Inside Mexico’s Ultra-Violent Gulf Cartel, Linked To Kidnapping Of Americans

When four Americans were kidnapped in the Mexican hot zone of Matamoros, on the border of Brownsville, Texas, last Friday — with two of them ending up dead — it was, apparently, ultra-violent business as usual for the area where the Gulf Cartel and its rival Zetas often engage in bloody battle.

The Gulf Cartel, which has controlled the area since the 1930s, is suspected of being involved in the deadly incident.

“They live off of extortion, kidnapping and protection money,” Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, author of “Los Zetas Inc: Criminal Corporations, Energy and Civil War in Mexico,” told The Post of the group. “They used to be primarily a drug organization. Now they control a number of other activities.”

Those activities include brutal crimes, as the Gulf Cartel will seemingly go to any length to turn an illicit profit.

“They are still involved in drug trafficking,” Robert Almonte, retired deputy chief of the El Paso Police Department and a former US Marshal, told The Post. “But they are more involved in kidnapping and extortion, and they use deadly force when people don’t pay.”

The Gulf Cartel is known for ultra-violence, as exhibited by these guns seized from the group in 2008. Alex Cruz/EPA/Shutterstock
Heading up the current iteration of the Gulf Cartel is Jose Alfredo Cárdenas-Martinez, nicknamed El Contador. He is in Mexican jail pending extradition to the US, “But there is no doubt in my mind that he is running the group from jail,” said a source.

Then there is the group’s “protection” hustle.

“Effectively, every business in the northern border cities has to pay in order to run their businesses,” Benjamin Smith, professor of Latin American history at the University of Warwick and author of “The Dope: The Real History of the Drug Trade,” told The Post. “If they do not pay, their businesses are attacked. If they still don’t pay, they are murdered. This used to be the job of the police. Now it is the job of organizations such as Gulf Cartel.”

Added Almonte: “They control the region through intimidation. People get killed if they don’t do what they are told — and the killers don’t lose sleep over it.”

As to why the Gulf Cartel changed its money-making ways from drugs to kidnapping and extortion, Almonte — who now trains law enforcement officers on the Mexican cartels — explained that it is a matter of efficiency.

A map detailing cartel wars in Mexico.

“It is guaranteed money every day,” he said. “When you transport drugs, you don’t get your money until the drugs cross over into the United States.”

And violence is second nature for the cartel’s members, who learned their techniques from professionals: rogue members of the Mexican military.

During the late 1990s, when Gulf drug don Osiel Cárdenas Guillén — a former mechanic who rose up the food chain by taking out a powerful Gulf rival — was running the illegal activity in Matamoros, Mexico’s special forces were sent in to take down the cartel.

But the plan backfired.

If you’re curious to delve deeper into the topic, read more about it here.

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