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Reynosa Shoot-Outs: Death Throes of Gulf Cartel?

Bill Weinberg

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Mexico’s northeastern border state of Tamaulipas—just across from Texas’ Gulf Coast—has, for years, been engulfed in an under-reported war, as the Gulf Cartel and its rogue offspring the Zetas battle for dominance over the narco-trafficking “plaza” (zone of control).

The current flare-up in the border town of Reynosa may signal a turning point.

Street gun battles have become so common in the town that authorities have instituted a color-coded alert system to warn citizens. The town has been on “red alert” repeatedly over the past days, and there are signs that the long struggle is entering an endgame.

A report on Mexico News Daily suggests that this time, rival cells of the Gulf Cartel are battling each other for control after the death of the organization’s top boss in the state last month. Juan Manuel Loisa, AKA “El Comandante Toro,” was killed in a shoot-out with an army patrol after his car tried to run a checkpoint last month. In response, his followers threw up their own blockades on the streets of Reynosa, burning vehicles and halting traffic. Shops were looted and torched, and several vehicles were reported stolen.

In an unrelated incident the same day Comandante Toro was killed, one of his arch-rivals also met his death in a clash with army troops—this time on the highway to the state capital, Ciudad Victoria. Francisco Javier “Pancho” Carreón Olvera, was the leader of the Old-School Zetas gang. 

Both the declining Gulf Cartel and the ascending Zetas are now factionalized and fragmented, but the Zetas still appear to operate as a loose federation of cells and gangs. The Gulf Cartel, in contrast, appears to be finally collapsing in an orgy of internecine violence. 

The Zetas started out some 15 years ago as the paramilitary enforcement wing of the Gulf Cartel, but have since turned on their former masters in a sort of Oedipal revolt. They’ve been able to gain effective control over Mexico’s Gulf Coast by outdoing anyone else in sheer brutality.

At best, Tamaulipas may be headed for the kind of “peace of the graveyard” that has prevailed in Ciudad Juárez, chief border crossing in Chihuahua state, since the Sinaloa Cartel crushed the local Juárez Cartel.

This would consolidate the emerging narco-order in Mexico, with the Zetas hegemonic in the east and the Sinaloa organization in the west. But contested areas in the center of the country would continue to be a battleground between these two giants. 

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