In the 1990s, the Zetas, a paramilitary-style group of former Mexican special forces, were hired to guard CDG leadership. The story of how the Zetas grew in influence and membership until outsizing the CDG – as well as the war that ensued and its ongoing impact on violence in Mexico today – has been well documented.
The Zetas’ betrayal began a pattern of units created as bodyguards or enforcers eventually trying to supplant their own leaders. As the Cárdenas Guillén family, which led the CDG and had recruited the Zetas, fractured and struggled to maintain control, different “units” were created across Tamaulipas, ostensibly to guard specific leaders or cities. In Reynosa, the Metros; in Camargo and Mier, the Rojos. In later years, the Ciclones (Cyclones) arose in Matamoros. The Escorpiones (Scorpions) were the private guard of Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, alias “Tony Tormenta.” After he was killed in 2010, the Scorpions went to ground in Matamoros and are now allied to the Cyclones.
Over time, the Zetas would also split, only worsening Mexico’s criminal fragmentation. But their successors have been fewer, with the Old School Zetas (Zetas Vieja Escuela) and Northeast Cartel (Cartel del Noreste) emerging as the main groups.
These names continue to haunt Tamaulipas to this day, engaging in a cycle of alliances and internecine warfare for control of what’s left of the united Gulf Cartel. Parts of Tamaulipas may seem calm for a while, only to fall into violence once again. Attempts to stop the violence are Sisyphean, with constant reporting of security forces arresting a leader of one faction or gunning down a commander of one another.
In recent months, Tamaulipas has been dealing with the aftermath of a June massacre that left 19 people dead in the city of Reynosa. The fallout has been confusing. The killings were allegedly carried out by the Cyclones and Scorpions to dislodge the Metros. One of those believed to be responsible was found murdered. The leader of the Metros was arrested by police, rescued in spectacular fashion by a commando of his own men and found dead weeks later. Then, the various warring CDG factions even signed a truce in July 2021.
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The Cyclones are the Matamoros-based faction of the CDG. They have fought a long-running battle with the Metros in Reynosa, with both sides attacking each other’s strongholds at least since 2015. The Cyclones draw much of their influence from their control of the border crossing between Matamoros and Brownsville, Texas, along which drugs, weapons and contraband all flow, according to Borderland Beat. Since a flare-up of violence in 2015, the Cyclones seemed to have been pretty quiet until mounting the consorted attack, backed up by the Scorpions, on Reynosa in 2021. Five alleged members of this alliance have been charged with carrying out the Reynosa killings.
The Cyclones are also engaged in a war with the Northeast Cartel, a splinter Zetas group, for control of the municipalities of San Fernando, El Mante, Ocampo, Mendez, San Carlos and Ciudad Tula.
The Scorpions were founded after a fallout between two of the foremost CDG leaders, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, and his brother, Antonio Ezequiel. Created to stand up to the Zetas founded by Osiel, they were made up of former police and military personnel and stood out early on for their brutality and use of military-style tactics. After Antonio Ezequiel’s death in 2010, the group was believed to have been disbanded. But in 2015, in Matamoros and Tampico, a faction of the CDG emerged, calling themselves Scorpions Group (Grupo Escorpiones). They maintained their police connections as their leader was the former head of police of Madero, a city in Tamaulipas, before he too was killed.
Today, the Scorpions act very much in concert with the Cyclones. Some analysts describe the Scorpions as the armed wing of the Cyclones, viewing them as a single criminal threat. Their base is in Matamoros but messages left next to bodies confirm they have a presence in much of Tamaulipas. The June massacre, blamed on the two groups, marked the high point of a long and drawn-out conflict with the Metros, the CDG offshoot in Reynosa. This conflict has centred around control of the Pharr-Reynosa Bridge, an essential thoroughfare for drug trafficking between Tamaulipas and Texas.