Crime and Violence

Outburst of violence in Tamaulipas likely linked to takedown of two Gulf Cartel leaders

Javier Garza Medrina. Photo: Proceso Especial.
Javier Garza Medrano. Photo: Proceso Especial.

04/15/14 (written by callison) — Federal authorities delivered yet another blow to Mexican criminal organizations this month with the arrest of Gulf Cartel (Cartel de Golfo, CDG) leader Jesús Alejandro Leal Flores, alias “El Metro 24” or “El Simple.” His arrest on April 2 comes just over a month after Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) detained Javier Garza Medrano (36), “Comandante 14,” along with five others, on charges of kidnapping, extortion, and theft. Garza Medrano, one of the alleged co-founders and CDG leaders operating in the southern region of Tampico, Tamaulipas, was arrested in late February in Guerrero, Mexico, and passed to the Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (Subprocuraduría Especializada en Investigación de Delincuencia Organizada, SEIDO). Just six weeks after his arrest, authorities have now detained Leal Flores (31), who had been serving as the CDG’s regional leader in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.

A coordinated effort between the Secretaries of Defense and Navy (Secretaría de la Defensa, SEDENA; Secretaría de la Marina, SEMAR) and Federal Police (PF) led to the identification of Flores’ operational headquarters in the Jardines Colonial neighborhood in the municipality of Reynosa, a border city in northern Tamaulipas. Leal Flores was arrested by members of the Mexican Army in an operation that also resulted in the seizure of an AK-47 rifle, a 10mm handgun, and high tech communications equipment from inside his home. Although not a single shot was fired during the arrest, armed groups proceeded to attack the military and block roadways throughout the city as the suspect was transported to the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) for holding. Six people were confirmed killed in the attempts to free the CDG leader, including federal policeman Arnuflo Gómez Hernández. Leal Flores remains in the PGR’s custody.

Jesús Alejandro Leal Flores following his arrest on April 2. Photo: EFE, Excélsior.
Jesús Alejandro Leal Flores following his arrest on April 2. Photo: EFE, Excélsior.

Reports indicate that the arrests of Garza Medrano and Leal Flores, and the subsequent power vacuum in their absence, have resulted in an increase of violence in Tamaulipas among a number of entities: between federal forces and the Gulf Cartel; within the cartel itself as internal disputes have erupted; and with cartel rivals, particularly the CDG and the Zetas, as they jockey for control. Regarding the latter, sources indicate that CDG’s Leal Flores had close ties to and worked for eight years with Armando “El Hummer” González, a founding member of the Zetas who has since been arrested. The Zetas, who were originally the enforcement wing of the Gulf Cartel, split from the CDG in 2009-2010, and violence has ensued since. Despite the fact that several key founders and leaders of the cartels are now in custody, both organizations remain operational as their violent rift continues.

It is interesting to note, however, that violence due to loss of cartel leadership in other organizations recently has not spiked like it has in Tamaulipas. In the past year, the removal of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán from the Sinaloa Cartel; three of four Knights Templar Organization leaders; and the takedown of Miguel Ángel Treviño, “Z-40,” of the Zetas, among others, have not resulted in the violent outbursts as have been seen in Tamaulipas following the arrests of CDG’s Garza Medrano and Leal Flores. For more analysis on this topic, see Justice in Mexico’s new report, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2013.”

Nevertheless, the uptick in violence in Tamaulipas in recent weeks has led to both official and civic responses. Mexico’s Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam, announced that the government would soon name a security commissioner to Tamaulipas, similar to its strategy in Michoacán with the naming of Alfredo Castillo Cervantes to head Michoacán’s Commission for Security and Comprehensive Development (Comisión para la Seguridad y el Desarrollo Integral en el Estado de Michoacán). Meanwhile, Tamaulipas residents took to the streets to protest the violence and demand the government’s attention. Dressed all in white, more than 1,500 people participated in the Silent March for Peace (Marcha Silenciosa por la Paz) on April 13 in the city street of Tampico.


Redacción. “Cae Javier Garza Medrano, presunto líder y fundador del Cártel del Golfo.” Proceso. February 24, 2014.

EFE. “Cae líder del Cártel del Golfo en Tamaulipas; hay 6 muertos.” Excélsior. April 1, 2014.

Vicenteño, David. “Líder del Cártel del Golfo declara en la SEIDO.” Excélsior. April 2, 2014.

Castillo, Gustavo, and Gabiola Martinez.“Confirman captura de Alejandro Leal, líder del cártel del Golfo en Reynosa.” La Jornada. April 3, 2014.

“Alarma violencia a tamaulipecos.” El Universal. April 8, 2014.

Castillo, Gustavo. “Preparan estrategia para combatir la violencia en Tamaulipas.” La Jornada. April 11, 2014. 

González Antonio, Héctor. “Marchan en Tamaulipas contra la inseguridad y por la paz.” Excélsior. April 13, 2014.

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