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More violence feared in Mexico following killing of Gulf cartel kingpin

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Northeastern Mexico is bracing for a surge in violence following the killing of a notorious drug kingpin Friday by the Mexican navy. Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, alias ‘Tony Tormenta,’ was killed in a spectacular three-hour shootout in Matamoros, a city just across the border from Brownsville, Texas, in the Tamaulipas state that Cardenas’ Gulf Cartel has long dominated.

The Gulf cartel is locked in mortal combat with its one-time military arm, the Zetas. The demise of Cardenas, one of the Gulf’s top two leaders, may at least temporarily embolden the Zetas, an especially ruthless group that broke away from the Gulf cartel this year and is fighting to take control of more territory and illicit businesses. Alejandro Poire, the Mexican government’s spokesman for the drug war, said Monday that a period of ‘instability’ within the drug-trafficking organizations is likely in the short term, but that overall they are being weakened. Here is a video of his interview with local television (link in Spanish).

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Though not everyone agrees with that assessment, already a kind of psychosis is seizing Matamoros and other cities in Tamaulipas. The state government over the weekend warned residents, via Twitter, to stay at home to avoid getting caught as gun battles continued to erupt. And on Monday, schools cancelled classes and parents kept their children at home amid fears (false alarms, in the end) of bombs (link in Spanish).

Even before Cardenas’ killing, much of Tamaulipas has been living in fear of the cartels, as this special Times report from Reynosa recounted in Sunday editions.

— Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City


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