Mexico: descent into chaosViolence in Mexico increases sharply as a drug cartel coalition is trying to destroy Los Zetas

Published 14 April 2010

Drug-fueled triangle of death engulfs Rio Grande region; Mexico’s Gulf, La Familia, and Sinaloa drug cartels have formed an alliance in order to destroy Los Zetas — a group of mostly former and AWOL Mexican soldiers who began as a security and hit squad for the Gulf cartel, but last year broke from its employer

Product of Mexico's drug wars // Source:

>After four years of relative calm, Mexico’s gangland battles have exploded anew in the industrial cities and ranch lands along the lower Rio Grande. Dozens have been killed in the past seven weeks throughout the triangle defined by the river’s mouth, the cities of Laredo, and metropolitan Monterrey.

Houston Chronicle’s Dudley Altheus writes that the skirmishes here reflect a bitter and presumably lasting split between the Gulf Cartel drug smuggling organization and its vicious former enforcers, known as the Zetas.

Dispute over towns

Much of Monterrey and the towns between it and the border at Laredo and Reynosa have long been considered Zeta land. Mexican officials say the Gulf Cartel’s bosses, now allied with the La Familia criminal organization from central Michoacan state, are taking that territory back. “A large number of La Familia members are deployed in towns controlled by the Gulf Cartel,” Ramon Pequeno, head of the federal police’s anti-narcotics units, told reporters. “The same towns that are being disputed with the Zetas.”


An official with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organization, has also joined the alliance against the Zetas, whose rise to power has come to threaten all three of the cartels. “It’s an issue of a common enemy,” said Will Glaspy, head of the DEA’s office in the border town of McAllen.

Rival gangsters have clashed frequently with each other and police and federal troops in Reynosa across from McAllen, in upriver towns, and in villages along and between the expressways leading from the border to Monterrey.

Eight suspected gangsters were killed early Sunday when one band attacked another at a bar in Los Guerra, a Rio Grande village about fifty miles upriver from McAllen. Killers massacred seven other people Easter weekend in another bar in Tampico, the Gulf port city 200 miles south of Brownsville.

“They are on top of us and while they are fighting, a stray bullet can catch some innocents,” said a Roman Catholic priest in one of the besieged towns. “You are entering the wolf’s mouth.”

Thousands have died

Altheus writes that local media have been terrorized into near silence about the killings. So citizens and local officials alike find themselves largely clueless observers, and sometime hapless victims, in the latest front of many-sided warfare that has killed 18,000 people in scarcely three years. “They kill a person faster than killing a cockroach,” Juan Triana, a senior city official in Reynosa, said of the dangers. “Because killing a cockroach dirties their boots.”


The fighting started in late February, about the time former Gulf Cartel boss and Zeta patron Osiel Cardenas was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison by a Houston federal court. The light sentence was presumably in exchange for Cardenas’ cooperation with prosecutors and U.S. law enforcement.

With the traditional media gagged by gangster threats and officials’ desire to downplay events, common citizens have largely taken to reporting on the violence on their own though YouTube, Twitter, and blog postings.

State and local officials first blamed such “social networks” for fueling unfounded fear. Reynosa officials, however, started twittering in late February about gun battles and other “risky situations.” The official Web site of Tamaulipas state, of which Reynosa is the largest city, has begun carrying news about such clashes.

“It could be a gunshot, it could be a grenade, it could be a threat,” Triana, who directs Reynosa’s Twitter efforts, said of what merits a tweeted alarm. “We are just trying to advise people so they don’t run risks.”