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Gulf Cartel

Gulf Cartel
Logo of the Gulf Cartel
Founded 1930s–1970s[n 1][1][2]
Founder Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, Juan García Ábrego
Founding location Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico
Years active 1930s−present
Territory Northeastern Mexico (as well Tamaulipas and Nuevo León) and the U.S. State of Texas
Ethnicity Majority Mexican, minority Guatemalan
Criminal activities Drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, robbery, murder, gun-running, bribery, fencing, pimping, counterfeiting, police impersonation
Allies Sinaloa Cartel
Knights Templar
Rivals Los Zetas
Juárez Cartel
Beltrán-Leyva Cartel
Tijuana Cartel
Los Negros

The Gulf Cartel ([242] Luebbert Gutiérrez later recognized the work of the federal troops and acknowledged that his city was experiencing "an escalation in violence."[243]

Prison breaks

On 25 March 2010 in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, 40 inmates escaped from a federal prison.[244] Authorities are still trying to understand how the prisoners escaped.[245] The authorities mentioned that the incident is "under investigation," but did not give further information.[246] In the border city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, 85 inmates escaped from a prison on 10 September 2010.[247] Reports first indicated that there were 71 fugitives, but the correct figures were later released.[248] On 5 April 2010, in the same prison, a convoy of 10 trucks filled with gunmen broke into the cells and liberated 13 inmates, and the authorities later mentioned that 11 of them were "extremely dangerous."[249] In Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas on 17 December 2010, about 141 inmates escaped from a federal prison. At first, estimates mentioned that 148 inmates had escaped, but later counts gave the exact figures.[250] The federal government "strongly condemned" the prison breaks and said that the work by the state and municipal authorities of Tamaulipas "lack effective control measures" and urged them to strengthen their institutions.[251] A confrontation inside a maximum security prison in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas on 15 July 2011 left 7 inmates dead and 59 escaped.[252] The 5 guards that were supposed to supervise have not been found, and the Federal government of Mexico urged the state and municipal authorities to strengthen the security of their prisons.[253] Consequently, the federal government did not hesitate to assign the Mexican Army and the Federal Police to vigilate the prisons until further notice; they were also left in charge of searching for the fugitives.[254] CNN mentioned that the state government of Tamaulipas later recognized "their inability to work with the federal government."[255] In a prison in the state of Zacatecas, on 16 May 2009, an armed commando liberated 53 Gulf Cartel members using 10 trucks and even a helicopter.[256]

According to CNN, more than 400 prison inmates escaped from several prisons in Tamaulipas from January 2010 to March 2011 due to corruption.[257]

Police corruption


  • Drug Wars: Narco Warfare in the twenty first century. Flemming, Gary. Booksurge, 2008.


  • PBS Frontline: The Gulf Cartel, PBS (1997)
  • Cartel Wars by Michael Deibert, Truthdig, 16 May 2011

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  1. ^ According to the Juan García Abrego.


See also

In May 2013, Aurelio Cano Flores (alias El Yankee) was sentenced to 35 years in prison for conspiring to import multi-ton quantities of marijuana and cocaine into the United States. Cano Flores, also known as "Yeyo", was a former Mexican police officer and is the highest ranking Gulf Cartel member to be convicted by a U.S. jury in 15 years.[360]

On 21 July 2009, the United States Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and 15 of their top lieutenants, have been charged in U.S. federal courts with drug trafficking-related crimes,[358][359] while the U.S. State Department announced rewards totaling $50 million USD for information leading to their capture.[358]


Illicit drugs also are smuggled into and through Texas via commercial aircraft, cars, buses, passenger trains, pedestrians, and package delivery services. Narcotics are also smuggled through the railroads that connect the U.S. and Mexico. Moreover, the Mexican drug traffickers often use small boats to transport drugs through the coastal areas of South Texas, usually operating at night to prevent them from being spotted by law enforcement officials.[353] Another avenue that they have implemented is to construct underground tunnels to get their product across the border. By constructing a tunnel, the cartel is able to get their product across the tight border security with the possibility of no detection.[354] Apart from using these common ways, once the product is across the border, common cars and trucks are utilized for faster distribution in different cities. In an effort to use the seas, the cartel also implemented the use of narco submarines.[355][356][357]

While the entire 10, 20, 25, 30, and 35, as well as U.S. Highways 59, 77, 83, and 281.[351] The Gulf of Mexico also presents a danger to the flow of drugs to Texas; the Port of Houston and the Port of Brownsville enable traffickers to use small vessels and pleasure craft to transport illicit drugs into and from southern Texas.[352]

A narco submarine seized in Ecuador in July 2010

Due to the Gulf Cartel's territory in northern Tamaulipas, primarily in the border cities of Reynosa, Tamaulipas and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, they have been able to establish a sophisticated and extensive drug trafficking and distribution network along the U.S.–Mexico border in South Texas.[347] The Mexican drug cartels that operate in the area are currently employing gang members to distribute drugs and conduct other criminal activities on their behalf.[348] Among these gangs, that range from street gangs to prison gangs, are the Texas Syndicate, the Latin Kings, the Mexican Mafia, the Tango Blast (Vallucos), the Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos, and the Tri-City Bombers—all based in the Rio Grande Valley and Webb County, Texas.[349]


Reports indicate that gunmen from the Gulf Cartel often impersonate law enforcement officers, using military uniforms to confuse rival drug gangs and move freely through city streets.[346]

Police impersonation

The Mexican criminal organizations like the Gulf Cartel launder money through counterfeiting, since they are free from taxes and more accessible to people who cannot buy original products.[343] The products sold can be clothing, TVs, video games, music, computer programs, and movies.[344] In 2008 in the state of Michoacán, the Gulf Cartel was reported to have controlled the counterfeit business, where it produced and sold millions of fake CDs and movies.[345]


Prostitution circles are believed to be used by the Gulf Cartel to persuade journalists to favor them in the media.[341] Prostitutes are also used as informants and spies, and provide their sexual favors to extract information from certain targets.[342]

Prostitution network

On a side note, Jesús Enrique Rejón Aguilar, a top-tier Los Zetas boss, was caught on 3 July 2011, and claimed in an interview that was aired on national television that the Gulf Cartel, unlike Los Zetas, has an "easier and quicker accessibility to arms in the United States", and probably works "with some people in the government" to traffic weapons south of the U.S. border.[340]

[339] For the most part, the

Arms trafficking

Some of the revenue of the Gulf Cartel is often Antonio Cárdenas Guillén, among others, have been charged by the U.S. government for laundering millions of dollars.[332] Bank accounts inside the United States also launder millions of dollars for the drug lords of the Gulf Cartel.[333] The Economist mentioned in 1997 that the drug money from the Gulf Cartel in the Rio Grande Valley was perhaps moving about $20 billion, and that around 15% of the retailers' gains were from drug money.[334]

Money laundering

Stealing oil from PEMEX and selling it illegally has been one of the many funding activities of the Gulf Cartel.[326] They were reported to have stolen around 40% of the oil products in 2011 in northern Mexico and then selling it illegally in Mexico and in the American black market.[327] One leader of the Gulf Cartel confessed after his apprehension that "drug trafficking is their main business, but due to the difficulties they have been encountering, oil theft has been an important financial cushion" for the cartel.[328] They have also been reported to steal vehicles.[329]


Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents have claimed that the Gulf Cartel moves millions of dollars in cash through the Rio Grande Valley each month, a tempting amount for many U.S. officials.[322] Much of the money stays in the area, which has caused several officials—both federal and state—to succumb to the "easy money aspect" the drug money has to offer.[323] The Gulf Cartel also bribes journalists to persuade them not to mention any violent incidents in the media.[324] In addition, due to the low-paying salaries of many policemen, the Gulf Cartel often "buys" many law enforcement officers in Mexico.[325]

When the Gulf Cartel was moving tons of cocaine to the United States and moving millions of dollars in cash along the border in the 1970s, Juan García Ábrego decided that he needed more protection. Court documents indicated that García Ábrego was bribing several law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and politicians on both sides on the border to keep himself impune and untouched.[318] His former friends and associates mentioned that the drug lord was paying one of Carlos Salinas de Gortari's deputy attorneys general more than $1.5 million a month for his protection.[319] He is allegedly reported to have been protected by a large private army of gunmen.[320] A retired FBI agent and expert in drug trafficking explained that the Gulf Cartel "relied on bribery" to build its drug empire and consolidate its prominence.[321]


An U.S. agent mentioned that the drug cartels that operate on the Mexico–United States border, and principally across from Texas, are "in control of not only the narcotrafficking, but also the human smuggling."[316] Critics say that the strategy of capturing drug kingpins often resulted in the increase in extortion, as the cartels look for other sources of money.[317]

Before 2010, it was not clear whether the Gulf Cartel controls the human trafficking business in its territory or whether it simply taxes operators for using their smuggling corridors.[311] La Jornada mentioned that before the rupture with Los Zetas in 2007, the corridor of Reynosa, Tamaulipas was often used for human smuggling.[312] People smuggling is currently controlled by a cell within the Gulf Cartel known as Los Flacos, dedicated to the kidnapping and smuggling of undocumented migrants as far as South America to the United States.[313] It operates primarily on the TabascoVeracruzTamaulipas corridor.[314] Human trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley has become "ground zero" and was considered the "new Arizona" in December 2011 by the Homeland Security Today.[315]

Human trafficking

In the United States, the Gulf Cartel has been responsible for several kidnappings, primarily in the McAllen metropolitan area.[303][304][305] Investigators believe that more unreported kidnappings have occurred in nearby locations.[306] When victims are kidnapped by the drug cartels on American territory, kidnappers usually hide them in the trunk of a car and take them to Mexico.[307] FBI investigators said that victims are "kidnapped, threatened, assaulted, drugged and transported into Mexico to meet with Cartel members.”[308] Reports indicated that kidnappers working for the Gulf Cartel train with paintball equipment "to practice simulated kidnapping schemes in order to prepare for the actual kidnapping they intended to commit."[309] In one reported incident, Isaac Sanchez Gutierrez, a man from Palmview, Texas, said he faced an ultimatum: pay $10 million to the Gulf Cartel, or transport 50 drug loads from Mexico into the U.S. in order to free his kidnapped brother.[310]

On April 2011 in the border city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, 68 kidnapped victims from different parts of Mexico and Central America were found in a safe house of the Gulf Cartel.[299][300] Omar Ortiz, best known for his nickname El Gato, was a former soccer star from C.F. Monterrey who was arrested in January 2012 for working in a kidnapping ring within the Gulf Cartel.[301] The Mexican Lucha libre wrestler Lázaro Gurrola, known as the Estrella Dorada (Golden Star), was also arrested for kidnapping people for the Gulf Cartel.[302]

  1. To increase the ranks of their cartel after the deaths or arrests of their own members;
  2. To exterminate members of their rival gangs;
  3. To kidnap people for money and other ransom.[298]

The Gulf Cartel, along with their rival group Los Zetas, have been the two drug cartels with the most kidnappings in all of Mexico, and "more than half of the country's kidnappings are attributed to them."[296] And, there are several kidnapping rings of the Gulf Cartel throughout several parts of Tamaulipas.[297] The Mexican military mentioned that in the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, where the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas fight for territory, abductions are carried out very commonly. Intelligent agencies mentioned that the Gulf Cartel kidnaps for three reasons:


Organized crime groups opt for protection racketeering in an effort to control markets and "maintaining internal order."[291] It is generally seen as a way where criminals change the legal face of security and provide their own form of "insurance".[292] This practice of extorting money from people is also seen in the human trafficking business in Mexico; the cartels threaten smugglers to pay a fee for using the corridors, and if they refuse to pay, drug traffickers respond in a deadly form.[293] The Gulf Cartel operates in a similar way, and often extorts businesses for protection money in the areas where it operates, pledging to kill those who do not agree to pay the fee.[294] In addition, the Mexican drug cartels also tax several Mexican businesses inside the United States, and threaten them with property damage and murder if they do not comply.[295]

Protection racketeering

Modus operandi

It's worth noting that there are other operating groups within the drug cartels. For example, the drug producers and suppliers,[286] although not considered in the basic structure, are critical operators of any drug cartel, along with the financers and money launderers.[287][288][289] In addition, the arms suppliers operate in a completely different circle,[290] and are technically not considered part of the cartel’s logistics.

  • Drug lords (Capos): This is the highest position in any drug cartel; they are responsible supervising the entire drug industry, appointing territorial leaders, making alliances, and planning high-profile executions.[285]
  • Lieutenants (Lugartenientes): The second highest position in the drug cartel organization; they are responsible for supervising the sicarios and halcones within their own territory. They are allowed to carry low-profile executions without permission from their bosses.[284]
  • Hitmen (Sicarios): They are the armed group within the drug cartel; they are responsible for carrying out assassinations, kidnappings, thefts, extortions, operating protection rackets, and defending their plaza from the rival groups and the military.[282][283]
  • Falcons (Halcones): Considered the "eyes and ears" of the streets, the falcons are the lowest rank position in any drug cartel. They are responsible for supervising and reporting on the activities of the Mexican military and of their rival groups.[281]

: drug cartel Below is the basic structure of the [280] The rupture from

Gulf Cartel hierarchy


The Sinaloa-Juarez alliance ceased to exist as well due to an unpaid debt in 2007, and now the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartel are at war against each other.[272] Since February 2010, the major cartels have aligned in two factions, one integrated by the Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Zetas and the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel;[273] the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel, La Familia Cartel (now extinct) and the Knights Templar Cartel.[274][275]

In 2003, the arrest of several high-profile cartel leaders, including the heads of the Tijuana Cartel and Gulf Cartel, Benjamín Arellano Félix and Osiel Cárdenas, turned the war on drugs into a trilateral war. While in prison, Cárdenas and Arellano Félix formed an alliance to defend themselves from the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartel,[269] who had also formed an alliance with each other, and were planning to take over the smuggling routes and territories of the Gulf and Tijuana Cartel.[270] After a dispute, however, Osiel Cardenas ordered Benjamin Arellano Felix beaten, and the Gulf-Tijuana alliance ceased to exist at that point. It was reported that after the fallout, Cárdenas ordered Los Zetas to Baja California to wipe out the Tijuana Cartel.[271]


Although there have been efforts by the federal government to wipe out police corruption, Terra Networks published an article of a witness who said that the police forces in Matamoros, Tamaulipas work as "informants for the Gulf Cartel" and report on the activity of the Mexican military, and even "wave at [the cartel members]" when they see them in the streets.[266] El Universal released an article which said that the National Public Security System (SNSP) has condemned the cops' salaries, and demanded the state and municipal authorities to create better paying programs for the policemen so they can have a "just wage" for themselves and their families.[267] The federal government is also constructing three military bases in Tamaulipas: in Ciudad Mier, San Fernando, and Ciudad Mante.[268]

On 9 May 2011, the Mexican government, along with Sedena, disarmed all police forces in the state of Tamaulipas, beginning with the cities of Matamoros and Reynosa.[261] On June 2011, the state government of Tamaulipas requested the federal government to send in troops to combat the drug cartels in the area, in order to "consolidate actions on public safety" and "strengthen the capacity of their institutions."[262] The Joint Operation Nuevo León-Tamaulipas issued in 2007, along with several other military-led operation by the federal government, have brought thousands of troops to restore order in Tamaulipas.[263] CNN news mentioned that the troops "replaced half of the policemen" in the state of Tamaulipas.[264] On 7 November 2011, about 1,660 policemen were released from their duties because they had either failed their control tests or refused to take them.[265]

[260] The

Although drug-related violence has existed since the early beginnings of the Gulf Cartel, it often happened in low-profile levels, while the government agreed to "look the other way" while the drug traffickers went about their business—as long as they behaved.[228] Back in the days of the 71-year rule of the [235]

Rodolfo Torre Cantú, politician killed in Tamaulipas.

The drug violence and political corruption that has plagued Tamaulipas, the homestate of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, has fueled thoughts of Tamaulipas becoming a "failed state" and a haven for drug traffickers and criminals of all kinds.[223] The massacre of the 72 migrants and the clandestine mass graves with more than 250 bodies in San Fernando, Tamaulipas,[224][225] mounted with the assassination of the state candidate Rodolfo Torre Cantú (2010),[226] the increasing violence generated between drug groups, and the state's inability to ensure tranquility, has led specialists to conclude that "neither the regional nor federal government have control over the territory of Tamaulipas."[227]

Political corruption

Tamaulipas: State corruption

On November 10, 2014, a document from the Mexican government was released to the media and claimed that Los Rojos faction of the Gulf Cartel was planning to form an alliance with Los Zetas. The potential alliance was conducted by [221][222]

The rumors of the broken alliance between the Gulf Cartel and [219] Consequently, Los Zetas joined forces with the Beltrán Leyva Cartel and the Tijuana Cartel to counterattack the opposing cartels.[220]

Gulf Cartel vs. Los Zetas

[208][207] The Gulf Cartel and other Mexican drug trafficking groups are active in the northern and western parts of

Presence in Africa

The Gulf Cartel is believed to have ties with the Europe, combined with the euro strength against the U.S. dollar, justified establishing an extensive network in that continent. The main areas of demand and drug consumption are in Eastern Europe, the successor states of the Soviet Union. In Western Europe, the primarily increase has been in the use of cocaine.[204] Along with the market in the United States, the drug market in Europe is among the most lucrative in the world, where the Mexican drug cartels are believed to have deals with the mafia groups of Europe.[205]

Presence in Europe

[201].United States Reports mention that Mexican drug cartels operate in more than 1,000 cities in the [200] The strong ties the Gulf Cartel has with the prison gangs in the United States have also raised concern to American officials.[199].Texas, have raised concerns among Texas officials that the drug war in Mexico and the drug cartels are taking hold in kidnappings The arrest of several Gulf Cartel lieutenants, along with the drug-related violence and [198] The Gulf Cartel has important cells operating inside the United States—in

Presence in the U.S.

Some experts have found it difficult to argue that the Gulf Cartel does not impose a direct threat to the state and local levels, by using their large profits to bribe officials.[195]

Originally, the Gulf cartel was running smoothly, but the infighting between the two factions in the Gulf cartel triggered when Flores Borrego was killed on 2 September 2011.[189] When the Rojos turned on the Metros, the largest faction in the Gulf cartel, firefights broke throughout Tamaulipas and drug loads were stolen among each other, but the Metros managed to retained control of the major cities that stretched from Matamoros to Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas.[193]


Unconfirmed information released by The Monitor indicated that two leaders of the Rojos, Mejía González and Rafael Cárdenas Vela, teamed up to kill Flores Borrego.[189] Cárdenas Vela had held a grudge on Flores Borrego and the Metros because he believed that they had led the Mexican military to track down and kill his uncle Antonio Cárdenas Guillén (Tony Tormenta) in 5 November 2010.[189][190] Other sources indicate that the infighting could have been caused by the suspicions that the Rojos were "too soft" on the Gulf cartel's bitter enemy, Los Zetas.[191] When the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas split in early 2010, some members of the Rojos stayed with the Gulf cartel, while others decided to leave and join the forces of Los Zetas.[192]

Samuel Flores Borrego, former Gulf Cartel high-ranking member.

In the late 1990s, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the former leader of the Gulf cartel, had other similar groups besides Los Zetas established in several cities in Tamaulipas.[189] Each of these groups were identified by their radio codes: the Rojos were based in Reynosa; the Metros were headquartered in Matamoros; and the Lobos were established in Laredo.[189] The infighting between the Metros and the Rojos of the Gulf cartel began in 2010, when Juan Mejía González, nicknamed El R-1, was overlooked as the candidate of the regional boss of Reynosa and was sent to the "Frontera Chica," an area that encompasses Miguel Alemán, Camargo and Ciudad Mier – directly across the U.S-Mexico border from Starr County, Texas. The area that Mejía González wanted was given to Samuel Flores Borrego, suggesting that the Metros were above the Rojos.[189]

Metros and Rojos infighting


[188]—the two who were hospitalized after the shootout of 5 November 2010—allowed for the Mexican forces to understand the structure of Los Escorpiones.Escorpión 43 and of Josué González Rodríguez alias Escorpión 37 The arrests of Marco Antonio Cortez Rodríguez alias [187].Escorpión 42; and Refugio Adalberto Vargas Cortés, alias Escorpión 26; Hugo Lira, alias Escorpión 18; Raúl Marmolejo Gómez, alias Escorpión 1 or El Tyson, the following members of Los Escorpiones were killed: Sergio Antonio Fuentes, alias Antonio Cárdenas Guillén as members of the Los Escorpiones group. Along with Matamoros, Tamaulipas reported that Mexican authorities identified the gunmen that where engaging in confrontations against the troops in El Universal [186] However, his brother

[185] to the Mexican authorities, and that the Gulf Cartel had created Los Escorpiones to stop and balance the growing hegemony of Los Zetas.Los Zetas and Beltrán-Leyva Cartel wrote an article about some "protected witnesses" from the Gulf Cartel who denounced the alliance between the El Universal The first mention of Los Escorpiones on the media was in 2008, when [184]), was believed to be the mercenary group that protected The Scorpions ([181] Los Escorpiones, also called Grupo Escorpios,

Los Escorpiones

After this incident, there was a huge division of opinions over the fate of the Gulf Cartel. Some experts believed that the death of Costilla Sánchez to take full directive of the cartel, and that would tighten relations with Colombia and straighten the Gulf Cartel's path, something quite difficult with Ezekiel as co-leader.[180]

[178] Nevertheless, according to the newspapers

The Guardian newspaper mentioned that in a YouTube video, a convoy of SUV's filled with gunmen and pickups packed with marines were seen in a chase through the streets of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. And although there wasn't any visible confrontation between the two, the intensity of the situation was clear through the background noises of grenades explosions and automatic gunfire.[156] A news video from Televisa, also on YouTube, shows images from the confrontations of that day.[157] Moreover, several bystanders also recorded the shootouts.[158][159][160]

The confrontations started around 10:00AM, and extended to 06:00PM, around the time Cárdenas Guilén was killed. The intense shootings provoked the temporary closure of three international bridges in Matamoros,[149] along with the University of Texas at Brownsville, just across the border.[150] Public transportation and school classes in Matamoros were canceled, along with the suspension of activities throughout the municipality, since the cartel members hijacked the units of public transport and made dozens of roadblocks to prevent the mobilization of the soldiers, marines, and federal police forces.[151] The street confrontations generated a wave of panic among the population and caused the publication and broadcast of messages through social networks like Twitter and Facebook, reporting the clashes between authorities and the cartel members.[152] When the Mexican authorities reached the spot where Antonio Cárdenas (Tony Tormenta) was present, the gunmen received the soldiers and cops with grenades and high-calibre shots. Reports mention that Antonio Cárdenas was being protected by the Los Escorpiones (The Scorpions), the alleged armed wing of the Gulf Cartel and the personal army of Antonio Cárdenas, who were serving as snipers and bodyguards for him.[153] La Jornada newspaper mentioned that over 80 SUV's packed with gunmen fought to protect Cárdenas Guillén, and over 300 grenades were used in the shootout that day.[154] And even after the drug lord was killed, the roadblocks continued throughout the rest of the day.[155]

Osiel Cárdenas Guillén.[142] Costilla was often viewed as the "strongest leader" of the two, but collaborated with Antonio Cárdenas, who acted as representative of his brother in jail.[143] However, Antonio Cardenas Guillén died in an eight-hour shooting with the Mexican government forces on 5 November 2010 in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas.[144] Government sources claimed that this operation—where more than 660 marines, 17 vehicles, and 3 helicopters participated—left 8 dead: three marines, one soldier, and four gunmen, including Antonio Cárdenas Guillén.[145] Other sources mention that one news reporter was also killed in the crossfire.[146] This military-led operation was a result of more than six months of intelligence work and some operational actions.[147] Milenio Television mentioned that the Mexican authorities had tried to apprehend Cárdenas Guillén twice before this incident, but that his personal gunmen had distracted the Mexican forces and allowed him to be escorted in his armored vehicle.[148]

[141][140], brother of Osiel and Antonio, is the other leader of Gulf Cartel and head of the Rojos, the other faction within the Gulf Cartel and the parallel version of the Metros.Mario Cárdenas Guillén [139] allowed for Costilla Sánchez to become the co-leader of the Gulf Cartel and head of the Metros, one of the two factions within the Gulf Cartel.[138], the nickname given to Antonio Cárdenas for his explosive behavior,Tony Tormenta The death of [137] Osiel Cárdenas' brother,

Antonio Cárdenas' era

Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoacana, aiming to take out Los Zetas.[133][134] Consequently, Los Zetas allied with the Juárez Cartel, the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, and the Tijuana Cartel.[135][136]

Nevertheless, other sources also reveal that Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano.[128] Other sources, however, mention that the Gulf Cartel began looking to form a truce with their Sinaloa Cartel rivals, and Los Zetas did not want to recognize the treaty settlement, which led them to act independently and eventually break apart.[129] On the other hand, other sources reveal that Los Zetas separated from the Gulf Cartel to form an alliance with Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, which led to conflict between them.[130] Other sources mention that what initiated the conflict between them was when Samuel Flores Borrego, alias El Metro 3, lieutenant of the Gulf Cartel, killed Sergio Peña Mendoza, alias El Concorde 3, lieutenant of Los Zetas, due to a disagreement for the drug corridor of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, whom both protected.[131] Soon after his death, Los Zetas demanded for the Gulf Cartel to hand over the killer, but they didn't, and observers believe that triggered the war.[132]

It is unclear which of the two — the Gulf Cartel or Los Zetas — started the conflict that led to their break up. It is clear, however, that after the capture and extradition of Osiel Cárdenas, Los Zetas had become so powerful that they outnumbered and outclassed the Gulf Cartel in revenue, membership, and influence.[123] Some sources reveal that as a result of the supremacy of Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel felt threatened by the growing force of their own enforcer group and decided to curtail their influence, but eventually failed in their attempt, instigating a war.[124] In addition, from the perspective presented by the Gulf Cartel, the narco-banners placed by them in the cities of Matamoros, Tamaulipas and Reynosa, Tamaulipas explained that the reason for their rupture was that Los Zetas had expanded their operations not only to drug trafficking, but also to extortion, kidnapping, homicide, and theft. These were actions that the Gulf Cartel disagreed with.[125] Unwilling to stand for such abuse, Los Zetas responded and countered the accusations by posting their own banners throughout Tamaulipas. They pointedly noted that they had carried out executions and kidnappings under orders of the Gulf Cartel when they served as their enforcers, and they were originally created by them for that sole purpose.[126] In addition, Los Zetas mentioned that the Gulf Cartel also kills innocent civilians, and then blames them for their atrocities.[126]

Rupture from Los Zetas

Nearly $30 million of the former drug lord's assets were distributed among several Texan law enforcement agencies.[120] In exchange of another life-sentence, Osiel Cárdenas agreed to collaborate with U.S. agents in intelligence information.[121] The U.S. federal court awarded two helicopters owned by Osiel Cárdenas to the Business Development Bank of Canada and the GE Canada Equipment Financing respectively, and both of them were brought from "drug proceeds".[122]

In 2007, Osiel Cárdenas was extradited to the United States and charged with the involvement of conspiracies to traffic large amounts of marijuana and cocaine, violating the "continuing-criminal-enterprise statute" (also known as the "drug kingpin statute"), and for threatening two U.S. federal officers.[114] The standoff the two agents had with the drug lord in 1999 in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas led for the U.S. to indict Cárdenas and pressure the Mexican government to capture him.[115] In 2010 he was finally sentenced to 25 years in prison after being charged with 22 federal charges;[116] the courtroom was locked and the public prevented from witnessing the proceeding.[117] The proceedings took place in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in the border city of Brownsville, Texas.[118] Cárdenas has been isolated from interacting with other prisoners in the supermax prison he is in.[119]

United States vs Osiel Cárdenas-Guillén

The arrest and extradition of Osiel, however, caused for several top lieutenants from both the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas to fight over important Matamoros;[108] Héctor Manuel Sauceda Gamboa, nicknamed El Karis, took control of Nuevo Laredo;[109] Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa, known as El Goyo, along with his brother Arturo, took control of the Reynosa plaza;[110] Arturo Basurto Peña, alias El Grande, and Iván Velázquez-Caballero alias El Talibán took control of Quintana Roo and Guerrero;[111] Alberto Sánchez Hinojosa, alias Comandante Castillo, took over Tabasco.[112] However, continual disagreement was leading the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas into an inevitable rupture. On August 18, 2013, Gulf Cartel leader Mario Ramirez Trevino was captured.[113]

The former leader of the Gulf Cartel, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, was captured in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on 14 March 2003 in a shootout between the Mexican military and Gulf Cartel gunmen.[98] He was one of the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, which was offering $2 million for his capture.[99] According to government archives, this six-month military operation was planned and carried out in secret; the only people informed were the President Vicente Fox, the Secretary of Defense in Mexico, Ricardo Clemente Vega García, and Mexico's Attorney General, Rafael Macedo de la Concha.[100] After his capture, Osiel Cárdenas was sent to the federal, high-security prison La Palma.[101] However, it was believed that Cárdenas still controlled the Gulf Cartel from prison,[102] and was later extradicted to the United States, where he was sentenced to 25 years in a prison in Houston, Texas for money laundering, drug trafficking, homicide and death threats to U.S. federal agents.[103] Reports from the PGR and El Universal state that while in prison, Osiel Cárdenas and Benjamín Arellano Félix, from the Tijuana Cartel, formed an alliance. Moreover, through handwritten notes, Osiel gave orders on the movement of drugs along Mexico and to the United States, approved executions, and signed forms to allow the purchase of police forces.[104] And while his brother Antonio Cárdenas Guillén led the Gulf Cartel, Osiel still made vital orders from La Palma through messages from his lawyers and guards.[104]

Osiel Cárdenas' extradition to the United States from Mexico.

Arrest and extradition

After a tense standoff, DuBois and Fuentes, along with their informant, were released.[95] The two agents and the informant headed off to Brownsville, Texas. As for Cárdenas, the damage had been done by taking on the U.S. government, which placed pressure on the Mexican government to apprehend Cárdenas. The two agents, Joe DuBois and Daniel Fuentes, were recognized by the U.S. attorney general for their "exceptional heroism", and both are still on the job.[96] The Mexican reporter is living somewhere in the United States.[97]

DuBois, who grew up in Mexico and was a police officer in the neighboring Brownsville, Texas, recalled how Cárdenas "did not give a damn who [they were]", while DuBois replied to him: "You don't care now, but tomorrow and the next day and the rest of your life, you'll regret anything stupid that you might do right now. You are fixing to make 300,000 enemies."[92] Then, Fuentes reminded Cárdenas how the U.S. launched a massive manhunt and investigation after the kidnap, torture, and assassination of the DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985 in Mexico.[93] All of the killers and accomplices were captured in that U.S. operation.[94]

Cárdenas and his men intercepted and surrounded the vehicle on a public street and demanded for the informant to be released to him.[88] According to the two agents, the Gulf Cartel sicarios outnumbered and outgunned them. Their only way out was to talk their way out.[89] Cárdenas arrived seconds later in a white Jeep Cherokee, approaching the two agents with the swagger of the man in charge. In his waistband, he wore a Colt pistol with a gold grip; in his hands, a gold-plated AK-47.[90] Cárdenas pounded the Ford Bronco and calmly asked for the informant. Fuentes flashed his FBI badge, giving Cárdenas a smile. In an ongoing discourse, Cárdenas told the agents that he would shoot them if they did not surrender. The two agents refused to do so, saying they were dead either way. He gave them another choice: to hand over the informant. Again, they refused.[91]

In a November afternoon of 1999, Osiel Cárdenas learned that a Gulf Cartel informant was being transported through Matamoros, Tamaulipas, by the FBI and DEA.[84] According to the story mentioned in the interviews 11 years after this life-or-death incident, the DEA agent Joe DuBois and FBI agent Daniel Fuentes were riding in a white Ford Bronco with diplomatic plates along the streets of Matamoros, Tamaulipas.[85] For years, both were working for the disarticulation of the cartels in Mexico, and both knew how the drug cartels worked south of the border. In the back seat of the car, a Mexican informant from a local newspaper on crime coverage guided the two agents and gave them a tour on the city's drug routes and on the homes of the drug lords of the city. They even cruised by Cárdenas' house,[86] a pink-colored mansion with tall walls, security camaras, armed guards and roof-snipers. Within moments, according to DuBois, a Lincoln Continental was on their tail, then a stolen pickup truck with Texan plates.[87] The federal agents were cut off and surrounded by at least five vehicles, including one by a former state police officer. Just yards away from Matamoros' police department, the agents were surrounded by a convoy of gunmen from the Gulf Cartel. Nearby, other men, also in police uniform, directed traffic.

Confrontation with U.S. agents

[83][82] Los Zetas began to grow independently from the Gulf Cartel, and eventually a rupture occurred between them in early 2010.[81] Upon the arrest of the Gulf Cartel boss

In 2002, there were three main divisions of the Cartel, all ruled over by Osiel Cardenas and led by: Jorge Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla, Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cárdenas Guillén, and Heriberto “El Lazca” Lazcano.[80]

One of the first missions of Los Zetas was to eradicate Los Chachos, a group of drug traffickers under the orders of the kidnappings;[74] impose taxes, collect debts, and operate protection rackets;[75] control the extortion business;[76] securing cocaine supply and trafficking routes known as plazas (zones) and executing its foes, often with grotesque savagery.[63] In response to the rising power of the Gulf Cartel, the rival Sinaloa Cartel[77] established a heavily armed, well-trained enforcer group known as Los Negros.[78] The group operated similar to Los Zetas, but with less complexity and success. There is a circle of experts who believe that the start of the Mexican Drug War did not begin in 2006 (when Felipe Calderón sent troops to Michoacán to stop the increasing violence), but in 2004 in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, when the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas fought off the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Negros.[79]

[71] In 1997 the Gulf Cartel began to recruit military personnel whom

Los Zetas

As confrontations with rival groups heated up, Osiel Cárdenas sought and recruited over 30 deserters of the Mexican Army's elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE) to form part of the cartel's armed wing.[59] Los Zetas, as they are known, served as the hired private mercenary army of the Gulf Cartel. Nevertheless, after the arrest and extradition of Osiel Cárdenas, internal struggles led to a rupture between the Gulf and the Zetas.[60]

Osiel Cárdenas' era

Humberto García Ábrego, brother of Juan García Ábrego, tried to take the lead of the Gulf Cartel, but ultimately failed in his attempt.[49] He did not have the leadership skills nor the support of the Colombian drug-provisioners. In addition, he was under observation and was widely known, since his surname meant more of the same.[50] He was to be replaced by Óscar Malherbe de León and Raúl Valladares del Ángel, until their arrest a short time later,[51] causing several cartel lieutenants to fight for the leadership. Malherbe tried to bribe officials $2 million for his release, but it was denied.[52] Hugo Baldomero Medina Garza, known as El Señor de los Tráilers (the lord of the Trailers), is considered one of the most important members in the rearticulation of the Gulf Cartel.[53] He was one of the top officials of the cartel for more than 40 years, trafficking about 20 tons of cocaine to the United States each month.[54] His luck ended in November 2000 when he was captured in Tampico, Tamaulipas and imprisoned in La Palma.[55] After Medina Garza's arrest, his cousin Adalberto Garza Dragustinovis was investigated for allegedly forming part of the Gulf Cartel and for laundering money, but the case is still open.[56] The next in line was Sergio Gómez alias El Checo, however, his leadership was short lived when he was assassinated in April 1996 in Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas.[57] After this, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén took control of the cartel in July 1999 after assassinating Salvador Gómez Herrera alias El Chava, co-leader of the Gulf Cartel and close friend of him, earning his name as the Mata Amigos (Friend Killer).[58]

Following Ábrego's 1996 arrest by Mexican authorities and subsequent deportation to the United States, a power vacuum was left and several top members fought for leadership.[48]

After García-Ábrego era

In addition, it was brought up that García Ábrego had previously been arrested in Brownsville, Texas for six-year-old auto theft charges, but was released later with no charges whatsoever.[43] Two men from the Rio Grande Valley were charged before the drug lord's arrest for laundering more than $30 million for García Ábrego.[44] He was also held responsible in 1984 for the massacre of 6 people in La Clínica Raya, a hospital where rival drug members were being treated, and was also blamed for the massacre of the Cereso prison in 1991, where 18 prisoners were slain—both in Matamoros, Tamaulipas.[45][46][47]

The factual documents presented in court on 8 May 1998, the Matamoros-based criminal syndicate of the Gulf Cartel was responsible for trafficking tremendous amounts of narcotics into the United States from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, and García Ábrego was given eleven life sentences in prison.[41] During the four-week trial, 84 witnesses, ranging from "law enforcement officers to convicted drug smugglers," confessed that García Ábrego smuggled loads of Colombian cocaine on planes and then stored them in several border cities along the Mexico–United States border before being smuggled to the Rio Grande Valley.[42]

Upon his capture outside the city of Monterrey, Nuevo León, the drug lord was flown to Mexico City where U.S. federal agent took him on a private plane to Houston, Texas.[35] Wearing slacks and a striped shirt, García Ábrego was immediately extradited to the United States where he was interviewed by a FBI agent, and confessed to have "ordered people murdered and tortured," bribed top Mexican officials, and smuggled tons of narcotics into the United States.[36] His prosecutors, however, tried García Ábrego as an U.S. citizens because he also had an American birth certificate, although Mexican authorities claimed the certificate was "fraudulent."[37] He also had an official birth certificate that claimed García Ábrego was indeed born in Mexico.[38] According to The Brownsville Herald, García Ábrego went into the courtroom grinning and talking animatedly with his lawyers who helped him translate his words from Spanish into the English language.[39] Hours after the judge told García Ábrego that he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison, the death penalty was out of the question for the prosecutors.[40]

United States v. García Ábrego

Further theories put forward allege the arrest of García Ábrego was to satisfy U.S. demands and meet certification, from the Department of Justice (DOJ), as a trade partner, the vote set to take place on March 1. García Ábrego was apprehended on January 14, 1996, and Mexico shortly after received certification on March 1.[34]

García Ábrego's arrest was even subject to allegations of corruption. It is believed the Mexican government knew all García Ábrego's whereabouts all along and had refused to arrest him due to information he possessed about the extent of corruption within the government. The arresting officer, a FJP commander, is believed to have received a [33]


Juan García Ábrego, founder of the organization.

Arrest of Ábrego

Garcia Abrego's reach became known when a United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent named Claude de la O, in 1986, stated in testimony against García Ábrego that he received over $100,000 USD in bribes and had leaked information that could have endangered an FBI informant as well as Mexican journalists. In 1989 Claude was removed from the case for unknown reasons, retiring a year later. García Ábrego bribed the agent in an attempt to gather more information on U.S. law enforcement operations.[25][26]

It also became known that, in addition to the INS bus scam, García Ábrego had a "special deal" with members of the Texas National Guard who would truck tons of cocaine and marijuana from South Texas to Houston for the cartel.[24]

García Ábrego's ties extended beyond the Mexican government corruption and into the United States. With the arrest of one of García Ábrego's traffickers, Juan Antonio Ortiz, it became known the cartel would ship tons of cocaine in United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) buses between the years of 1986 to 1990. The buses made great transportation, as Antonio Ortiz noted, since they were never stopped at the border.[24]

Corruption in the United States

By the 1980s, García Ábrego began incorporating cocaine into the drug trafficking operations, and started to have the upper hand on what was now considered the Gulf Cartel, the greatest criminal dynasty in the US-Mexico border. By negotiating with the Cali Cartel,[20] García Ábrego was able to secure 50% of the shipment out of Colombia as payment for delivery, instead of the $1,500 USD per kilogram they were previously receiving. This renegotiation, however, forced Garcia Ábrego to guarantee the product’s arrival from Colombia to its destination. Instead, he created warehouses along the Mexican’s northern border to preserve hundreds of tons of cocaine; this allowed him to create a new distribution network and increase his political influence. In addition to trafficking drugs, García Ábrego would ship cash to be laundered, in the millions.[21] Around 1994, it was estimated that the Gulf Cartel handled as much as "one-third of all cocaine shipments" into the United States from the Cali Cartel suppliers.[22] During the 1990s, the PGR, the Mexican attorney general's office, estimated that the Gulf Cartel was "worth over $10 billion US dollars."[23]

García Ábrego era (1980s-1990s)

Although it was never proven that he smuggled liquor, arms, tobacco, and even drugs, Juan is considered the "godfather" of the Gulf Cartel.[16] Along with his two brothers Arturo and Roberto, Juan Nepomuceno Guerra started smuggling alcohol into the United States in the 1930s.[17] Soon after the conclusion of the Prohibition, Don Juan, as he was widely known, dedicated himself to another completely different illicit occupation—drug trafficking.[18] Nepomuceno Guerra also amplified his ascendancy through the incorporation of gambling houses, prostitution, human trafficking, and car theft.[19] His nephew, Juan García Ábrego, worked along his tutelage, and slowly began taking over the drug business in the 1970s.

Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, founder of the organization (far left).

Juan Nepomuceno Guerra began smuggling alcohol across the border into the United States during the Prohibition era; once it ended in 1933, he created a criminal syndicate (known as el cártel de Matamoros) and controlled gambling houses, a car theft network, prostitution rings, and other illegal smuggling.[12] Nonetheless, it was not until 1984 when his nephew Juan García Ábrego founded the Gulf Cartel and started to dedicate primarily to drug trafficking.[13] The origins of the cartel are accredited to the legendary contrabandist Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, who died on 12 July 2001 due to a cardiac arrest.[14] Juan Nepomuceno Guerra was considered a high-profile leader among several people in the community of Matamoros, Tamaulipas because he would help the neediest and would punish those who committed any abuse to the poor families.[12] Poor people sometimes even made huge lines in "Piedras Negras", a restaurant of Nepomuceno Guerra, to ask him for favors.[15]

Foundation: 1930s–1980s



  • History 1
    • Foundation: 1930s–1980s 1.1
    • García Ábrego era (1980s-1990s) 1.2
      • Corruption in the United States 1.2.1
      • Arrest of Ábrego 1.2.2
    • After García-Ábrego era 1.3
    • Osiel Cárdenas' era 1.4
      • Los Zetas 1.4.1
      • Confrontation with U.S. agents 1.4.2
      • Arrest and extradition 1.4.3
      • Rupture from Los Zetas 1.4.4
    • Antonio Cárdenas' era 1.5
      • Los Escorpiones 1.5.1
  • Present-day 2
    • Metros and Rojos infighting 2.1
    • Presence in the U.S. 2.2
    • Presence in Europe 2.3
    • Presence in Africa 2.4
    • Gulf Cartel vs. Los Zetas 2.5
  • Tamaulipas: State corruption 3
    • Political corruption 3.1
    • Prison breaks 3.2
    • Police corruption 3.3
  • Alliances 4
  • Structure 5
  • Modus operandi 6
  • Indictments 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11
  • Bibliography 12

Although its founder Juan Nepomuceno Guerra smuggled alcohol in small quantities to the United States during the Prohibition era,[11] it was not until the 1970s that the cartel was formed and shifted to drug trafficking — primarily cocaine — under the command of Juan Nepomuceno Guerra and Juan García Ábrego.

Their network is international, and are believed to have dealings with crime groups in Europe, West Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, and the United States.[7][8] Besides drug trafficking, the Gulf Cartel operates through protection rackets, assassinations, extortions, kidnappings, and other criminal activities.[9] The Gulf Cartel is known for intimidating the population and for being "particularly violent."[10]

. Brownsville, Texas, directly across the border from Matamoros, Tamaulipas It is currently based in [6]

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