Gulf Cartel is now in the Philippines (Filipinas) and Worldwide
Founding location Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico
Years active 1970s-present
Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Nuevo León
Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Illinois, Florida
Ethnicity Mexican, Guatemalan
Criminal activities Drug trafficking, people smuggling, money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, racketeering, theft, murder, arms trafficking, bribery, prostitution, counterfeiting, police impersonation.
Allies Sinaloa Cartel, Knights Templar
Rivals Los Zetas, Juárez Cartel, Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Negros
The Gulf Cartel (Spanish: Cártel del Golfo, Golfos, or CDG) is a criminal syndicate and drug trafficking organization in Mexico, and perhaps the oldest organized crime group in the country. It is currently based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Their network is international, and are believed to have dealings with crime groups in Europe, West Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, and the United States. Besides drug trafficking, the Gulf Cartel operates through protection rackets, assassinations, extortions, kidnappings, and other criminal activities. The Gulf Cartel is known for intimidating the population and for being “particularly violent.”
Although its founder Juan Nepomuceno Guerra smuggled alcohol in small quantities to the United States during the epoch of Prohibition, it was not until the 1970s that the cartel was formed and shifted to drug trafficking —primarily cocaine— under the command of Juan Nepomuceno Guerra and Juan García Ábrego.
Juan Nepomuceno Guerra began smuggling alcohol across the border into
the United States during the Prohibition era; once it ended in 1933, he created a criminal syndicate (known as el cártel de Matamoros) and controlled gambling houses, a car theft network, prostitution rings, and other illegal smuggling. Nonetheless, it was not until the 1970s when his nephew Juan García Ábrego founded the Gulf Cartel and started to dedicate primarily to drug trafficking. The origins of the cartel are accredited to the legendary contrabandist Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, who died on 12 July 2001 due to a cardiac arrest. Juan Nepomuceno Guerra was considered a high-profile leader among several people in the community of Matamoros, Tamaulipas because he would help the neediest and would punish those who committed any abuse to the poor families. Poor people sometimes even made huge lines in ‘Piedras Negras,’ a restaurant of Nepomuceno Guerra, to ask him for favors.
Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, founder of the organization.Although it was never proven that he smuggled liquor, arms, tobacco, and even drugs, Juan is considered the “godfather” of the Gulf Cartel. Along with his two brothers Arturo and Roberto, Juan Nepomuceno Guerra started smuggling alcohol into the United States in the 1930s.Soon after the conclusion of the Prohibition, Don Juan, as he was widely known, dedicated himself to another completely different illicit occupation—drug trafficking. Nepomuceno Guerra also amplified his ascendancy through the incorporation of gambling houses, prostitution, human trafficking, and car theft. His nephew, Juan García Ábrego, worked along his tutelage, and slowly began taking over the drug business in the 1970s.
By the 1980s, García Ábrego began incorporating cocaine into the drug trafficking operations, and started to have the upper hand on what was now considered the Gulf Cartel, the greatest criminal dynasty in the US-Mexico border.By negotiating with the Cali Cartel, García Ábrego was able to secure 50% of the shipment out of Colombia as payment for delivery, instead of the $1,500 USD per kilo they were previously receiving. This renegotiation, however, forced Garcia Ábrego to guarantee the product’s arrival from Colombia to its destination. Instead, he created warehouses along the Mexican’s northern border to preserve hundreds of tons of cocaine; this allowed him to create a new distribution network and increase his political influence. In addition to trafficking drugs, García Ábrego would ship cash to be laundered, in the millions. Around 1994, it was estimated that the Gulf Cartel handled as much as “one-third of all cocaine shipments” into the United States from the Cali Cartel suppliers. During the 1990s, the PGR, the Mexican attorney general’s office, estimated that the Gulf Cartel was “worth over $10 billion US dollars.”
After the apprehension of García Ábrego in 1996, a power vacuum was left and several top members fought for leadership until Osiel Cárdenas Guillén became the undisputed leader. As confrontations with rival groups heated up, Osiel Cárdenas sought and recruited over 30 deserters of the Mexican Army’s elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE) to form part of the cartel’s armed wing. Los Zetas, as they are known, served as the hired private mercenary army of the Gulf Cartel. Nevertheless, after the arrest and extradition of Osiel Cárdenas, internal struggles led to a rupture between the two.
Osiel Cárdenas’ brother, Antonio Cárdenas Guillén, and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, a former policeman, filled in the vacuum and became the leaders of the Gulf Cartel. The death of Tony Tormenta, the nickname given to Antonio Cárdenas for his explosive behavior, allowed for Costilla Sánchez to become the co-leader of the Gulf Cartel and head of the Metros, one of the two factions within the Gulf Cartel. Mario Cárdenas Guillén, brother of Osiel and Antonio, is the other leader of Gulf Cartel and head of the Rojos, the other faction within the Gulf Cartel and the parallel version of the Metros.
Presence in the U.S.The Gulf Cartel has important cells operating inside the United States—in Mission, Roma, and Rio Grande City—for example, and their presence is expanding. Thomas A. Shannon, a U.S. diplomat and ambassador, stated that criminal organizations like the Gulf Cartel have “substantially weakened” the institutions in Mexico and Central America, and have generated a surge of violence in the United States. The U.S. National Drug Threat Assessment mentioned that the drug trafficking organizations like the Gulf Cartel tend to be less structured in U.S. than in Mexico, and often rely on street gangs to operate inside the United States. The arrest of several Gulf Cartel lieutenants, along with the drug-related violence and kidnappings, have raised concerns among Texan officials that the drug war in Mexico and the drug cartels are taking hold in Texas. The strong ties the Gulf Cartel has with the prison gangs in the United States have also raised concern to American officials.Reports mention that Mexican drug cartels operate in more than 1,000 cities in the United States.
Samuel Flores Borrego, former Gulf Cartel high-ranking member.The debates over whether the violence in the McAllen metropolitan area should be considered an actual “spillover” from Mexico’s drug war reignited when a sheriff from Hidalgo County, Texas was wounded in a shooting with members of the Gulf Cartel. According to the sheriff, after the death of Flores Borrego, drug dealers traced a stolen load of narcotics from a circle of sellers in Elsa, Texas, and sanctioned a prison gang known as Partido Revolucionario to pretend to buy the drugs from the sellers in order to learn the location of the stash house. The plan did not go as expected, and the hired gang members kidnapped the drug dealers. Consequently, the sheriff received a anonymous call about a alleged kidnapping and tracked down the criminals, who shot and wounded him. After this incident, Todd Staples, a Republican party Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, set up a website asking the federal government to back state efforts to curb illegal activities along the Mexican border, and especially drug trafficking. With the support of two retired U.S. generals, Staples announced that Mexican drug cartels are seeking to create their own turf in the United States, but especially on the South Texas, which they consider “vulnerable.” Henry Cuellar, a Democratic party member and a U.S. Representative, strongly disagreed with Staples’ assessment that the Texas border is a war zone or an area overrun by the Mexican criminal groups, and claimed that such claims simply create “confusion” and unnecessary alarmist reactions.
On early November 2011, Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General, informed media outlets of a letter he sent to President Barack Obama on his failure to protect the border, and warned him that the drug violence from Mexico isincreasingly “spilling over” the border, and urged Obama to “immediately dedicate more manpower to border security.” In the letter, Abbott wrote about the shootings and kidnappings that have been occurring in the Rio Grande Valley, and how these incidents are a “threat to national security.” Lupe Treviño, the sheriff that was wounded, disagreed with Abbott’s statements in a meeting at the White House with several Department of Homeland Security agencies and Janet Napolitano, and claimed that he has implemented a four-step program designed to have all of his deputies undergo a special tactical training designed to apply SWAT-style techniques to tackle any violence along the border. He explicitly said that the “[U.S] border is not in chaos,” and that the claims by the Republicans were “untrue and unfairly painted.”Nevertheless, Carlos Cascos, the current Cameron County judge, questioned Treviño’s comments through Facebook, and mentioned that if South Texas didn’t have drug violence issues (as Treviño claimed in Washington), then Treviño’s travel to Washington D.C. was completely unnecessary, which indicates that the sheriff’s actions contradicted his statements.
Presence in Europe
The Gulf Cartel is believed to have ties with the ‘Ndrangheta, an organized crime group in
Italy that also has ties with Los Zetas. Reports indicated that the Gulf Cartel was using the BlackBerry smartphones to communicate with ‘Ndrangheta, since the texts are “normally difficult to intercept.” In 2009, the Gulf organization concluded that expanding their market opportunities in Europe, combined with the euro strength against the U.S. dollar, justified establishing an extensive network in that continent. The main areas of demand and drug consumption are in Eastern Europe, the successor states of the Soviet Union. In Western Europe, the primarily increase has been in the use of cocaine. Along with the market in the United States, the drug market in Europe is among the most lucrative in the world, where the Mexican drug cartels are believe to have deals with the mafia groups of Europe.
Presence in Africa
The Gulf Cartel and other Mexican drug trafficking groups are active in the northern and western parts of Africa.Although cocaine is not grown in Africa, Mexican organizations, such as the Gulf Cartel, are currently exploiting West Africa’s struggling rule-of-law caused by war, crime and poverty, in order to stage and expand supply routes to the increasingly lucrative European illegal drug market.
In 2003, the arrest of several high-profile cartel leaders, including the heads of the Tijuana Cartel and Gulf Cartel, Benjamín Arellano Félix and Osiel Cárdenas, turned the war on drugs into a trilateral war. While in prison, Cárdenas and Arellano Félix formed an alliance to defend themselves from the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartel, who had also formed an alliance with each other, and were planning to take over the smuggling routes and territories of the Gulf and Tijuana Cartel. After a dispute, however, Osiel Cardenas ordered Benjamin Arellano Felix beaten, and the Gulf-Tijuana alliance ceased to exist at that point. It was reported that after the fallout, Cárdenas ordered Los Zetas to Baja California to wipe out the Tijuana Cartel.
The Sinaloa-Juarez alliance ceased to exist as well due to an unpaid debt in 2007, and now the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartel are at war against each other.Since February 2010, the major cartels have aligned in two factions, one integrated by the Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Zetas and the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel; the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel, La Familia Cartel (now extinct) and the Knights Templar Cartel.