Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gulf Cartel Against Los Zetas in Reynosa

By Karl Penhaul

Maria Jesus Mancha had just come from burying her son.

It took her about 20 minutes to drive to the cemetery from her house in a lower middle-class neighborhood in the Mexican border city of Reynosa. In just half that time she could have driven across the border into Texas.

That's how close the frontlines in Mexico's drug war are to the United States.

Mancha says Reynosa is not so much a city under fire in the drug war as a city where security officials have cut a deal with the devil and now work with or for the cartels.

Her son Miguel Angel Vazquez, 27, was a computer engineer in a U.S.-owned assembly plant in Reynosa. He was married with two young children.

"I blame the authorities, our bad government and the police. You must realize these people are disguised as police," she said, referring to cartel gunmen as "these people."

A local newspaper El Sol, citing police sources, said only that her son was caught in crossfire when narcos opened fire on a police patrol as he drove home around midnight.

But Mancha dares to contradict the official version. Other residents of Reynosa also believe that some in the police take orders from the now-dominant Gulf Cartel -- but they keep their opinions to themselves.

Mexico-U.S. border In a city like Reynosa where a drug cartel imposes its rule at gunpoint, Mancha knows speaking out may be like asking for a death sentence.

Asked if she preferred not to be quoted by name, she was defiant and pleaded not to edit her words.

"If they want to kill me for saying this then here I am. They killed me when they killed my son. I'm already dead," Mancha told me.

From Mancha's living room, you could see a large pick-up truck with tinted windows -- like the ones favored by the cartels -- slowly patrolling up and down the street.

There was no way of knowing who was really inside. But that's the problem these days in Reynosa -- people suspect the cartel has eyes and ears everywhere.

A few minutes into an interview, one of Mancha's daughters suggested she cut short the chat. "What's done is done. Just let it go now," she whispered.

Another of the vocal exceptions, publicly condemning official corruption, is Jose Sacramento, a senator in President Felipe Calderon's ruling National Action Party (PAN).

He's running for the state governor's office in July elections. "What we are seeing now across Tamaulipas state is the result of complicity between state and municipal police and organized crime," he said.

In an off-camera chat, municipal police chiefs dismissed allegations that cops were on the Gulf Cartel payroll.

But President Calderon's government has acknowledged police and military units nationwide -- not just municipal and state police -- have been infiltrated by the cartels.

Fighting erupted in Reynosa at the start of the year between the Gulf Cartel and its former hit squad, the Zetas. The war has spread along the border between Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, up to Nuevo Laredo.

At stake is not just control of cocaine and marijuana smuggling routes but migrant trafficking routes, and extortion and kidnap rackets.

With the Gulf Cartel gaining the upper hand in Reynosa, the fate of a city of 500,000 inhabitants now seems to be in the hands of a pudgy-faced 37-year-old known by the codename Metro-Three.

According to local residents, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Metro-Three, whose real name is Samuel Flores Borrego, is a former cop who went rogue and is now the alleged head of Gulf Cartel operations in Reynosa with a $5 million U.S. State Department reward on his head.

Flores-Borrego's State Department wanted poster

In its bid for supremacy, the Gulf Cartel has called in extra firepower thanks to an alliance with former rivals in the Sinaloa and La Familia cartels. Given the shifting sands of Mexico's drug conflict, it's difficult to predict how long that pact will hold. If it breaks down it will almost certainly herald a new spiral of killings.

It's difficult to compare the levels of violence, or the threat of violence in Reynosa with other parts of Mexico.

Reynosa City Hall officials said they "simply have no idea" how many people may have been killed so far.

Unlike in other Mexican cities, officials here say they believe the cartels gather up and secretly dispose of their own dead.

Red Cross officials say the vast majority of victims are cartel members, not innocent bystanders.

Whatever the threat level to civilians, it's easy to become paranoid in Reynosa.

During a five-day stay in Reynosa, pick-up trucks and luxury SUVs shadowed our movements. From time to time one of the trucks would crack open a window, revealing four men inside and the driver holding a walkie-talkie.

On pedestrian streets, we were followed by three young men in shiny, sequined baseball caps -- one of the hallmarks of young cartel lookouts known here as "falcons."

Visiting journalists have the option of leaving. It's a different story for the Mexican journalists.

This year alone at least six journalists from Reynosa and the surrounding area have been "disappeared" by suspected drug cartel gunmen, according to Jaime Aguirre, head of Reynosa's Democratic Union of Journalists.

It is not known whether they are dead or alive. It's also not known whether they were taken because of their reporting.

In a bid to survive, most local journalists seem to have decided self-censorship is the better part of valor. There's little news of the home-grown drug war in the newspapers or on the radio.

"It's not fear but simply the lack of security which obliges us to keep certain things quiet," Aguirre told me. "Our state (Tamaulipas) is ranked first in the number of disappeared journalists. We simply have no guarantees to be able to inform about daily events."

The information void left by the traditional media is being filled by concerned citizens using web tools like Twitter.

They warn of gangsters setting up roadblocks and of the echo of gunfire. They ask each other for status reports from neighborhoods across Reynosa and outlying border communities.

The tweets flew thick and fast in February when the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas fought day and night in downtown Reynosa.

The battles were so public that each side emblazoned the initials of their faction -- CDG, the Spanish acronym for Gulf Cartel, and "Z" for the Zetas -- on the side of their trucks.

Senior city hall official Juan Triana has also stepped into the online fray. Drawing on advice from his two teenage daughters about how to use the social networking site, he opened his own Twitter account (@dirdegobreynosa).

He and a colleague now work 16 hour days monitoring Twitter. If tweets are false Triana tries to halt the virtual psychosis. If they're true he simply warns readers to stay away from what he terms "risk situations."

"It's clear the local media cannot inform about this. The immediacy of the information (on Twitter) is very useful to the community," he said in a face-to-face conversation.

None of the other Twitter users on #reynosafollow agreed to meet in person in Reynosa. They said they didn't feel safe talking in the real world.

In a virtual world, they're protected by their aliases. But back out on Reynosa's streets, the cartel-imposed law of silence reigns.

And such psychological and physical threats of terror may be damaging people's mental health, according to Dinorah Guerra, psychotherapist and head of the Red Cross in Reynosa.

"There is a huge risk for people's self esteem. They cannot speak about what they have seen or what they have heard," she said. "You lose yourself and lose your identity."


  1. I knew there was a reason Reynosa seemed somewhat safe until recently.

  2. People need to lay blame where it belongs, to all drug users that say smoking pot it harmless and a victimless crime, to all of you I say: the blood of the innocent killed because of your vice is in your hands; yes all the blood of the innocent is because of you, you have bloody hands.

  3. What can local authorities do? specially the small towns like Mier, Camargo and Miguel Aleman they are out gunned, out manned, out sourced they have no infrastructure to combat this, it's either go along ( accept the bribes) or get killed. From an inside source in Miguel Aleman in 2009 local municipal police numbering about 22 were given by the Zetas; $16,000 to $18,000 per month to devide amongst themselves, certainly that put them in their camp to look the other way, but could you really blame them, they deal with mostly petty crime. This only mean the criminal enterprise has a stronger arm, then the state or federal government. In a way they have usurped the normal governmental functions of the local municipality.Even if common individual sell their properties they wanted $4,000 of the top. The Zetas controlled liquor sales, drug smuggling, border crossings of illegal aliens, loan sharks, beer distribution (en los depositios), they were even shaking down street taco vendors for (la quota)

  4. yeah blame it on the people who smoke pot...but not the ones who actually pull the trigger? how about kidnappings, extortions and such? want to blame pot smokers again too?

    What if i grew my own pot and smoked it, am I still to blame? The blood of the innocent is on the hands of the GREEDY. People who will stop at nothing for more and more money. cough* drug lords cough* corrupt officials cough*

    Face it, we live in a world that values sex and money. Me smoking some pot that I grew (or was locally grown)has absolutely nothing to do with a bunch of people who order human tragedies for the sake of their ego and bank accounts.

  5. @Kevin

    Economy works in a simple way where there is a demand for something there will be people ready to supply if an equilibrium price can be achieved. And that's certainly the case for drugs. So of course greed is a bad human character trait but if people stopped consuming illegal stuff like that, these guys would have to look for other ways to satisfy their wish for the big bucks.

    Look you can call the Investment Bankers at wall street greedy and that's certainly what I would call them but they at least didn't cause any shootings in NY's avenues and loss of innocent lives even though their actions lead to fatal consequences.

    So in the end all I'm saying is - yes you are responsible if you consume an illegal product through financing these drug lords in the same manner as banks were responsible for the financial crisis when they expected 10% returns for no risk on the products they bought!

  6. I understand your reasoning and the economic concept of supply and demand.

    However, once again I ask, why is it my fault if I smoke some pot that I GREW? or that i get from LOCAL GROWERS here in California? And what happens once the product is legal, by your reasoning, I should no longer be at fault right since it would no longer be illegal?

    So in the end, you can put the blame on me for lighting up a joint, but i'm not the one extorting, kidnapping, raping, torturing, and killing.

  7. The Canadian and American pot growers are edging out the pot coming from Mexico because their strains are far more potent and of better quality, they use less pesticides because they use indoor grow rooms rather than outdoor fields. I expect the cartels will find a growing market in Europe and Norther Africa for Cocaine and other hard drugs but the days of pot being a cash crop for them are numbered.

  8. so everyone who wears a diamond is responsible for the corruption and violence in the diamond mines?

  9. No but he or she is responsible to make sure not to buy any so called "blood diamonds." Of course this is not so easy to find out but I guess there are labels and certificats especially for such things as diamonds! It's certainly easier to receive information about diamonds than drugs concerning a fair production process.

    The consumer in general is responsible for a lot more than one might actually like to admit.

    @Kevin: Well I'm not directly blaming you especially if you consume home-grown products! :) I'm not even strictly against the prohibition of pot but it doesn't stop there, as someone mentioned before pot is not the big cash driver for the cartels anymore. It's Meth and Heroine and other hard drugs because you can not simply grow that in your backyard.
    Then again do you expect a drug addict to ask himself under what circumstances the product he consumes was produced and what violence it might have caused and afterwards turn down the offer? I guess that's where the rest of society has to step in!

  10. @Kevin...

    You've found a niche argument, haven't you? Feel safe behind it?

    How about this mind experiment: substitute any innocuous product and lets take your argument for a ride: jeans...maybe?

    If everyone were to grow own cotton (as you "chronically" do)...weave their own denim...dye it in their own homes...cut their own patterns...sit at their sewing machines...attach their own button-flys...then maybe there wouldn't be a market for blue jeans...huh? You're right! If.

    There would be no market in cotton seed...or the market for weavers? ...dye...scissors...sewing machines...buttons...

    What a novel idea! (Why didn't anyone but tweekers come up with this?) We'll kill the drug market! Lets all just grow our own coca and poppy...right here! Produce our "amp-rage" In our own bathtub coolers...

    Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. only thing that continues "amping" this argument is self-delusion.

    Yes...there is blood on yours and diamond lover's hands. But its not only your fault though...not really... (...insert the "are you high" smirk here...)

    You only control the "demand" side of the graph.


  11. America's unsiatable desire to use drugs is a socially engineered phenomeno that started covertly by the CIA Syops in the early 60's Why was this? A society with a populace with arrested development tend to increase the power of the state. People are held in check either by the fear of God (conscience) or by the fear of going to jail (power of the state to enforce wrong doing, which in Mexico has effectively being discredited because of its corruption).
    In the 1960's idealistic Americans from the path of social responsability to one of introspection and self-gratification, were spiritually liberated and neutralized turning social activist into "flower children" advocating "peace and love" The mantra of the new age was "tune-in, turn-on, drop-out, the prophet for this new paradigm was academic Dr. Timothy Leary a CIA operative. In Mexico, Leary promoted to his disciples the ingestion of "magic mushrooms". The experience convinced him the normal mindset was " a static repetitive circuit" in other words boring; so if anyone wanted to recieve enlightment, then, he believed, you must take hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, heroin, barbituates (downers) and mariguana thus the new age of drug consumption is birthed.
    Couple this with the cultural promotion of drugs by popular singers and musicians in the mid sixties like the Beatles, whose songs were euphemisms for the glories of drug use and spiritual liberation; examples; "We all Live in a Yellow Submarine" yellow meaning the color of the oblong (submarine like) shape barbituate drugs in use at the times. Another example is "Hey Jude" euphemism for the heroin needle, describing the emotional ups and downs and finally getting the fix. And of course who can forget "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" the glories of ingesting LSD.
    This created and drove a world wide market of recreational drug use, with the U.S. being the main consumer and the richest. A few years later on the other side of the border (Mexico) in the early 70's those who would work to fill the demand had their cheerleaders inspiring traffickers on to drug smuggling business. Who can forget Los Tigress Del Norte the most notable of the Norteno groups - with such hits as "Camelia La Tejana" and "La Banda Del Carro Rojo" which brought monumental inspiration for years to a "Frontera" population eager to get out of poverty. So if anyone wants to point fingers and blame on any one group of people, all we have to do, really, is to look at ourselves.

  12. Anonymous at 5:35pm

    Yes, you may of said it as sarcasm..

    But it's true.. Everyone who wears a diamond is responsible, because it is our own responsibility to be cautious and well informed buyers..

    Just like we are responsible for child labor in other countries, the monetary power the US holds on other countries is unimaginable.

  13. kevin, you are correct, these idiots who say that you support the drug waar, are just looking for someone to blame. someone who can grow their own crop and cut out the middle man is what i have been saying all along. they will still try to blame it on the smokers. when these deaths are CAUSED BY THE GREED IN MEXICO. not some guy looking to relax after work choosing something, all natural, instead of a beer.

  14. Like someone said the DTO's are being or have been being replaced by American and Canadian independent traffickers, (people generally not connected to organized crime) and also people that buy from Marijauna Dispensaries, Marijauana is becoming so mainstream these days, I'm sure in 10-15 years it will be almost obsolete as a drug trafficked by Mexican DTO's. For the time being it has a market in poorer communities, and states where chronic isn't prevalent. So, it's ludicrous to say that someone, anyone smoking weed is funding violence in Mexico. It's just not true, smoking a blunt from a dispensary is not funding anything but business's in the US, buying and distributing pounds of mec weed, thats a different story.

  15. I disagree with the comment about the pot smokers having bloody hands. The government is to blame for making it illegal in the first place. No different than alcohol in the 20's - prohibition still does not work. It is too late to solve this problem through legalization though. What we have now is a sytem where illegally gotten income has been tasted and is now an accepted means to acheive upward social mobility. Extorsion, kidnapping etc. will still reign in Reynosa even were drug profits to dry up. I think we are on the brink of a 30 to 50 year conflict a la FARC in Colombia. The animals will be in charge of the zoo for some time no matter what the Mexican or U.S. government does. The only way out is military dictatorship with strict curfews imposed by the government and a "sanitization" process carried out on the cartels. It is not the optimum solution but radical surgery is called for is the patient is to be saved.

  16. Why is there no market for poop?

    Cuz everyone has an arsehole so nobody demands any.

    How could there be less of a _________ (choose below) market? DONT DEMAND ANY.

    a) illegal labor (wipe your own baby's ass, feather your own chickens, eat in tonight)
    b) drugs (get a clue; isn't life great just cuz it is?)
    c) burglaries (don't buy that hot DVD player)
    d) Porn (...don't touch my Sweet Chubby Teens prude! There's alot of free stuff out there, anyways...)

    As simple as that.

    Instead of trying to contort an argument that 'll prove your unsupportable position, why don't you try to figure ways to MODESTLY LOWER your demand for these and other social ills?

    I'll tell you why...

    Cuz we are convinced that WE (individually) don't really have any effect on these markets.

    So why give up that blunt? Why give up the cheap set of 20's that shady guy is trying to unload on me? Why give up the Chubby Teens site?

    We're just fat and complacent. We've produced a cadre of "yes men" [in our our leaders] that serve us by patronizing our delusion that we don't really need to give anything up.

    Petroleum. Fat. Diamonds. Credit Cards.

    Like the song says...

    ...whatever; never mind...


  17. Let me start by saying that this lady in the story is very brave. How many people really want to say what she says but can't? and she goes ahead and does it in light of all this...WOW.

    I realize I come off sounding like a non-caring-for-anyone-except-myself kinda person in regards to this smoking Pot issue. I only brought up this niche point because of the post before me which specifically mentioned all of us pot smokers as having bloody hands. To which i respectfully disagree.

    I'm not speaking for coke, meth, crack, heroin, etc..mind you...i just feel that weed itself has been demonized..and yes the "hip" culture makes pot seem really coool...but that's not why i choose to do it...

    I just think there's a big difference with me lighting up a joint and a sicario taking the blade and slicing through another human being...

    and I've been noticing alot of replies and discussions on these topics, is there a forum option on BB?

    I'm actually learning alot from you folks =)...A.R. what if your "blue jeans" could get people high? and the damn govt. found out and made it illegal! then there could be blue jean cartels...and i seriously would have to consider switchin' to chinos permanently unless i want to be blamed for having bloody legs!

    ..honestly i enjoy your view points. you make things very visual with your examples..

  18. But why get high in the first place? Why does a person feel the need to consume ___________(whatever)to feel different? Why does a person feel the need to be a slave of any kind of substance? Is that a trait of a weak mind? What about all those babies that are born with disabilities because of drug use by the many questions, no reasonable, or logical answers......

  19. if we smoke self-growth weed thats ok, but if we use any kind of drugs sold by a drug cartel then we are of course affecting the market and providing money that will be used for violent purposes.


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