McALLEN — After four years of fighting between the Gulf Cartel and its former enforcers, the Zetas, neither side can claim victory.
What has changed, though, is how people in Tamaulipas live.
Friday nights will never be the same for Mario Juarez, a young accountant for one of the manufacturing firms in Reynosa. The usual weekend club-hopping followed by a trip for tacos at 3 a.m. has been dropped in favor of house parties capped by a sleepover, or trips to the Cinepolis VIP movie theater, where the films end sometime after 9 p.m., allowing Juarez to drop off his date and be home by 10.
“I don’t go to nightclubs anymore,” he said in Spanish. “Going out like that seems so distant. Now I only do that when I travel to Mexico City or Queretaro.
“It is not a good idea to be driving around late at night,” he said. “Some people still go out and claim nothing happens, but I’m not going to take a chance.”
Juarez fears drawing the attention of cartel lookouts who are regularly seen late at night keeping tabs on the vehicles driving around the city in order to see whether any rival cartel members try to enter their turf.
“At work, they have told us to avoid driving between midnight and 6 a.m., especially the managers who come from McAllen because we could get bothered by those guys,” he said.
Drawing the attention of cartel lookouts is something that McAllen resident Johnny Martinez knows too well.
On April 1, Martinez went to an acquaintance’s wedding in Reynosa expecting things to be calm. After a night of dancing and celebration, Martinez left the party shortly after 11 p.m. and made his way toward the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.
“I noticed that people began to leave early and I decided to do the same, but I got lost,” Martinez said. “I quickly noticed that the streets were deserted.
“I drove around looking for the road to the bridge and then I saw the lights of a car following me,” he said. “We were the only two cars on the road; I was very worried.”
The vehicle followed Martinez for several minutes and then pulled up alongside to shine a light into his car.
“I thought I was going to get shot. I always heard stories but I thought people were just exaggerating,” he said. “They shined the light and then they fell back and made a U-turn. I finally got to the bridge, and as soon as I crossed I finally felt calm. ... I’m never going back.”
HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Safety concerns became commonplace in Reynosa and Matamoros in late February and early March of 2010, when the Gulf Cartel and its enforcers, the Zetas, went to war over lucrative drug trade routes into South Texas.
The two sides had experienced some tension before, but it came to a head in mid-February, when Gulf Cartel commander Samuel “Metro 3” Flores Borrego gunned down his Zeta counterpart, Sergio “El Concord 3” Peña, in response to an ambush, said a Tamaulipas law enforcement official who asked to not be named for security reasons.
Soon after the slaying, the leadership of the Zetas asked for the head of Flores Borrego and issued an ultimatum. But rather than give in, the Gulf Cartel circled its wagons, got help from the Sinaloa Cartel and the Familia Michoacana Cartel and on the last day of the ultimatum unleashed a surprise attack that beat the Zetas out of Reynosa and Matamoros, pushing them into San Fernando, Tamps., and Nuevo Laredo, the Tamaulipas official said.
Since the fighting broke out, the two sides have had a constant back and forth that has not led to a clear victor but has severely weakened both organizations, said George Grayson, a professor at the College of William and Mary and author of several books about drug trafficking and Mexican politics.
The fighting undertaken by both sides has drawn the attention of Mexican authorities, who seek to minimize drug violence, and it has led to the arrests or deaths of the top leaders in the crime syndicates, leaving both in a very weak position, Grayson said.
The most recent arrest of Zeta boss Miguel “L40” or “Z40” Treviño Morales — who made a name for himself in the business as a sadist without equal — has left the organizational control of the crime syndicate in the hands of his brother, Omar “L-42” or “Z-42” Treviño Morales, who appears to be a less than competent leader, Grayson said.
“He just doesn’t come close to commanding the respect or exacting the fear that his brother did,” Grayson said, adding that the new Zeta boss was also dealing with various health issues, including diabetes. “He appears to be a very weak leader.”
On the other hand, the recent arrest of legendary Sinaloa Cartel drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman weakens the Gulf Cartel because Guzman had been providing the Gulf Cartel with serious muscle to beat back their shared enemy, the Zetas, Grayson said.
In addition to the capture of several key Gulf Cartel bosses, the organization also went through an internal rift when two factions fought for control of the organization, Grayson said.
The Gulf Cartel is once again experiencing tensions, with the regional bosses in Reynosa both being at odds with the other bosses along the border and not wanting to fall in line under the command of de-facto boss Homero “El Majadero” Cárdenas Guillén, who appears to be calling the shots but has managed to keep a very low profile, the Tamaulipas law enforcement official said.
Homero Cárdenas Guillén is the brother of the imprisoned former head of the Gulf Cartel, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, and the late Antonio “Tony Tormenta” Cárdenas Guillén.
“Now you got people from Miguel Aleman, Camargo, Matamoros and everywhere else ganging up on Reynosa,” the official said.
LIFE GOES ON
Amid the firefights between the Mexican military and cartels and between rival members of organized crime, citizens in Reynosa and Matamoros have learned to keep an eye out for possible trouble as they continue living their daily life.
“We spend more time at home now,” Juarez said. “We go to work, go do our things and get indoors early on to avoid running into those people.”
Another security measure that citizens have taken is the use of social media, he said.
“At first, (the Reynosa government) used a Twitter account to tell us what areas to avoid, and then it got quiet,” Juarez said. “The local press never did their job about telling us what was really going on so we have relied on Twitter and Facebook.”