident led to multiple heightened exchanges between the Mexican government and its U.S. counterpart. AMLO responded to travel advisories the U.S. implemented by stating that “Mexico is safer than the United States”. He cited the increase in American tourism in the past year and the increase in Americans residing in Mexico as well. 

Additionally, AMLO blames conservative politicians in the United States for promoting a narrative of Mexico that depicts it as unsafe and dangerous for travelers. Some U.S. politicians have advocated for military action against these cartels. In an interview with news media outlet, FOX News, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham suggested introducing U.S. legislation that would classify some Mexican drug cartels as “foreign terrorist groups” and stating it was time to “put Mexico on notice” (Reuters). AMLO sees the proposed military action as a threat to Mexico’s sovereignty and will not allow any foreign government to impose on Mexican territory. AMLO redirects the attention on the U.S. and what he perceives to be as a lack of effort in curbing the drug demand that comes from their country. Additionally, his response to the perceived threat against Mexican sovereignty was suggesting the launch of public information campaigns against the Republican Party to Mexican-Americans in the U.S and if necessary, a call for people to not vote for Republican politicians. 


Despite disagreement on the travel advisories and heated exchanges regarding military action, Mexico and the United States both have a vested interest in keeping their citizens safe. A joint statement released this past weekend by the U.S. White House on behalf of Mexico and the U.S. stated that both governments will continue to dedicate their resources against cartels and transnational crime organizations that threaten the well-being of their citizens. 


Córdoba, José. Montes, Juan. “Two of Four Americans Kidnapped in Matamoros, Mexico, Found Dead”. Wall Street Journal. March 7, 2023. 

Cambell, Josh. “2 Americans kidnapped in Mexico found dead and 2 found alive, officials say”. CNN. March 2, 2023. 

Domínguez, Pedro. “AMLO informa que hay un detenido por estadunidenses secuestrados en Tamaulipas”. Milenio. March 7, 2023. 

Halpert, Madeline. Grant, Will. “Two dead, two alive after Americans kidnapped in Mexico”. BBC. March 8, 2023. 

Ferri, Pablo. Seisdedos, Iker. “Two Americans found dead after being kidnapped in Mexico”. El País. March 7, 2023. 

Peña, Alfredo. Sánchez, Fabiola. Loller, Travis. “Survivors of deadly Mexico abduction returned to US”. The San Diego  Union-Tribune. March 7, 2023. 

Peña, Alfredo. Stevenson, Mark. Pollard, James. “Letter claims cartel handed over men who killed Americans”. The San Diego Union-Tribune. March 9, 2023. 

O’Boyle, Brendan. “Mexico president rejects ‘irresponsible’ calls for US military action against cartels”. Reuters. March 9, 2023. 

Hunter, Marnie. “Is it safe to travel to Mexico? Here’s what you need to know”. CNN. March 8, 2023. 

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