Mexico Security Memo: Tamaulipas Turf Wars

3 MINS READNov 7, 2012 | 11:15 GMT

Battle for Reynosa

On Nov. 3, firefights between Mexican troops and cartel gunmen erupted in several areas of Reynosa, Tamaulipas state. Another shorter shootout between rival gunmen was reported at the Plaza Real shopping center in Reynosa on Nov. 4. There are conflicting details regarding the events of Nov. 3, but at least five individuals were killed and three gunmen arrested. The series of violent confrontations began when two groups of rival gunmen engaged one another near the city limits on Highway 40, which runs from Monterrey to Reynosa. Some reports indicate the gunmen entered Reynosa then traveled to a safe-house, which belonged to a leader of an organized criminal group, located in the Villa Florida neighborhood, and other reports indicate the military approached the safe-house, where a firefight occurred.

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As the firefights spread to other points in the city, gunmen hijacked vehicles to use as roadblocks to impede the movement of law enforcement, the military and rivals. Allegedly, the rival gunmen were members of Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel, with some reports indicating that Los Zetas were the aggressors. If Los Zetas indeed began the conflict, the events would reflect a continued push into a Gulf-controlled area. Regardless of which group was the aggressor, these firefights still show that Los Zetas have already made progress in their attempt to control Reynosa.

A series of significant arrests of Gulf cartel leaders beginning in August 2012 likely have hindered the Gulf cartel's ability to defend its territory against Los Zetas, providing opportunities for Los Zetas to step up their attempts to gain control of Gulf territory.

At a minimum, if Los Zetas are improving their ability to counter the Gulf cartel in Reynosa, intercartel violence and violence involving the military, such as the gunfights this past weekend, could be expected to continue. If events like the Reynosa fighting begin to increase in Matamoros, greater violence would be expected in the entire northeastern region of Mexico.

Sinaloa Leadership Losses in the Northwest

On Nov. 1, soldiers captured Jesus Alfredo "El Muneco" Salazar Ramirez, a high-level Sinaloa lieutenant, in Huixquilucan, Mexico state. Salazar is the head of a Sinaloa cell also known as Los Salazar, which reportedly works directly with Sinaloa Federation leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera to traffic illicit drugs through western Chihuahua and Sonora states into the United States. Salazar's arrest may be an opportunity for Sinaloa rivals in northwestern Mexico to further escalate their attempt to control Sinaloa territory.

Salazar's arrest follows a series of Sinaloa Federation leadership losses, though his arrest is the most significant. On Aug. 25, authorities detained Jesus Francisco "El Pirata" Sarrazin Lohr, Los Salazar plaza boss of Ciudad Obregon, Sonora state — an area of Sonora state where Sinaloa's rivals are most active. On Oct. 25, gunmen beheaded the Sinaloa Federation plaza boss of Uruachi, Chihuahua state, Antonio Erives Arduno. 

During the summer of 2012, Sinaloa's rivals began making inroads into Federation territory in northern Sonora state that until that point had been mostly uncontested. On July 19, a firefight between two rival groups of gunmen left five individuals dead, including the brother of a known Sinaloa lieutenant in Puerto Penasco, Sonora state. With the recent Sinaloa arrests, any one of the rival groups surrounding the region (La Linea, Los Zetas, remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization) may increase their efforts to take control of the region should the loss of the Sinaloa lieutenants present a momentary weakness in defending the region.

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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