Four American citizens (Eric James Williams, Zindell Brown and cousins Latavia McGee and Shaeed Woodard) traveled to Mexico for one of them to have a tummy tuck surgery. Driving in a white minivan, the group was attacked in the Matamoros Municipality. Matamoros is just south of Brownsville, Texas. A witness to the attack explained how a car crashed into the minivan while they were at an intersection. Gunfire immediately broke out and armed men started pulling the Americans into their own car. An innocent Mexican woman, Arely Pablo, was killed in the shootout.
Matamoros is the current headquarters of the Gulf Cartel, an expansive crime syndicate with hands on drug and arms trafficking, smuggling migrants, and kidnappings. Insight Crime calls it “one of the oldest and most powerful of Mexico’s criminal groups.” Founded in 1984, the cartel has evolved through various leaders and now has several differentiated factions such as the Scorpions, Panthers, and Rojos. Infighting between these cartel groups to dominate more territory and supplies has been the source of several deaths in the region over several decades.
While US representatives have reached out to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and proposed American military authorization to address cartel violence, President Lopez Obrador said that he was “not going to permit any foreign government to intervene in our territory, much less that a government’s armed forces intervene.” These cartels influence much of the drug epidemics crossing Mexico and the US, and cartel violence has only increased in the past two decades.
Of the four Americans kidnapped, Brown and Woodard were confirmed dead. Williams and McGee were recovered in a small house just outside of Matamoros. It was discovered that the cartel had not specifically targeted these Americans; instead, they had mistaken them for a rival trafficking group. According to a picture obtained by ABC News, five men were found tied up next to a truck with a handwritten note claiming that they were a part of the Gulf Cartel and were responsible for the kidnapping. Although it has not been verified if the note is real, officials have moved forward on pressing charges.
The US State Department has also issued a ‘Do Not Travel to’ warning to American citizens from traveling to the state of Tamaulipas (in which Matamoros is a municipality) due to “crime and kidnapping.”
Three women who traveled to Mexico from Peñitas, Texas in order to sell clothes have been deemed missing for the past two weeks. The FBI, US Customs and Border Protection, and state level officers are noting any new information regarding their disappearance.
Both Mexican and American citizens are falling prey to the power of these violent cartels, and governments are scrambling to destroy the power structures and eliminate the dissemination of drugs. For now, there are travel restrictions and warnings in place for individuals traveling to areas of high volatility.