Crime and Violence

Gulf Cartel defends its territory from Zetas

The criminal organization known as the Zetas used to be the enforcement wing of the Gulf Cartel, a powerful drug trafficking organization. The Zetas were mostly former Mexican military trained by the US in counter-insurgency tactics, but went on to become one of the strongest criminal organizations in the country. However, this February, the two organizations split and a struggle over drug trafficking territory (focused in the border state of Tamaulipas, the Gulf Cartel’s traditional stronghold) ensued. According to an article by the Mexican media outlet MILENIO, it appears that the Gulf Cartel has been able to fend off these assaults from their former associates and has been slowly pushing the Zetas out of the state.

Messages written on walls and mass emails—supposedly authored by the Gulf Cartel—claim that the organization is only focused on eliminating the Zetas and avoids harming civilians. “Mr. Osiel Cárdenas Guillén has strictly prohibited us from doing this [intentionally harming civilians], we would never get involved with people living a normal life and doing honest work to support their families.” Osiel Cárdenas Guillén is the group’s nominal leader who was extradited to the US in January 2007. As recently as February 24 of this year, a Houston federal judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison without parole and ordered him to pay $50 million to the US government.

To be clear, the Zetas have not been completely eliminated from Tamaulipas yet and still have a presence in certain border towns. Also, according to MILENIO, the affects of the violence have had a great impact on local residents. Some locals report that the Zetas have forced restaurants, taxis, and other establishments to pay narcotributos (drug tributes) ranging from 100 to 6,000 pesos per week. The state’s tourism industry has also suffered. Tamaulipas plays host to the “playazo”, the spring vacation season when students celebrate the end of classes by visiting the beach and having fun. Previously, as many as seventy thousand tourists from throughout Northeastern Mexico would visit the beach during this time. However, this year, only about eleven thousand came. In addition to these economic problems, security still remains a concern.


Federal Bureau of Investigation Houston. “Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, Former Head of the Gulf Cartel, Sentenced to 25 Years’ Imprisonment.” Press release, February 24, 2010.

Mosso, Rubén. “El cártel del Golfo echa a Los Zetas de Tamaulipas.” Milenio. April 5, 2010.

Schiller, Dane. “Now drug lord is sorry.” Houston Chronicle. February 26, 2010.

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