Crime and Violence

Turf war in Tamaulipas hurts state

In late February, the state of Tamaulipas experienced several incidents of violence in several of its municipalities, including Reynosa, Valle Hermosa, Miguel Aleman, San Fernando, Matamoros, and others. These incidents were concentrated in a 100km section of the state along the border, mainly between the cities of Reynosa and Matamoros. As of February 26, at least 16 people were reported dead. The seriousness of this situation caused school attendance to drop in several localities and was as high as 60% in some localities according to the state’s department of education.

It is believed that this burst of violence is due to clashes between rival cartels who are struggling to gain control of the area and the lucrative drug routes that pass through it. In particular, the fight is between the Gulf Cartel and The Zetas. Curiously, the Zetas began as members of elite unit of the Mexican army that was trained in the U.S. in counter-insurgency tactics. However, they switched sides to become the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel. They went on to form their own drug trafficking organization and fight their former associates over control of the territory they  oversaw together.

The fight between the two has not been isolated. It has been suggested that other cartels have allied themselves with one side or another. For example, some reports have suggested that another cartel based in the state of Michoacán, La Familia, sent members to Tamaulipas to reinforce their Gulf Cartel allies. In addition, the Zetas count on support from the Beltrán Leyva Cartel. The two have been aligned since 2008 when (like the Zetas) they broke away from another organization, the Sinaloa (or Pacific) cartel.

One source has suggested that the intimidation of journalists has silenced some local media sources and that much of what is occurring has not been adequately mentioned by the press. Instead, private citizens’ use of Twitter or Facebook has provided substantial valuable information about the situation. Some individuals who claim to be from Tamaulipas have posted comments discussing the violence on the websites of national media organizations and criticizing government officials’ response as too tepid. The incidents in Tamaulipas have caused concerns among American government officials in Mexico. The American consulate in nearby Matamoros issued a travel advisory for those in the Reynosa area and the Reynosa Consular Agency has been temporarily closed. However, despite the violence on the Mexican side of the border, there have not been major spill-over effects in the US.

In addition to local police forces, the Mexican army has been active in the area for quite some time in order to quell the violence. Reports say the country’s navy has also sent some of its forces to Reynosa to reinforce their efforts. Mexican officials have made greater use of the navy in recent years. For example, on February 26, Captain Hector García Aguirre was sworn in as the new head of Ciudad Juarez’s federal attorney general’s office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR). Captain García Aguirre—an attorney—has had substantial experience with civilian law enforcement.


“New Cartel War Erupts.” Tamaulipas News. February 27, 2010. Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies — New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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