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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Gulf Cartel Through the Lens of Río Bravo

Over the past week and a half I have devoted much of my free time to keeping readers on the Borderland Beat forum informed of the day to day violence occurring in northern Tamaulipas.  As we have reached a point that not much has changed, I started devoting more time to analyzing the origins of the conflict.  In doing so, I keep coming back to an initial thought: a better understanding of Río Bravo is fundamental. 

From my past experience in researching, I realized that there would be some uncertainty due to contradictions in the information being reported or times that there is a general absence of information.  Thus, this may not be perfect, but the following is my current understanding of how Río Bravo has played a part in the history of the Gulf Cartel.

Municipal Overview
Río Bravo is a municipality located between the municipalities of Matamoros, which lies to the east, and Reynosa, which is to the west.  The largest city and municipal seat is Ciudad Río Bravo, located relatively near the city of Reynosa.  Ciudad Río Bravo is not located on the border with the United States itself, but a rural international bridge lies directly north of the city.  The second largest city in the municipality is Nuevo Progreso, which is located northeast of Ciudad Río Bravo and lies on the border with the United States.  According the maps created by Valor por Tamaulipas, the Gulf Cartel considers these two cities separate plazas.

Due to its location, Río Bravo has been a major transport spot for international drug trafficking.  In fact, the first time I read about Homero Cárdenas Guillén, alias "El Majadero", was in an article from 2009 which reported that he used Río Bravo as a staging ground for trafficking shipments of cocaine to the United States.

The Gulf Cartel in 2010
In early 2010, Los Zetas formally split from the Gulf Cartel, leading to a war that enveloped Tamaulipas as both sides sought to seize territory and strengthen their bases of operation.  At that time the leadership of the Gulf Cartel was shared by two individuals: Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, alias "Tony Tormenta", who held the power of the Cárdenas family, and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, alias "El Coss", a close associate of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén (by then in prison in the United States, having been extradited in January 2007).

By the summer of 2010, a number of changes of plaza heads took place within the Gulf Cartel (though it has not been reported as such, I believe that many of these took place as a result of the war with Los Zetas), a few of which are notable for our purposes.  

 In May of 2010, the head of the Matamoros plaza, Alberto Castillo Flores, alias "El Beto Fabe", was executed by the Gulf Cartel on treason charges and replaced by Jose Luis Zuñiga-Hernandez, alias "El Whicho"/code name "XW", a close associate of "El Coss" who had been head of the plaza of El Control.  While unspecified, I believe it was around June that Mario Armando Ramírez Treviño, alias "El Pelón"/code name "X-20", was reassigned from Río Bravo to Ciudad Victoria (it should be noted that X-# was a designation for a group of confidants of "El Coss").  Meanwhile, a nephew of "Tony Tormenta, Rafael Cárdenas Vela, alias "El Junior"/code name "900", was reassigned from San Fernando, where he was head of plaza for around ten years, to the plaza of Río Bravo.

In November 2010 "Tony Tormenta" was killed in Matamoros during a shootout with Mexican military forces.  Among those also killed along with him was the head Los Escorpiones, an operative group of "Tony Tormenta", and several of its members.  It was strongly rumored that the location of "Tony Tormenta" was given to the military by "El Coss", who sought to seize sole leadership of the Gulf Cartel.

The War of "El Junior Cárdenas" 
Beyond the rumors of "El Coss" having a hand in the death of "Tony Tormenta", "El Junior" grew   He felt that he was not receiving as much help as lieutenants directly associated with "El Coss".  Apparently "El Junior" discussed this issue with Samuel Flores Borrego, alias "El Metro 3", the head of the Reynosa plaza, who felt the same way about "El Coss" and a plan was formed to take the Matamoros plaza from the previously mentioned "XW".

increasingly upset with "El Coss" for other reasons as well.

It is my theory that around this time "El Junior" began recruiting individuals in Río Bravo for his own personal group called Los Ciclónes de 900, which is generally shortened as Los Ciclónes, to achieve his goals.  In March 2011 the plan was enacted and "El Junior" moved to Matamoros, where he declared himself head of plaza, leading to direct confrontation with "XW" and his associates, who used the code names of "XW-#".  I tentatively believe that Los Ciclónes expanded by absorbing members of Los Escopriones and Grupo Alfa at this time, though this possibly occurred while "El Junior" was in Río Bravo or, alternatively, at a later time.

Regardless, with "El Junior" in Matamoros, "XW" returned to his previous position of head of the plaza of El Control.  Meanwhile, "El Coss" named another close associate of his, Juan Roberto Rincón Rincón, alias "El Primo"/code name "X-5", to head the vacated plaza of Río Bravo and in time "El Junior" and allies would fight against him as well.

Despite the information indicating that "El Metro 3" largely agreed with "El Junior", there is no evidence that he provided any type of support during the confrontations with "XW" and allies.  Nevertheless, "El Metro 3" was killed on September 2, 2011, allegedly by Juan Reyes Mejía González, alias "El Quique"/code name "R1", who was acting on orders from "El Coss".  One of the explanations why this occurred is that "El Coss" was angry that "El Metro 3" refused to go along with a plan to unite the Gulf Cartel with the Sinaloa Cartel.

Regardless, immediately thereafter, "El Coss" transferred "X-20" to Reynosa to take over as head of plaza.  It appears that soon after taking over in Reynosa, "X-20" linked up with Héctor Delgado Santiago, alias "El Metro 4", who was seen internally by Los Metros (the group which "El Metro 3" led) as the successor of "El Metro 3".  Together, they decided to join with "El Junior" in an effort to completely push "El Coss" and his allies out of the Tamaulipas border. 

As the confrontations increased, on October 19 "El Junior" was arrested in Texas, where he had been hiding from "XW" since July.  The following week, "XW" and "X-5" were arrested in Texas, where they had fled to during a gun battle in which forces from Reynosa attacked them in Río Bravo. 

The Division of the Gulf Cartel
Thereafter, the fighting waned and Los Panteras, an operative group of confidants of "X-20", took control of Río Bravo.  Juan Manuel Rodríguez García, alias "Juan Perros"/code name "Pantera 11" was named head of plaza in Río Bravo and it is possible, but unconfirmed, that around this time Carlos González Escobar, alias "Carlitos Whiskies"/code name "Pantera 7" was named head of plaza in Nuevo Progreso.

It appears that the participation of "X-20" and his allies against "El Coss" was the reason for a major turning point in the Gulf Cartel: they began working independently from the rest of the Gulf Cartel and became known collectively as Los Metros.  Apparently this faction of the Gulf Cartel was made up of the true Los Metros of "El Metro 3", Los Panteras, and Los Deltas, who were based out of Valadeces.

Though there is some uncertainty due to poor documentation in this time period, it appears that the rest of the Gulf Cartel either adopted the name Los Rojos or, at the very least, was identified as such by outsiders.  On May 10, 2012, an interview with a former member of the Gulf Cartel began circulating online.  If it is to be believed, by this time it appears the previous conflicts had been forgiven and Los Ciclónes (loyal to the Cárdenas family, which at this time was represented by the previously mentioned Homero Cárdenas Guillén and his brother, Mario Alberto Cárdenas Guillén, alias "M-1") were part of Los Rojos and aligned with "El Coss", along with Los Kalimanes, Los Alacranes, Grupo XW, Los R's, and Los X's.

Yet Los Rojos would soon suffer major setbacks.  On September 4, 2012, "El M-1" was arrested, and on September 12, 2012, "El Coss" was arrested.  If the interview is to be believed, I assume it was this point that Los Rojos ceased to exist and from it, two factions emerged: Matamoros, under the leadership of Homero Cárdenas Guillén, to which Los Ciclónes were loyal to, and the CDG del Sur faction based out of Tampico.  Alternatively, it is possible that the war of "El Junior" caused irreconcilable differences and these factions emerged then, with the CDG del Sur being allies of "El Coss" and Matamoros being allies of the Cárdenas family.

"El Niño"
In focusing on Río Bravo, another important development took that September.  On the 24th, Adrián González Martínez, alias "El Niño"/code name "Ciclón 9" was arrested in Río Bravo.  He was described in news reports as a direct subordinate of "X-20" and head of plaza in Control, Empalme,
and Progreso. 

This information is hard to place in our framework.  One might conclude that "El Niño" became head of the Control plaza at some point following the arrest of "XW", possibly directly afterwards.  Likewise, it could be concluded that "Carlitos Whiskies" was not head of the Progreso plaza prior to this and only took over following the arrest of "El Niño". 

The difficult part is his alleged relation to "X-20", which would make him part of the Los Metros faction.  It is possible that this was an error in reporting and he was a member of Los Rojos instead (the fact that he was arrested in Río Bravo would at first glance support that he was part of Los Metros, as there is multiple lines of information indicating that the plaza was lead by "Juan Perros" at this time, but the fact that Los Ciclónes seems to have originated in Río Bravo makes it possible that he had strong ties to the city and he may have even been born there). 

However, if the information is accurate, then there are a few alternative conclusions: the interview was wrong and Los Ciclónes were part of Los Metros at this time, not Los Rojos; following the arrest of "El Junior", Los Ciclónes were not unified, some were part of Los Metros while others were part of Los Rojos; or there was not a clear wall between Los Metros and Los Rojos, Los Ciclónes operated in territories controlled by each faction.

The Fall of "X-20" and Los Panteras
Regardless, it is certain that changes began to take place in Río Bravo with the August 17, 2013 arrest of "X-20".  There was a question of who would succeed him as leader of Los Metros ("El Metro 4" would have been a likely choice, but apparently died around January 15), but in the end, "Juan Perros" won out.  At that point, a brother-in-law of "Juan Perros", Miguel Angel Alemán Salinas, alias "El Alemán"/code name "Pantera 12", took his place as head of the plaza of Río Bravo and Los Panteras continued to dominate.

Things began to take a major shift with the arrest of "Juan Perros" on May 25, 2014.  There is some information that indicates that "El Alemán" the became leader of Los Metros, but it is far from certain.  Regardless, he was arrested on July 16 and his second in command, an individual known as "El Flako" took over as head of the Río Bravo plaza.

However, it was the beginning of the end for Los Panteras.  On July 22, a member of Los Panteras who was second in command to "Carlitos Whiskies" was killed by federal forces in Nuevo Progreso.  Two days later, there were online reports that people from Matamoros (although not specifically mentioned, circumstantial evidence is that it was Los Ciclónes) went to Río Bravo to kill members of Los Panteras and apparently they managed to kill "El Flako" and someone known as "El Paramédico". 

It was later said online the leadership had completely changed in Río Bravo as "Carlitos Whiskies", "Gama 1", "Pantera 9" and others had fled on July 26, fearing that they too would be killed.  By July 31, Nuevo Progreso had a new head of plaza, "El Camarón", also known by the code name "Ciclón 80" (on October 25 he was killed in a shootout with the military and I am not aware who is currently in charge there).  As for Ciudad Río Bravo, nothing was specifically reported, but the logical conclusion would be that Los Ciclónes installed their own head of plaza there.

Theories on the Emergence of a New War
It was on September 27 that I first read that Juan Francisco Carrizales, alias "El 98", was head of the plaza of Río Bravo for Los Metros (it is possible that he had come to power there prior to this, but this is the earliest I have found documentation).  Because of this, it could be concluded that Matamoros managed to drive out Los Panteras from Nuevo Progreso and Ciudad Río Bravo, but Los Metros regrouped and managed to retake Ciudad Río Bravo. 

However, circumstantial evidence increasingly supports an alternate explanation: the attacks against Los Panteras were not an act of war against Los Metros, rather, it was something that was agreed upon.  In this theory, Los Metros may or may not have provided physical support, but the end result was that the municipality of Río Bravo would be shared by Los Metros and Matamoros, with both sides having people operating there.

Moving forward with this theory, the arrangement was severely tested on December 16, when the previously mentioned "El Niño" was killed inside a penitentiary in Reynosa, with rumors indicating he was soon to be released.  That night, Los Ciclónes of Matamoros mounted an attack on Río Bravo, apparently against "El 98", who was rumored to have ordered the killing. 

"El 98" was already in the cross-hairs, multiple reports blamed him for thefts and extortions in Río Bravo, which, under the theory of a shared plaza, would pose a risk against the interests of Matamoros as well if the plaza heated up too much.  Nevertheless, war did not start then; apparently cooler heads prevailed and though a major conflict was averted, tensions developed. 

Online criticism of "El 98" would continue and, in time, Sergio Velázquez, alias "El Gafe", too became the target of online reports.  "El Gafe", once a bodyguard for "El Metro 4", by then was one of the most powerful members of Los Metros, and possibly their leader.  My working theory is that "El Gafe" himself was the one who approved of Matamoros running out Los Panteras and was also the one who was able to prevent a war from starting with the death of "El Niño".  In both cases, it would be likely that "El Gafe" negotiated directly with Ángel Eduardo Prado Rodríguez, alias "El Orejón"/code name "Ciclón 7", reportedly the current head of the Matamoros plaza.

Continuing with my working theory, on January 27, 2015, a picture of "El Gafe" was posted online along with derogatory information.  Up until this time, much about "El Gafe" was shaded in mystery.  I believe that this absolutely infuriated "El Gafe", who sought to find out the source of the posts and felt that it was done by the Matamoros faction. 

Reading between the lines, individuals from the Matamoros faction tried to calm things down, in part by stating that he and the "true Metros" had their respect and that they only had a problem with "El 98".  Then on February 1 the real name of "El Gafe" was revealed.  That same night, "Ciclón 4" was apparently executed by "El 98" in Río Bravo.  He may have been the head of plaza on behalf of Matamoros there.  Regardless, it was the straw that broke the camel's back and thus, that very night violence erupted in northern Tamaulipas and a new war emerged.

Interview of Former CDG 
Detienen a “El Comandante Niño”, jefe de plaza del Cártel del Golfo en Tamaulipas
Valor por Tamaulipas 


  1. very informative article and the map is helpful
    to understand even better, thankss

    1. Be careful, these are only theories or nice stories...yet we need deductive thinking or confirmation.

    2. To 4:08pm, unless you have the balls to go ask around matamoros, this report is as good a true....a cartel is one thing la mafia is a complet different animal.....there is mafia in tampico. So there is no need to be careful, no body really knows the truth only speculations those that do are dead or worse.....

    3. And how different is that from the first reply? He's right we need deductive reasonig, by the way is pointless your reply

  2. Thanks because that's some confusing stuff. All the different groups and letters make it difficult to keep up with the who's who.

  3. Great writing Itzli thanks for your efforts ...
    Juanito 98 must be a survivor,he has been targeted by 40 and his own for a while

    F1 Operating Zacatecas wearing his Ferrari chaqueta watch that guy

  4. ok, so what you are saying is that a bunch of bad guys, who do not like to do honest work, lie, cheat, backstab, kill and steal just so that they can believe that their lives matter, and that they are somehow cool and important. Who cares, this guys are all missing something that would make them fully human. They don't associate the misery that their actions cause with the misery that it's their own lives.

    1. None can be trusted, there is no Honor among the young and new bosses. U don't make $$$$$$$$$$$ when all u do is fight. Never seen such a mess, I think the Zetas will be back

    2. "this guys are all missing something that would make them fully human"

      Do you truly believe that?
      They are perfectly normal human beings just like you and me.
      Nothing evil nothing missing,many here and now could kill easily,it is in our nature specially us dudes.Circumstance dictates a lot...

    3. Yeah right.[you've been brainwashed]

    4. I believe that being fully human is being able to rise above the animal instincts that have plagued the human race. Being able to control the reptilian mind that pushes us to act without thinking of the consequences, separate us from the lower animals. Instinct dictates that my will to survive will allow me to harm another person in self defense, but I could never kill anyone, because of greed, revenge, or pleasure. Life is to precious, and I respect it under all circumstances, except maybe in self defense, when instinct will take over. I have never been in such situation, and for that I am grateful. Peace and love to all.

  5. Awesome Report, two thumps Up!

  6. What about GringoMike and those battles!
    And the oldtimer Cortez sr whose son Jr Cortez was recently killed in Reynosa?

  7. Great Article!! The first time I heard about Juan Francisco Carrizales "Juanito 98" METRO 98 was back in 2010 when the war between Z vs CDG was really bad. Anyways Juanito 98 had a heated rivalry with Miguel Trevino Z40 because Z40 killed El Tubi Carrizales uncle of Juanito in 2010. Moreover, Juanito 98 is responsible for the incursions into Nuevo Laredo in November 2012 which Zetas suffered great casualties, and Juanito 98 was supported by METRO 4 and GRINGO. Juanito 98 led the incursions in Nuevo Laredo because this his hometown and he is also responsible for the car bombs. Juanito reportedly had more than 100 hitmen staying at a hotel acting as municipial police BUT Z40 found out and killed everyone. Remember the 9 corpses in the Laredo bridge were Z40 said he killed everyone and he called out Juanito 98, METRO 4, and Gringo. Only those close to Juanito 98 survived (El Laredo, Juan Lento) and he then was told by METROS of Reynosa to lay low and he did for about 2 years or so. Juanito 98 has the support of Chiricuas METRO 85, Toro, Cleofas, and Gafe leader of LOS METROS who is his CAMOTE meaning best friend. Juanito 98 did start the war against Ciclones of Matamoros led by Ciclon 7. I am not sure if its true, but supposedly Ciclones have asked the help of Los Z from CD Victoria, and Nuevo Laredo to fight Los Metros but right now it is just a RUMOR.

    1. 4:51 PM
      "METROS of Reynosa to lay low and he did for about 2 years or so
      .I have an uncle in tampico that goes way back to juan nupemo guerra"

      Great posts brother,your welcome back here any time..
      Take us to school brother,why don't you even write some stories for BB?
      Tomar hermano cuidado,don't want you getting in any strife,wish there were more Mexican brothers like you willing to school people(a little)

  8. Excellent report, been keeping up the Gulfo before Juan O, Garcia. My did with Juan N. Never a problem You put all the players in good order

  9. Guess I am not going to Mata to get Mata

  10. This is a great report.....basically CDG was a family made business where the Guillen cardenas blood was the line for all CEOs and board members....they had loyal soldiers Z ,Rojos,Lobos escorpiones, Deltas,Ciclones, with loyalty to the blood line....after the virus (fucken goverment)that killed most of the blood line, some loyal soldiers decided it was their turn to lead (coss,M3,) , so the loyal soldiers to the blood line decided it wasn't good to dilute la Maña, with outside blood for leadership the war started to clean up ,any one not willing to accept Guillen Cardenas, blood line.....even el Monta perros del chapo wanted to control CDG by providing support.....but matamoros will never be under command of a shinola.....Matamoros is the oldest port and it has a mafia of locals that won't allow pendejos to come in and take CDG and Z would unite eventually when a leader is agreed upon.....for now is war..I have an uncle in tampico that goes way back to juan nupemo guerra, back on the 1970s, that tells stories of what tamaulipas is about, so something is clear a shinola would never set foot in matamoros.....

    1. @Feb 11 9:31pm

      Guillen Cardens family RUINED CDG, it was before.

  11. Do not forget Juan Perros (before him other cartel members) was along with his family, friends, and fellow cartel memberd, in the payroll of the Townhall. He called the shots in the municipality, readon why the government of the city is inefficient at best. Even some of those fallen in the shootouts of this month were in the municipality payroll.
    Federal Mexican Government acts as if this is a problem of gangs on their own, but they control the Townhalls, charging cuotas for everything, no justice, no legal transaction goes through without them charging.

    1. I was reading on VXT that the municipal leaders in Nosa/Moros are even part of CDG and its been that way for ever,basically hand in hand with the players of el cartel.
      What are your thoughts on El Quique R1 surely he is dead?Wasnt there rumors of him being executed on the side of a road somewhere,cant remember where?There was a kick off in Nuevo Laredo,truck and estakas got fucked

    2. He cracked foxy to the coppers and so he had to take a powder.He took it on the lam,yeah thsts right,I sez..

  12. Thanks for the clarification on all these golfos. It sure is confusing so thanks for getting it out. Otherwise we'd have to wait for Chapo to snich all this out

  13. Good Report Itzi. Congrats are also in order. You were picked up and posted on "Mexico Daily Review",

    Although they did not provide a link to your story, and the title to the story on their website is "Who is Who in the Gulf Cartel", the first sentence starts with;
    "The following is an analysis from Borderland Beat of how Río Bravo has played a part in the history of the Gulf Cartel." Your encyclopedic knowledge of the CDG is being recognized.
    It also has a graphic you might want to check out.

  14. Still 1 of mi fav reads


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