Four Americans were kidnapped by a drug cartel and two of them were killed when they visited the city of Matamoros in Mexico. So why would the cartel apologize for the incident and hand over its own gunmen to the police?
A letter left with the cartel gunmen, who were tied up and left at the roadside, accused them of acting “according to their own decision-making and indiscipline” and also allegedly violating cartel rules for “protecting the lives of the innocent “. “.
It was signed by the Scorpions Group, a splinter faction of the powerful Gulf Cartel.
The letter points to the strange, misplaced sense of civic duty that many Mexican cartels claim to possess. Despite the widespread fear they sow through extortion, murder and kidnapping, groups like the Gulf Cartel and their rivals, the Sinaloa Cartel, profess a twisted code of ethics under which they believe they care for the most vulnerable in Mexican society.
That warped understanding of compassion and altruism does not extend to undocumented migrants, who are routinely kidnapped, raped and murdered. Nor are local businesses exempt from paying “el piso”, an extortion for operating only on their territory, the tax applied to everyone from multinational corporations to small, family-run convenience stores.
Still, there is a logic to the cartel’s code of conduct, particularly in remote and rural parts of Mexico and poor mountainous communities, where organized crime often fills the role left behind by the state.
You just need to look at their response to natural disasters. When hurricanes or earthquakes hit the western state of Guerrero, criminal gangs handed out emergency supplies and sacks of food, even stamped with their cartel’s distinctive initials. A similar phenomenon also occurred during the worst moments of the Covid lockdowns.
The cartels also see themselves as the enforcers of community order, dishing out brutal summary judgments on child molesters or thieves operating outside their jurisdiction. They are judge, jury and executioner, often literally.
In that context, the decision to extradite their own gunmen after the debacle in Matamoros is correct: a mistake has been made, an apology has been made and the perpetrators have been reported. Case closed.
And even Mexican drug cartels are aware of the power of good PR.
However, that feeling of neatly containing the chaos and apologizing to the city residents should also be taken with a large grain of salt.
How can one be sure that these five men were the perpetrators? Who can be trusted to speak the truth? The drug cartel? The Attorney General’s Office? In waters as murky and muddy as Tamaulipas’, generally the wisest instinct is to question everything a person is told.
Let’s not forget that former Mexico’s Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna, once the top law enforcement official and the man who led the war on drugs, is currently languishing in a US prison after being found guilty of collaborating with the Sinaloa Cartel. in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes.
In the Matamoros case, the authorities in Mexico have emphasized the criminal record of the victims in their statements to the media.
We were initially told that the Americans were in town for health tourism – a cheap Mexican tummy tuck gone as wrong as it gets.
A day later, as the accusations began to swirl, a member of the Mexican government sent me a story about the criminal past of the victims, specifically that one of them had been convicted of manufacturing illegal narcotics with intent to supply .
“Just checking if you saw this,” was the innocent comment.
Whether that was part of a concerted effort in Mexico to get the victim blamed or because there is hard evidence to suggest the kidnapping was targeted is again hard to know.
One thing the whole mess reminded me of was one of my own trips to Tamaulipas shortly after I arrived in Mexico in 2011. It taught me something critical of Mexico’s drug war that has stayed with me to this day.
In a nondescript hotel room, I met the girlfriend of a member of the Zetas, a particularly bloodthirsty cartel that has now largely disbanded. As we filmed her in the shadows, changing her name and disguising her voice, she described what her boyfriend was doing. Without naming the exact organization, it was clear that he worked for the police, but was also a member of the Zetas.
A cop by day, a narco by night.
“What you’re telling me,” I naively asked, “is that the relationship between the cartels and the state is very close?”
“No,” came her chilling reply, “I say the cartels are the state.”