Apr 3, 2013 | 10:30 GMT

4 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: Implications of a Gulf Cartel Consolidation


The Ramirez Trevino Faction's Reputed Reynosa Victory

Protracted fighting among Gulf cartel factions for control of Reynosa may finally have concluded in a victory for faction leader Mario "El Pelon" Ramirez Trevino. Social media outlets corroborated by a Stratfor source maintain that Ramirez Trevino's faction has killed its principal rivals in Reynosa, Miguel "El Gringo" Villarreal and his associates.

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According to Mexican media reports at the end of March, gunmen belonging to Ramirez Trevino's faction executed up to 60 of Villarreal's and his allies' relatives in the Tamaulipas cities of Miguel Aleman and Camargo. While we cannot verify these reports, such actions would be unsurprising given the intensity of fighting between Gulf cartel factions over the last month.

Rival Gulf leaders have fought for control of the overall group's lucrative criminal enterprises — not surprisingly, to the detriment of its operations — since at least 2010. A decisive victory by Ramirez Trevino in Reynosa would consolidate his control over Villarreal's former turf, allow him to remove any potential rivals within Villarreal's network and expand his overall control of Gulf cartel operations in northeastern Tamaulipas state — possibly even reunifying the Gulf cartel under a single uncontested leader.

What sparked the escalated fighting in March remains unclear. Some accounts say that Villarreal was perceived as betraying other Gulf cartel leaders by maintaining a relationship with the now-deceased top leader of Los Zetas, Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano. Other accounts, such as an anonymous message circulating on social media outlets at the end of March, maintain Villarreal and his associates were working closely with the Sinaloa Federation — prompting the Sinaloa Federation to sever ties with the Gulf cartel now that Ramirez Trevino has won out. Such rumors frequently are encountered when following Mexican organized crime, and the validity and the source of the information are rarely established. Nevertheless, the reports pinpoint a critical element in the future security climate of Tamaulipas state — namely, the responding actions of cartels that have frequently interacted with Gulf cartel factions (whether as rivals or allies) in the wake of Ramirez Trevino's victory. Such groups could seek to subvert the newly formulated Gulf cartel, renew attacks in light of a further weakened state (from continued infighting) or even collaborate with any potential new factions within the Gulf cartel.

The Gulf cartel factions have become increasingly reliant on support in defending their territories in Tamaulipas — to include Matamoros and Reynosa — from Los Zetas incursions. Thus far, this support primarily has come from the Sinaloa Federation and the Knights Templar. Given the rifts within the Gulf cartel, such alliances might have been with specific Gulf factions.

Although Ramirez Trevino apparently has secured control over Reynosa, this is likely to be temporary. Los Zetas, the Sinaloa Federation and the Knights Templar all have an interest in trafficking drugs into the United States through the Gulf-controlled cities of Reynosa and Matamoros. And any of these organizations could challenge the Gulf cartel for control. Moreover, it is unclear whether Ramirez Trevino's faction is able to smuggle significant quantities of illegal drugs independent of a larger Mexican criminal organization such as the Sinaloa Federation or Knights Templar.

Should Ramirez Trevino indeed have expelled his rivals from Reynosa, violence will likely decrease from the heightened level seen in March. However, isolated individuals loyal to the defeated faction could remain, given the defeated faction's deep cultural and familial ties in Reynosa. Such a reduction in violence would probably be temporary, because Los Zetas will continue to vie for control of the city. Likewise, should Ramirez Trevino's recent actions in Reynosa anger the Sinaloa Federation or Knights Templar, either cartel might seek to oust him by sending its own forces or supporting a rival Gulf cartel faction. While Ramirez Trevino may have made progress in becoming overall Gulf cartel leader, perhaps even eliminating the infighting, the Gulf cartel is far weaker than before. As such, it will continue to be influenced by other Mexican cartels as they struggle for control of the lucrative plazas in northern Tamaulipas state.

Editor's Note: We now offer the daily Mexico Security Monitor, an additional custom intelligence service geared toward organizations with operations or interests in the region, designed to provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the situation. To learn more about this new fee-based custom service, visit

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