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Violence between the Cartel del Noreste (CDN) and state police has been surging in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas state over the past two weeks. The incidents began Aug. 22, when officers with the Center for Analysis, Information and Studies of Tamaulipas (CAIET) erected a pop-up checkpoint just outside Nuevo Laredo on Federal Highway 2, which leads to Piedras Negras up the Rio Grande in Coahuila state. A convoy of heavily armed CDN gunmen with the cartel's "Tropa del Infierno" (Spanish for "Soldiers of Hell") enforcer unit attacked the checkpoint and wounded two police officers. They attacked the officers again as they took their wounded to the hospital, injuring a third officer.
Since 2013, Mexico's cartels began a long process of balkanization, or splintering. Many organizations, such as the Gulf cartel, imploded and fragmented into several smaller, often competing factions. One of the three main clusters of smaller groups we track by geography centers on Tamaulipas state.
On Aug. 23, Tropa del Infierno gunmen attacked the Santa Teresa Hotel in Nuevo Laredo, where CAIET officers were staying, killing one officer and wounding two others. On Aug. 27, 11 members of the enforcer unit were killed — four in an attack on a police station and seven in an attempted ambush on a CAIET patrol. On Aug. 28, family members of the CDN gunmen protested outside the Santa Teresa Hotel and threatened to burn vehicles in the parking lot. This incident shows the CDN's deep roots in the Nuevo Laredo community.
On Aug. 31, CAIET arrested four members of the CDN Tropa 202 enforcer unit in Ciudad Mier after a running gunbattle. Several others escaped into the countryside. On Sept. 2, four CDN gunmen were detained at a roadblock on the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo, and on Sept. 5, eight members of the Tropa del Infierno were killed in a firefight with CAIET officers; the dead included three female gunmen.
With the running gunbattles, those with interests in Nuevo Laredo should be on heightened alert until this wave of brutality subsides.
In response to these losses, CDN has openly threatened businesses that support the CAIET and the military in Nuevo Laredo. It specifically warned gasoline stations that sell fuel to security forces. According to media company Televisa, stations have refused to sell fuel to the authorities since Sept. 2. Televisa broadcast a conversation between a Tamaulipas state official and a gas station owner in which the owner refused to sell fuel even if additional security was provided for his station. This has forced the authorities to ship in fuel.
The CDN is a remnant of the Los Zetas cartel that is led by Juan Gerardo Trevino Chavez, also known as El Huevo; he is a member of the Trevino smuggling clan, which has a long history in Nuevo Laredo — and in the Los Zetas cartel. His uncles, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, aka Z-40, and Omar Trevino Morales, aka Z-42, were both former leaders of Los Zetas. The Trevinos are old-school Nuevo Laredo smugglers and criminals with deep ties to the community.
Conflict between the CDN and government forces isn't a new phenomenon. In the summer of 2018, violence between the two sides also surged after the ambush and assassination of the director of a prison in Nuevo Laredo. With the running gunbattles involving automatic weapons and grenades, attacks on security forces and threats against businesses, those with interests in Nuevo Laredo should be on heightened alert until this wave of brutality subsides.