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Split within one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels driving border violence

November 13, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Split within one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels driving border violence

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The drug underworld in Mexico has seen the fragmentation of its major cartels in recent years, perhaps none more so than the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels, whose turf in northeast Mexico has been subjected to consistently high levels of violence along the border.

The city of Reynosa — which sits across the border from McAllen, Texas — has seen numerous violent battles between various cells of the Gulf cartel over the past couple of months.

The intensifying violence saw 27 people killed in a 5-day period last month.

Reynosa recorded 144 homicides through September, data obtained by the Mexican government revealed. That was a 167% increase over the 54 murders the city had over the same period in 2016 and a 92% increase over the 75 homicides that occurred between January and September 2015.

Almost 60 of the murders that occurred in Reynosa so far in 2017 took place in May and June in the weeks after the April slaying of Juan Manuel Loisa Salinas in a conflict with authorities.

Also known as Comandante Toro, Loisa Salinas was the head of factions of the Gulf cartel, and his killing appears to have resulted in the latest round of heightened violence, Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. DEA, indicated.

“With his demise, the Gulf cartel has splintered, where it’s almost like so many grains of rice,” Vigil said to Business Insider. “That has led to a lot of violence.”

Much of the violence stems from shootouts between members of cartels along with clashes with authorities.

There has also been an increase in other criminal acts like kidnapping — the state of Tamaulipas saw 113 abductions through September, which is the third-highest rate in Mexico.vehicles.

Rival groups of the Gulf cartel have been able to move around Reynosa and Rio Bravo with impunity — on some occasions, they’ve posted footage on social media telling citizens to stay inside as they fight rivals.

Stray bullets have injured bystanders, and shootouts between cartel members and soldiers have shut down parts of the city and sent children scrambling under their desks at school.

“Normally when the cartel is strong and it starts to splinter or fragment because of law-enforcement activity, it splinters into two, three groups,” Vigil added. “The Gulf cartel has been crippled for some years, so with the demise of El Comandante Toro … it splintered into so many groups you need a scorecard to keep track.”

The Tamaulipas state Ciudad Victoria and the border city of Nuevo Laredo are also among Mexico’s most violent municipalities as a result of a split within Los Zetas, considered Mexico’s most violent drug cartel.

Despite intervention by the government in Reynosa in 2016, violence in the city has continued to escalate.

Christopher Woody/Google Maps

The Tamaulipas state government, headed by Governor Francisco Cabeza de Vaca, rolled out United Plan for Reynosa in September, granting nearly $35 million for anti-crime, infrastructure, and development programs.

“Reynosa is the most important city in the state — 20% of the population lives here,” Cabeza de Vaca said back in September.

“It is the most booming city in Tamaulipas [and] generates the most jobs, but at the same time it is where the quality of life has deteriorated the most.”

Cabeza de Vaca’s rise to office in 2016 may have contributed to recent clashes.

Cabeza de Vaca is a member of the conservative National Action Party and won over the center-right Institutional Revolutionary Party, which long held office in the state.

Up until roughly one year ago, authorities in Reynosa did little to combat drugs and crime, Vigil continued, “simply because they were paid by the remnants of the Gulf cartel.”

Tamaulipas state Gov. Francisco Cabeza de Vaca. Twitter/Francisco Cabeza de Vaca

Now, however, “that whole thing has changed and the police [are] engaging, and they’re not so much into anybody’s pocket,” Vigil said.

The Gulf cartel and the Los Zetas — which was launched as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, headed by deserters from Mexico’s special forces who eventually formed a criminal group — have long held control in the state. They were at first targeting drug trafficking, using transit links between Mexico and Texas to smuggle drugs to the booming U.S. market.

Those groups, the Zetas in particular, soon established numerous criminal enterprises and expanded to non-drug-related businesses and natural resources.

The cartels that remain in and around Reynosa are likely to stay focused on small-scale drug trafficking and sales.

Such a breakdown leaves groups “fighting for street sales, because … they’re not going to have the contacts for the drugs that they need to be major players,” Vigil noted.

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