HomeNewsCartel War or General Chaos: Behind the Killing Spree in Reynosa, Mexico
NEWS

Cartel War or General Chaos: Behind the Killing Spree in Reynosa, Mexico

GULF CARTEL / 22 JUN 2021 BY VICTORIA DITTMAR EN

Though the motive for the rampage in the northern Mexican border city of Reynosa that left scores of civilians dead remains unexplained, security experts point to three possible scenarios: a war within the Gulf Cartel, a political settling of scores, or a mere desire to sow chaos.

Speaking at a press conference on June 21, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador blamed "armed commandos" for the violence and ordered that an investigation be opened into the string of shootings in Reynosa that has left at least 19 dead.

SEE ALSO: Gulf Cartel News and Profile

The attacks in Reynosa, which sits on the US-Mexico border in the state of Tamaulipas, took place in under two hours on June 19, with people seemingly targeted at random by gunmen traveling in vans, according to local media outlet Elefante Blanco. Those killed included nurses, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, students and construction workers.

Four armed men – presumed to have been among those carrying out the violence – died in a shootout with authorities, Elefante Blanco reported. Two women who had allegedly been kidnapped by the gunmen were rescued.

While Reynosa is a major criminal hotspot on the US-Mexico border and regularly sees shootouts between gangs, violence on this scale had not been seen for at least four years.

1. Gulf Cartel Showdown

Reynosa, along with other border cities such as Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo, has long been a bastion for the Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo). This major criminal group has enjoyed a period of stability in northeastern Mexico after the weakening of the Zetas, its main rival.

However, the Gulf Cartel has not been able to avoid the fragmentation that has weakened so many of Mexico's principal criminal groups. According to Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an expert on US-Mexico affairs at George Mason University in Virginia, the Gulf Cartel's control of criminal economies at the border is being contested by a number of rivals.

“Today, we cannot speak of just one Gulf Cartel faction at the border, they don't operate in a cohesive manner...there are various groups," Correa-Cabrera told InSight Crime.

“There is also the presence of various groups previously associated to the Zetas...many of them are not just dedicated to drug trafficking but also kidnapping, extortion, oil theft and piracy," she explained.

One of the Zetas' notable splinter groups is the Northeast Cartel (Cartel del Noreste), which has steadily gained ground in northeastern Mexico over the last three years and has aggressively challenged the control of the Gulf Cartel.

SEE ALSO: The United States, a Special Operations Unit and a Massacre in Mexico

These clashes have left a bloody trail. In late April, the Northeast Cartel allegedly killed and burned the bodies of eight people linked to the Gulf Cartel in the town of Camargo, 75 kilometers west of Reynosa. In March, the two criminal groups fought a running battle for an entire day between the municipalities of Matamoros and Rio Bravo.

With fighting between the Gulf Cartel and the Northeast Cartel has been reported in Reynosa since 2017, it is likely the recent shootings are connected to this dispute or another of the Gulf Cartel's feuds.

"One possibility is that [the events in Reynosa] were linked to protecting territory," said Marisol Ochoa, a Tamaulipas security expert at Mexico's Iberoamericana University, in an interview with InSight Crime.

2. Political Realignment

Another hypothesis is that the shootouts were due to the recent political upheaval seen in Tamaulipas.

The state's current governor, Francisco Cabeza de Vaca, is a fugitive. Having had his political immunity stripped, he faces a warrant for his arrest on charges of ties to organized crime. Back in 2004, an investigation indicated that, while running to be mayor of Reynosa, he had allegedly received bribes from the Gulf Cartel in exchange for protection.

The National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional - (PAN), to which Cabeza de Vaca belongs, recently lost its majority in Tamaulipas' legislature, which may have forced criminal groups to try and seek leverage and forge new agreements with politicians.

“The well-known participation of security authorities in criminal acts in Tamaulipas indicates that organized crime has always counted on a degree of protection...The current political realignment could be creating instability," Correa-Cabrera told InSight Crime.

3. Create Climate of Fear

Ochoa also suggested to InSight Crime that the violent rampage could have been due to a third, simpler option. According to her, these actions were not necessarily part of some calculated plan but simply sought to dispel any sense of security among the population.

“[The events in Reynosa] appear to have been improvised, 14 civilians died who were not involved [in organized crime]…it was a very disorganized operation. It’s not necessarily clear what settling of scores may have taken place here,” said Ochoa.

As Reynosa has undergone a recent period of relative stability without many violent acts of this magnitude, an armed group may have been seeking to create conflict.

“Sowing fear among the general population is also a tool for criminal groups,” Ochoa told InSight Crime.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 7 MAY 2021

The stranger burst into the house, staggering and leaving a trail of blood behind him. He ran into the back,…

ECUADOR / 22 NOV 2013

Robberies are the leading cause of homicide in Ecuador capital Quito, according to a new report, raising questions as to…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 19 APR 2012

Mexican authorities detained a U.S. trucker at the southwest border, after finding more than 250,000 rounds of ammunition for the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.