The Gulf Cartel (Spanish: Cartel del Golfo) is a Mexican drug cartel based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. The cartel is present in 13 states with important areas of operation in the cities of Nuevo Laredo, Miguel Alemán, Reynosa and Matamoros in the northern state of Tamaulipas; it also has important operations in the states of Nuevo León and in Michoacán. The Gulf Cartel traffics cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin across the U.S.-Mexico border to major cities in the United States. The group is known for its violent methods and intimidation.
Aside from earning money from the sales of narcotics, the cartel also imposes "taxes" on anyone passing narcotics or aliens through Gulf Cartel territory. The cartel is also known to operate protection rackets, extorting money from local businesses and to kidnap for ransom money.
Foundation, 1970s - 1996The Gulf Cartel was founded by Juan Nepomuceno Guerra in the 1970s. Nepomuceno Guerra was a notorious Mexican bootlegger who smuggled whiskey into the United States in the 1930s along the Gulf of Mexico. In the 1970s, he became politically active and began smuggling more contraband into the United States, including marijuana and heroin produced in Mexico. His nephew, Juan García Abrego, was born in a ranch called "La Puerta" in Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
He began slowly taking over day-to-day operations of what was now being called the Gulf Cartel. García Abrego expanded the business to include the more lucrative cocaine trade throughout the 1980s and 1990s, all with the assistance of the political connections that his uncle had fostered. Juan García Abrego became so powerful that he was placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives in 1995. He was the first drug trafficker to ever be placed on that list. García Abrego was captured in 1996 and extradited to the United States. He is currently serving eleven life terms in a maximum security federal prison in Colorado, U.S.
Arrest of Abrego
Following Abrego's 1996 arrest by Mexican authorities and subsequent deportation to the United States, he was replaced by Oscar Malherbe De León, until his arrest a short time later, causing several cartel lieutenants to fight for the leadership. The next in line was Sergio "El Checko" Gomez, however, his leadership was short lived when he was assassinated in April 1996 by Salvador "Chava" Gómez. After this, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén took control of the Gulf Cartel in July 1999 after assasinating Salvador Gómez.
In 1999, Cárdenas learned that a Gulf Cartel informant was being transported through Matamoros, Tamaulipas, by the FBI and DEA. Cárdenas and his men intercepted and surrounded the vehicle on a public street and demanded the informant be released to him. The FBI and DEA agents refused to turn over their informant, and after a tense standoff they were released. 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. Cárdenas was arrested during a gun battle in Matamoros in March 2003 and sent to the Penal del Altiplano (formerly known as "La Palma"), a federal high security prison.
Since the arrest of Cárdenas Guillen, his two partners -Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez- took control of the cartel, with the militant wing —Los Zetas— taking a leadership role; the two groups worked together for a few years, but Los Zetas no longer taking orders from Gulf Cartel.
Since the extradition of Cárdenas Guillen to the U.S., Los Zetas gradually took more control from the Gulf cartel and eventually broke away, formed their own cartel and made an alliance with the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel.
On September 17, 2008, United States Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced that 175 alleged Gulf cartel members were arrested in a crackdown on the cartel in the U.S. and in Italy.
In February 2010, Los Zetas engaged in a violent turf war against his former employer/partner, the Gulf Cartel, in the border city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, rendering some border towns into "ghost towns".
Alliances or agreements between drug cartels have been shown to be fragile, tense and temporary. In 2003, the Gulf Cartel joined in a temporary alliance with the remnants of the Arellano Félix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel, based out of the state of Baja California. This was based primarily on prison negotiations between top leaders such as Benjamín Arellano Félix and Osiel Cárdenas. After a personal dispute between leaders, however, Osiel Cárdenas ordered Benjamín Arellano Félix beaten, and all alliances ceased at that point. It is reported that after the fallout, Cárdenas ordered the Zetas to Baja California to wipe out the Tijuana Cartel.
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; the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Cartel.
On November 5, 2010 Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen was gunned down by the Mexican Army in the earlier hours of the day leaving Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez in charge of the Gulf Cartel.
On January 20, 2007 and after the extradition of Osiel Cárdenas Guillen to the U.S., the Gulf Cartel's leadership evolved into one with a decentralized structure, with two drug lords sharing control of the cartel: Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez (a.k.a: El Coss) who maintains close contacts with Colombian narcotics suppliers, and Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillen, who was killed by the Mexican military on November 5, 2010 in the city of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville in Texas.
The decentralized structure of the cartel differentiates it from other cartels, in that power is shared equally among a set of gatekeepers (plaza heads), each of whom is responsible for running different trafficking routes. Each gatekeeper is also responsible for security and the collection of 'taxes' for each plaza they are responsible for.
According to the book "Drug Wars: Narco Warfare in the 21st Century" by Gary Fleming, there are many ways in which drugs enter the United States. Due to the Gulf Cartel's large amount of territory, the cartels utilize every way possible to get drugs into the United States. One avenue that they have implemented is to construct tunnels to get their product across the border.
By constructing a tunnel, the cartel is able to get their product across the border with minimal to no detection. The advantages of having a tunnel are tremendous, not only can they charge for smuggling illegal aliens but they can also use this for human trafficking as carriers of cartels. Each human can carry up to half a million dollars worth of drugs.
Another venture the cartels utilize are the many bus routes across the United States. With each instance of human trafficking, they can have people carry the product with them on a bus and deliver it to its destination. Main hubs for these bus routes include but are not limited to Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, and Dallas. The buses are a vital asset to the cartels because they often go without detection from devices or X-ray machines. The major highways accessed are I35 and I25 which are central highways for the drug trade. The cartel also implements the use of the train system to ship large quantities of illegal drugs.
A narco submarine seized in Ecuador on July 2010Apart 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.
On July 21, 2009, the United States DEA announced coordinated actions against the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas drug trafficking organizations. Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillen, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and 15 of their top lieutenants, have been charged in U.S. federal courts with drug trafficking-related crimes, while the U.S. State Department announced rewards totaling $50 million USD for information leading to their capture.