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

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Matamoros Becomes Ground Zero As Drug War Shifts On Mexican Border

Borderland Beat Posted by DD Republished from NPR

DD note:  Much of the information about  cartel violence in Matamoros has been reported here on BB, the most recent in a story posted by Lucio on 2/5/2015 about the newspaper editor kidnapped,  and another by Otis on March 23, 2015, about the autodefenses in Tamaulipas,  but this story adds the elements of personal interviews by NPR staff with citizens of Matamoros who are living in the midst of all the violence.  The audio version of part of this story with the actual interviews can be heard on NPR Media Player at this link.

By John Burnett

Matamoros, which sits across the bridge from Brownsville, Texas, used to be a laid-back border town famed for margaritas and manufacturing.

But for at least the past five years, it's grown more and more violent: first, when the Zetas broke away from the Gulf Cartel, and more recently as a new feud has broken out between two factions within the Gulf.
It's the current hot spot in the mafia wars that seem to shift every few years up and down the U.S.-Mexico border. A feud between rival drug gangs has terrorized the citizens of this historic border city — officially known as Heroica Matamoros.

In February, the U.S. State Department warned consulate personnel to stay indoors to avoid the daytime convoys of cartel gunmen, some armed with grenade launchers.

Throughout this city of a half-million, people are tense and wary. And they have reason to be. Matamoros periodically erupts in fearsome gun battles between militias of coked-up narcos in muscle trucks or between the narcos and ski-masked soldiers.

Public life and commerce have withered in this once vibrant tourist town on the lower Rio Grande.

For instance, the violence is hurting the trade in used cars, known as chocolates.

Mexican brokers used to tow broken cars across the bridge from Texas to Matamoros, mechanics would fix them, and buyers from elsewhere in Mexico would travel to the border to get a good deal on a used car.

"Today, people don't come from the interior ... to buy cars because they're afraid," says Carlos Alberto, owner of a grease-stained garage. He, like everyone else in this story, asked that we not use his last name.

"Most of the mechanics here in Matamoros depended on selling used cars. Now we're all struggling," he says. "Today the situation is very tense. We really don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."

Carlos Alberto says life has not stopped. People still go to Mass, baby showers and quinceañeras, but then they go straight home.
Kainaz Amaria/NPR
 I lived through part of the civil war in my native country, El Salvador. When I came here, compared to El Salvador, I thought Mexico was a piece of heaven," he says. "But all this ended, little by little. Today, Matamoros is one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. But we never see it on television." 


It's a maddening reality. There were 883 homicides in Tamaulipas state in 2013, most of them victims of the drug war.

But local TV, radio and newspapers do not report them, because of strict censorship by the Gulf Cartel. Last month, the editor of the leading daily, El Mañana, was abducted and beaten because his newspaper published a front-page account of cartel clashes. He has since fled the city.

Reporting on cartel violence on social media can be dangerous, too. Four years ago, a blogger in Nuevo Laredo was beheaded, and last October, a Twitter user in Reynosa was murdered. Both were killed for saying too much.
Borderland Beat is one of the more well-known drug war blogs that derives its content from a variety of contributors in both the United States and Mexico. Photo by Buggs of inside Mx. Police car.

Yet, people keep doing it in Matamoros because it's the only news they can use.

"The newspapers only publish simple things like car accidents. They don't publish what's really happening," says a clothes vendor named Hugo. "My daughters monitor Facebook, and they'll call me and say, 'Papi, don't go near 18th and 20th streets, there's a shootout there!' And so I don't go out."
Affluent residents of Matamoros have another fear: kidnapping

Juan is a portly, 29-year-old Mexican-American who used to own a jewelry shop in Matamoros. One day two years ago when he was closing up shop, two thugs armed with guns showed up and told him to climb into their van.

Then began a weeklong nightmare. He was beaten every day. He was kept in a squalid, evil-smelling room with no toilet and bloodstained walls.

"I actually start thinking they feel pleasure when they hit me," he says, sitting in a friend's curio shop in Matamoros.

His parents paid a half-million pesos, nearly $42,000, for their son's life.

On the eighth day, his captors pulled a sack over his head, put him back in the van, and drove for two hours. They took him out of the van and hit him in the head so hard that he passed out.

When he came to, he realized, first, that he was alive, and, second, that his hands were untied. He untied his ankles and walked for hours until he heard traffic and spotted a farmhouse. The person there called an ambulance.

"I woke up in the hospital," Juan remembers. "The first person I saw was my mom and my dad. I just start crying."

Like many Mexican families who can afford it, Juan and his family fled Matamoros for Brownsville. He says Matamoros has changed, and the narco bosses are different now.

"In past years, you just see guys in white trucks. 'Oh, that's the members of the cartel,' but they don't mess with the people," Juan says. "What I see right now is that these guys are just looking for money. They are not doing their straight business that is the [drug] trafficking. They see that they can get money from the people."

The details of Juan's story could not be independently verified, but a fellow merchant confirmed the fact of his kidnapping. And it's consistent with the rash of kidnappings that has plagued this region in recent years.

Cartel members are preying on local residents for alternative income.

First, the killing and capture of major drug capos have led to the fragmentation of criminal syndicates — in Tamaulipas state as they have elsewhere in Mexico. A power struggle is underway within the Gulf Cartel between Los Ciclones in Matamoros and Los Metros in Reynosa, and no one is safe.

Second, trafficking drugs is just harder these days, so criminals are turning to kidnapping and extortion.

The U.S. side of the river is guarded by federal agents, state troopers and the National Guard, while Mexico has flooded Matamoros and Reynosa with military troops. The harder the Mexican government fights the cartels, it seems, the more misery it creates for the people


  1. The reason for all this mess is that now these cartels have tons of people working for them just to protect a plaza. A lot of these comandantes ain't pushing enough wait to afford to pay these scums, so in return they let them kidnap, extort and anything that will bring them money. They do all this using the cartel name to put fear in people.

    1. Who wants to do business with drug traffickers who rip you off?
      Zetas specialize in not having the dope but taking the money, or taking the dope and not paying, or selling but not delivering the dope... now there is even more kidnapping without pretenses of dope deals, because they must pay the police for their "plaza" and buy their own maruchan=chinese sopa for the maras

  2. Like it said its harder to cross drugs now days when they loose a load somebody still got to get paid!!! that's where kidnap extortion come in to play!!!!

  3. Sorry 2:07 pm,
    but I don't buy the "harder to cross drugs" excuse, drug trafficking is a $300 Billion, and that's with a capital B not M, industry. How can these dumb asses not be able to consistently grab a piece of that? What's lacking is dicipline, loyalty, and Common sense. Theyre just pitiful, lazy savages, who can't handle linking up with a serious organization and move weight. These idiot kidnappers and extortionists have destroyed any criminal credibility a narco trafficker had with the public. The main reason the legends stayed on top as long as they did, wasn't because of their lust for violence, it was because they were able to use enough violence to sustain an organization and keep the public out of it. When enough men from my generation (mid 20s) wake the hell up and get organized and push weight, then mexico will change. Until then it's just an animal pit sprinkled with a few million innocent souls

    1. 3:32 you have found the holy grail...
      If these low level scum have not made money off the drug trafficking, dirty money laundering and mass murdering, how come the banks keep laundering all that there money by the billions and billions and billions of dollars, and keeping them trillions of dollars privatized private and invested property?
      --The lower echelons of drug trafficking get kept poor and murdering each other because they never see any money, not even from their capos, they voluntarily deposit "their" money with their banks, until it is too much and they get busted for the governments' share of the bounty, banks still take from there...

  4. I wanna see HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE DUMB ENOUGH TO STILL GO THERE. You cant make it any more clear, WAR ZONE!

    1. Plenty ...... They refuse to believe. And they believe they are the
      " Unaffected " due to nationalism or status or race. no one will bother them and only bad people die in mexico. Plenty of them.

  5. There is no Drug War. It's basically a gang war over turf with side dishes of bilking those not involved. If you legalized all drugs tomorrow, these douche bags would continue to kill each other over who gets to deliver/contracts. The kidnappings and extortion will continue ...

    1. Unfortunatley.

    2. Free drugs for anyone would end the drug business, and 90% of the drug war expenses
      --No permits or franchises for united fruit monopolies...
      --Just direct buys from the producers, they will be made millionaires
      --drug lords and drug "CZARS" and their Gatos would be living off food stamps for a change...
      I know this crude attempt against the business of the country is antipatriotic pipe dream and against the law and "will not get posted" because bla bla bla and more blah

    3. True & just a bunch of very poor desperate people wallowing in lawlessness of every kind.

  6. Estan pendejas las Golfas. Dandose en la madrina entre ellos mismos, enves de ke limpien las demas ratas de los otros carteles de ahi y se keden con tamaulipas ellos mismos, como era el tiempo de antes. Ahi parece ke el jefe de uno de esos grupos esta afiliado con otro cartel para kedarse ellos (el otro cartel) con el estado de tamaulipas. Bien bravos y idiotas ke pues imbeciles. Lol

  7. What if one of those other drug cartels is trying to steal tamaulipas from the of the groups from golfo could be affiliated with another cartel, maybe the reason why they are fighting the same of the plazas could actually be working for another cartel and not for the cdg...they should check their "real bosses" see whats going on there...

  8. Build like a 10 story hotel or Eiffel tower on the U.S. side of river with observation decks live feed scanners & video feed from Mexico. Binoculars / night vision .. Bars , drinks , and charge to watch these bastards slaughter them selves . A new form of tourism. " Pass the margaritas Darling "


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