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Cartel Violence in the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico


In early 2018, the U.S. State Department released travel warnings for five Mexican states due to high levels of crime, particularly violent crime, with much of it being related to cartel activity. Tamaulipas is one of the states that was named on this list. According to The Independent, Tamaulipas has Mexico’s highest kidnapping rate, and a rising murder rate from 2016 to 2017. The threat landscape includes incidents of cartels conducting roadside extortion, carjacking and armed patrols in SUVs. As covered in Mexico News Daily, disagreements between the State and the federal security forces lead to a withdrawal of more 2,000 troops from the State in May of this year. Individuals and entities that need to travel to or operate in this area will need to consider the array of POSSIBLE threats to their employees and operations at large.



Violence in Tamaulipas in 2018 has been on the rise, according to Business Insider, “the number of murders recorded in Tamaulipas jumped from 682 in 2015 to 807 in 2016 and then to 1204 in 2017.” Approximately 692 murders have been reported from January to September of this year. Some of the deaths are due to battles between factions of Cartel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel), Cartel Del Noreste (an offshoot and ally of Los Zetas Cartel) and security forces in the region. Security efforts in Tamaulipas are organized and carried out by a collection of local, state and federal law enforcement backed by the Mexican military, typically in the form of troops from the Army and Marines. As previously mentioned, 2,000 troops were withdrawn from Tamaulipas in May of this year, following the breakdown of an agreement between the State and the military where troops were under contract to perform some of the duties of state and local police officers. The breakdown was caused when the State failed to pay stipends and other fees to the military in exchange for the assumption of greater responsibility in the region. Of the forty-three municipalities in the State of Tamaulipas, twenty-two of them were receiving this extra support from the military.

A report from Business Insider revealed that Mexican dairy producer ‘Lala’ shut down its’ business operations in Tamaulipas due to rising violence. The Associated Press covered an incident where a bus carrying assembly plant workers was caught in a gun battle between members of two rival cartels, resulting in 13 of the workers being wounded. State prosecutor, Irving Barrios, told AP that Lala and another company, Sello Rojo, had both filed complaints over being victims of extortion. Forbes has also confirmed many businesses had ceased operations in Tamaulipas. The Business Insider report additionally mentioned that businesses including Domino’s Pizza and Pepsi have stopped all operations in Ciudad Mante due to safety concerns. Five factory workers employed by Panasonic were also wounded when a bus they were riding in was fired upon by cartel members after the driver refused to stop at a checkpoint. The safety of employees should be a major concern for businesses wishing to operate in Tamaulipas at this point in time.

Cartel members have also conducted direct attacks on security forces in the form of ambushes and as a result of gun battles ensuing after they are confronted conducting armed patrols. Intelligence Fusion documented such incidents on September 26th and 28th of this year. On the 26th a convoy of 10 Gulf Cartel SUVs was on patrol near the town square of Ciudad Mier when Mexican soldiers attempted to stop them, resulting in a firefight that killed at least five of the gunmen, leading the rest to flee the area. On the 28th Mexican soldiers observed an encampment of SUVs near Nuevo Ciudad Guerrero at Falcon Lake, a body of water bordered by both Mexico and the U.S. that is fed by and feeds back into the Rio Grande. The soldiers quickly engaged dismounted gunmen at the encampment, killing two of them. The rest of the gunmen managed to escape into the surrounding shrubbery. They left behind multiple SUVs with mounts for .50 caliber machine guns and small indirect fire weapons such as mortars as well as several bundles of marijuana. These are not isolated incidents. Civilians in and around the area have noted convoys of up to 20 Gulf Cartel SUVs patrolling the streets bristling with heavily armed gunmen.

The violence in Tamaulipas has also impacted local politics along the border. The mayor of Valle Hermoso was kidnapped by unidentified cartel gunmen on September 18th along with another city official, in an incident similar to the kidnapping of the mayor of Ciudad Mier two months prior. At the time, police speculated the kidnapping was the result of disputes over money accepted from a cartel. Kidnapping has also impacted the general populace in a major way. San Antonio Express News analyzed data from the various prosecutor’s offices of all of the individual Mexican states and found that the kidnapping rate in Tamaulipas was higher than any other state in 2017, 3.84 per 100,000 residents.



These actions pose a direct challenge to security forces in Tamaulipas and further destabilize the area. This is a safety threat to local citizens, security forces and organizations that want to operate in the state. It is possible that individuals and entities wanting to operate in this space may face one of or more of these types of incidents. It is highly recommended that said individuals and entities take appropriate precaution before traveling through and operating in Tamaulipas. This could include consulting security professionals and staying up-to-date on travel advisories regarding the area, for example, U.S. State Department travel warnings, tips and information. Other strategies such as hiring qualified security personnel, avoiding routes or specific areas that are known to be dangerous and upgrading the security features of facilities, housing and vehicles, also known as “target hardening”, may be advisable.

It is PROBABLE that cartel related violence will continue in the state as various factions battle for control of trafficking territory. Especially if issues stemming from disagreements between politicians and the various governmental levels of security forces cause a reduced, dysfunctional presence of said forces. In order to begin to stabilize the situation in Tamaulipas a cohesive and coordinated effort must be planned and practice between local, state and federal security forces that protects vital thoroughfares, areas of commerce as well as local citizens, ramping up the pressure on cartel factions operating in the area by denying them the ability to conduct convoy patrols, kidnappings, extortion and roadblocks. As long as there is a large enough power vacuum for gunmen to conduct paramilitary operations in Tamaulipas it will be too difficult for law enforcement to focus on conducting investigations that target and arrest high-value cartel operatives that are coordinating the violence.



McCabe, Michael, and Daniel Harrington. “Intelligence Fusion.” Enhanced Threat Intelligence, Intelligence Fusion, www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/.

Esposito, Anthony. “US Travelers Warned against Visiting Five ‘Crime-Ridden’ Mexican States.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 12 Jan. 2018, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/mexico-us-state-department-travel-warning-violent-crime-colima-michoacan-sinaloa-tamaulipas-guerrero-a8155011.html.

“Troops Pulled out of Tamaulipas after Security Agreement Fails.” MexicoNewsDaily.com, Mexico News Daily, 19 May 2018, mexiconewsdaily.com/news/in-the-midst-of-narco-violence-troops-pulled-out-of-tamaulipas/.

Woody, Christopher. “Mexico Had Its Most Homicides in Decades in 2017 – and 2018 Is off to a Gruesome Start.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 22 Jan. 2018, www.businessinsider.com/mexico-violence-most-killings-in-decades-2017-2018-violent-start-2018-1.

“13 Workers Wounded in Shooting in Mexican Border City.” AP News, Associated Press, 23 May 2018, www.apnews.com/8c45f8da71ea41bea5f9921ab3a485f6.

Del Angel, A.C. “GRAPHIC — 2 Mexican Cartel Gunmen Killed near South Texas Border Lake.” Breitbart, Breitbart News Network, 28 Sept. 2018, www.breitbart.com/border/2018/09/28/graphic-2-mexican-cartel-gunmen-killed-near-south-texas-border-lake/.

Del Angel, A.C. “GRAPHIC — Mexican Army Kills 5 Cartel Gunmen near Texas Border.” Breitbart, Breitbart News Network, 26 Sept. 2018, www.breitbart.com/border/2018/09/26/graphic-mexican-army-kills-5-cartel-gunmen-near-texas-border/.

Ortiz, Ildefonso, and Brandon Darby. “Cartel Gunmen Kidnap Mexican Mayor near Texas Border.” Breitbart, Breitbart News Network, 13 July 2018, www.breitbart.com/border/2018/07/12/cartel-gunmen-kidnap-mexican-mayor-near-texas-border/.

Flannery, Nathaniel Parish. “Splinter Groups Of Cartel Gunmen Drive Rising Violence In Tamaulipas, Mexico.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Nov. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/nathanielparishflannery/2018/11/06/splinter-groups-of-cartel-gunmen-drive-rising-violence-in-tamaulipas-mexico/#4f54507a407d.


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