A faction of one of Mexico's older organized crime groups is doing damage control with a cheap public relations campaign following the kidnapping and murder of US citizens, amid fears of a widespread crackdown.
Early on March 9, supposed members of the Scorpions, an offshoot of the Gulf Cartel, left an apology note and turned over five individuals they alleged to be involved in the March 3 kidnapping of four US citizens in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
The writers of the message said the five individuals “acted of their own accord” and “against” the rules of the group, which they claimed to include respecting the well-being of innocent people.
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Tamaulipas state prosecutors said in a March 10 press release that officials had found "evidence of their probable participation" in the kidnappings and murders, although the only apparent evidence came from statements they made. Surveillance footage of the kidnapping appears to show at least one individual involved who was not among the five men handed over to police.
The US and Mexican governments quickly mobilized to locate the victims, who had reportedly traveled from South Carolina to seek healthcare in Mexico. Armed gunmen killed two of them and another Mexican woman in the attack, while authorities located the final two victims in a wooden shack on the outskirts of the city four days later.
In the aftermath, a number of US lawmakers called for Mexico’s organized crime groups to be labeled foreign terrorist organizations to authorize the use of US military force against them. “We are going to unleash the fury and might of the US against these cartels,” said US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Gulf Cartel is not the first, and won’t be the last, Mexican organized crime group to ask for forgiveness following a potentially damaging display of violence. But the claim that the group has internal rules that respect innocent people contrasts sharply with reality.
In June 2021, for example, the Scorpions and Cyclones factions of the Gulf Cartel were allegedly behind a midday massacre unleashed on the people of Reynosa, located less than 100 kilometers west of Matamoros. The indiscriminate shooting left at least 19 people dead, including innocent shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and students, among others.
Organized crime-related violence in Tamaulipas has claimed an untold number of other innocent lives as well. Most notoriously, armed gunmen kidnapped and murdered 265 undocumented migrants in two separate incidents in 2010 and 2011 in San Fernando. The killings were linked to what was at that time an escalating conflict between the Gulf Cartel and Zetas, the former armed wing of the Gulf Cartel that was responsible for killing the migrants after the two groups split.
There was no apology or plea for forgiveness following the slaughter of those migrants or the citizens killed in Reynosa. The Gulf Cartel’s recent actions make clear that the group is only trying to save themselves from what they fear most: a targeted crackdown from the US government and Mexican police and military.
At the end of the day, rather than an act of good faith, the Gulf Cartel’s “apology” should be viewed as nothing more than a calculated act of self-preservation.