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

Friday, June 23, 2017

'You can’t trust anybody. We're on our own'

Posted by DD Republished from the Guardian

Cartel violence in Tamaulipas state has claimed 254 lives in the first three months of this year, but has largely gone unreported in the press

in Mexico City

 When Carlos Ulivarri heard that a body had been dumped by the side of a road just outside his hometown of Rio Bravo, a few miles south of McAllen, Texas, he knew he had to act fast.

But he did not even consider contacting the authorities.

Hours earlier, Ulivarri’s son, Luís Carlos, 23, had been shot in a bar, and then dragged into the night after an altercation with a group of men presumed to be members of a local drug cartel.

At first, Ulivarri held out hope his son might be alive. But at 10am the next morning, a friend called to say that a corpse had been spotted on a road outside town which marks the frontline between two warring cartel factions. 

 Ulivarri, the president of the Rio Bravo chamber of commerce, knew that the body might disappear for good if he did not move quickly, but he did not want to risk a confrontation with either gang, who are both known to monitor the road.

So instead of calling the police and waiting for an escort, he drove alone to the site, bundled his son’s body into his car, and brought him home for the last time.

“We are on our own,” Ulivarri said in a phone interview from his office in Rio Bravo, just six miles from the Donna international bridge into Texas.

“Everybody is frightened here, there is lots of danger and you can’t trust anybody. Lots of people are sending their children away to the United States but that is not the solution.”

Rio Bravo sits on the northern edge of Tamaulipas, a state which is currently gripped by a patchwork of conflicts between rival factions of the Gulf cartel. 

It is a war which according to official figures has claimed 254 lives in the first three months of this year, but has largely gone unreported in the Mexican and international press.

Earlier this month, the US state department warned against all but essential travel to Tamaulipas. 

And if the public circumstances of Luís Carlos Ulivarra’s murder illustrate the brazen quality of cartel violence, his father’s reaction reflects the pervasive distrust many locals feel towards the official response. 

Locals describe a regime of constant terror, and widespread exasperation with a government security strategy which concentrates on the pursuit of cartel kingpins but has failed to establish a semblance of law and order in the state.

“The bullet-for-bullet strategy is failing. It gets rid of one cartel and another comes and everything remains the same,” Ulivarri said. “I am not a soldier and I don’t know what the strategy should be, but it is important to send the message that we are not the enemy.”

Years of government abandon allowed the Gulf cartel – and their notoriously bloodthirsty enforces, the Zetas – to consolidate their hold on Tamaulipas in the early, mid and late 2000s with a mixture of intimidation, exploitation and the infiltration of local authorities.

This changed when the Zetas turned on their former masters in 2010, unleashing a period of intense conflict and prompting the government to flood Tamaulipas with soldiers and marines. The strategy brought a temporary respite to the most dramatic violence, but did little to dismantle the subtler holds the cartels retained over communities and local politics.

The government’s “kingpin” strategy resulted in the death or capture of a string of bosses, leaving both the Zetas and the Gulf cartel much weaker – but splinter groups continued to terrorize the civilian populations.

And when rivalries between these second-generation cartels erupted into fresh violence last year, the government once again responded with new deployments of federal forces, and more detentions of local leaders. 

A girl looks at blood stains and a graffiti left by gunmen at a crime scene in Monterrey. Photograph: Tomas Bravo/Reuters

National security commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido admitted last month that Tamaulipas remains one of Mexico’s most conflict-riven states, but argued that the strategy was working. “The small groups left do not have anything like the capacity of the old organizations had before their leaders were captured or neutralized,” he told Radio Formula.

 But many in Tamaulipas question the official claims that the federal offensive has reined in the violence.

A spokesman for the office of President Enrique Peña Nieto said that the government is also working to improve security by strengthening local police forces and the judicial system.

“We still face important challenges and each episode of violence is an offence to society that we cannot allow to happen,” the spokesman said in a written answer. He said that in 2014 there were 38% fewer homicides in Tamaulipas than in 2012. “The government will not give up on this effort.”
But the official figures for the first quarter of 2015 show a 20% increase in homicides from the same period in 2014, and many locals say that murders are consistently under-reported.

Nancy Hernández, who heads a group of citizens seeking to help victims of violence, said the situation has been exacerbated by the cartels’ deep penetration of local authorities.

“In Tamaulipas the authorities became so closely allied with the narcos they lost control,” Hernández told La Jornada newspaper. “If you let the bandits into your house, there comes a time when they take over.”

Hernández said that despite the high-profile arrests, a daily litany of kidnappings, disappearances and extortion continues.

Little of this is reported in the local press which – as in other drug war zones – is subject to constant pressure and intimidation.

For years local reporters tended to ignore the violence completely, but today’s patchwork of territorial control has brought with it more complicated rules transmitted to reporters and editors via cartel press attachés.

“I have given up trying to understand why you are allowed to publish some things and some not,” said Enrique Juárez, who until February was the director of the newspaper El Mañana in the city of Matamoros. “But the controls are always there.”

 Torres fled Matamoros, just over the border from Brownsville, Texas, after being abducted and beaten on the day his paper published a minimalist account of three days of open gun-battles in the city.

He now feels relatively safe in a different city controlled by a different criminal faction, but he knows that could change if the balance of power shifts.

Juárez takes little comfort in the government’s protection program  for journalists under threat. Officials who had travelled to Matamoros to interview him about his case, abandoned the mission when they heard they would have to drive along a cartel-controlled road to interview him.

“What kind of protection do I have if the Mexican authorities themselves can’t come to where I am?” Juárez said, with a laugh.

The limitations on the media lead many to rely on Facebook, blogs and Twitter for real-time citizen reports of blockades, shootouts and cartel checkpoints.

The most active contributors always use anonymous addresses. Even so, several have ended up dead, with cartel warnings left by their corpses.

A man with the Twitter handle @MrCruzStar is one of the founders of the much-used #ReynosaFollow hashtag. He has never told his family of his online activities, in order both to protect them and reduce the risk they might unwittingly reveal his identity to a cartel informer. But he said he could not imagine giving up.

“When something happens I know there are people depending on me to let them know,” he said.
@MrCruzStar sees his responsibilities as including vigorously retweeting information he judges to be genuine, as well as downplaying posts he suspects are cartel propaganda, or efforts to manipulate public opinion from military intelligence.

“This war is taking place on social media as well,” he said.


  1. As much as people like to contrast towards the violence in the "hoods" of America, at least there actually are police actively these areas and making arrests.

    These poor people down south have nobody to turn to, _especially_ not the police.

    1. “What kind of protection do I have if the Mexican authorities themselves can’t come to where I am?” Yup...pretty much sums it's a sad, sad situation when the cockroaches run the farm.

    2. Police r worse than the Cartel r maybe just the same. I am not going back. To expensive

    3. 5:51 of course, "The FUERZA DELICTIVA TAMAULIPAS" of francisco javier garcia cabeza de GÜEY are hungry, and much into their life long methods they learned as policias federales with their boss cabeza de güey and their specialized special training in kidnapping, drug trafficking and murder, to make no mistakes, it is what brought them all to power anyway...

  2. “kingpin” strategy = “whackamole” strategy

    1. Kingpin strategy is just about stealing the kingpin's turf and replacing him with accreditable friends of this our mexican Cosa Nostra, and of corse, not everybody agrees.

    2. some bull wackamole not even the italians who invented the rules of fat corleones famiglie, traduzione del vocabolo e dei tutti wackamole Lol

  3. DD: Thanks for posting the article. Like in the many article posted in Borderland Beat involving injustice, corruption and violence, I tried hard to understand and feel the situation of people living in chronic fear of death for loved ones, neighbors, or themselves. Sometimes, I literally feel waves of fear, hopelessness, anger and disgust curse through me when I read such accounts.

    IMO, Because of many diverse complexities, "Good" Mexicans (includes the oppressed Indios) from all quarters must unite in a common purpose to make a "New Mexico." This, of course,is the talk of bloody revolutions... which,history shows, can sometimes produce bad unintended consequences.

    Finally, as a Mexican-American living safety, I can only pray for Mexico and take an outsider's position of "Que sera, sera."


  4. So he think he is safe in the US. The Mexicans think the US is no good with Trump. Don't understand .

  5. trust anybody is everywhere now. trust everyone is maybe in soviet union only, homes

    1. Huh? That ALMOST makes sense. Maybe you are related to Trump?

  6. tamps is the most undereported area in mex in terms of narco violence, thank you.

    1. Don't take it oersonal, but with all the crime around it is no wonder much of it goes unreported, that is The National Priority of the federal government who is in cahoots with the biggest of the criminals, international drug trafficking mo ey laundering banksters, of course, foreign investors and vulture capitalistas, never mind the local pennyless gramero narco-butchers, or the cristalero car washers that can't buy the silence of the press...much less education, jobs, decency or some impunity.

  7. anyone knows anything about "Grupo Sombra" that post interrigations of Zs and beheadings on internet? Are they Cartel or Armed wing of other Cartel?

  8. Its been a dire situation for about 15 years.
    This drug trafficking and drug war has no control. The violence which it has spewed has devastated families from within Mexico and US.
    Traveling to such destinations in Mexico has become a security issue for many who wish to visit family members. Law enforcement efforts are futile. Many of which are in cahoots with cartels and gangs . Making it impossible to report or rely on protection.
    One definite solution is to strongly encourage stiffer sentences without the legal loopholes which many with money take advantage of.
    Moreover the death penalty for those who meet the criteria. Which I know many oppose.
    Furthermore jobs with decent wages. Poverty is a major issue and contributing factors for many to engage in drug trafficking. Government has done little to nothing to assist in job growth and education.
    But in the end it's government officials who need to be monitored. A transparency of civil duties and anti- corruption practices which no one is immune from.
    However getting the latter to pass will definitely be a struggle.
    It's been over 15 years since I last visited family in Mexico and hope one day to return.
    But until then will pray for those who remain in an uncertain future.


  9. I get all these Mexican states mixed up. They all have fear to leave the house in common though. What a joke of a gov.

    1. Tamaulipas is one of 4 states that share a border with Texas. Its located at the tip of Texas right on the gulf.

  10. A heartbreaking sad state of affairs with no end in sight.
    Bravo to those courageous enough to keep working for good,
    they ( and we all ) will never run out of work to be done.

  11. Is it safe to Travel through Reynosa during the day or night hours?. Where are the Cartel Checkpoints traveling from Reynosa thru small towns Teran / Bravo / China going to Monterrey thru Libre and or Auto Pista??

    1. I suggest a beat up old car to drive to and from. Also do not flash jewelry nor money. Refrain talking to strangers. Usually it's those too friendly individuals who try to gain ur trust to do harm.
      Daylight hours is best to drive. Bear in mind you are in a country where safety is a concern.
      Good luck. Happy traveling.


    2. dont drive at night in reynosa esp in residential areas. cross at anzalduas and get on the quota and dont get off. i wouldnt go to gen teran/china...but i have friends from there that come and go without problems in older model cars with texas plates.

  12. There is NO solution!

    1. 3:42 tryND ask the US government, your federal congressman or senators wh are they supporting mexico's murdering satrapy?

  13. Tamaulipas has the worst drug cartels, I should really say gangs now after cdg is in 5 factions and zetas are in 2 or 3 factions and are all fighting each other. No brains just machismo.

    1. Los de tamaulipas estan bien chuntaros traen ese estado todo un desorden con tanto pendejo mariguano con cuernos de burra en sus pinches camionetas todas desmadradas.

  14. Same thing happened to my cousin's cousin in Delicas Chihuahua. He went to a bar and started shit with the wrong ppl and ended up dead. They made his friends take his body straight home and not to the hospital or they would be killed too.

  15. Where are Post about Dr. mirales they say his a liar and only wanted power another fake heroe hope to hear news from this bb please

    1. Stop inventing ridiculous shit to spew, man.

  16. Welcome to the making of hell on earth....stay tuned.

  17. The citizens of the US would put an end to these cartels before they got a foothold. That's a fucking fact. Police or not, gov or not, it would be handled. End of story. Grow some balls people of mex. stand up for ur selves. We Americans will die on our feet before we live on our knees. That's y we are at the top of the food chain.


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