“HEARST” for Borderland Beat

In a confusing early morning event, Army soldiers shot five men dead in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. One of those killed is alleged to be a member of the Cartel del Noroeste.

The event sparked accusations of being an extrajudicial killing, which has led to violent protests by civilians. A local human rights group, which has previously been accused of working with narcos, alleges the men killed were innocent. 

The Context 

The incident took place in the city of Nuevo Laredo, in the state of Tamaulipas, which contains one of the busiest port of entries along the Mexico-US border. The city is believed to be controlled by the Cártel del Noreste (CDN), a group that splintered off from Los Zetas after it fractured. 

It is generally believed that CDN has been less successful than other cartel groups at infiltrating and corrupting local military forces. Almost every week, CDN hitmen make headlines by getting into bloody skirmishes with military personnel.

The Initial Incident

At around 5:00 am on Sunday, February 26, 2023, six men were riding inside a white Chevrolet Silverado pick-up truck in the Cavazos Lerma neighborhood when their vehicle encountered Army (SEDENA) soldiers. 

What happened next is unclear. All that is certain is that at some point, the white pickup truck crashed into a parked vehicle and the soldiers shot at the men inside, killing five and injuring one. 

The man who survived sustained two gunshot wounds and was transferred to a nearby hospital. His injuries are described as non -life threatening and he is expected to recover. 

Currently, the Army has not released a statement giving their version of events. 

This is because the Army is still conducting an investigation into what happened, interviewing soldiers who were present and reviewing surveillance footage. 

The federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) is also conducting an investigation into what transpired. 

The only version of events that is currently available comes from the Nuevo Leon Human Rights Council, a local group whose credibility will be discussed later in this article. 

The group released a letter which presents the findings of their own investigation into the event. 

They allege that the white pickup “took more than twenty shots when it was at the intersection of Husteca and Méndez. Neighbors of the sector claim that at least two young men were shot in the back of the head while lying on the pavement.”

People React to the Incident, Soldiers Respond

Later that same morning, Army soldiers encountered a group of civilians near the crime scene as they attempted to tow the white pick-up truck.

Raymundo Ramos, the head of that aforementioned local human rights group, spoke to the newspaper El Sol de Tampico and explained why he believed the crowd became irate. 

He said “the actions taken by the locals was due to the Army soldiers who intervened in these events. Instead of calling the investigative authorities, they decided to bring a tow truck and take the vehicle – we assume towing it to the military barracks. It is an obstruction of the evidence, very serious. It is a way of erasing their crimes and lying to the people of Mexico. ”

El Pais seems to dispute his claim, writing that they spoke to “a Tamaulipas government source who said FGR forensic experts did process the scene of the incident.”

Footage shows that civilians attempted to prevent the towing of the pickup and from there, things escalated. The exact moments in which verbal disagreements turned to a physical altercation can be seen in the various videos embedded below.

El Sol de Tampico writes that there was “shoving between the residents and the military. The neighbors threw stones, pipes and sticks, while the military reacted with shots in the air and on the ground.”

No civilians were reportedly injured due to the gunfire, which only caused property damage. A number of soldiers can be seen being assaulted by civilians in the footage. 

Civilians attempted to block military vehicles in order to prevent the removal of the pickup truck. During the chaos of the incident, a soldier fell to the ground and was run over by a military vehicle. 

The People Involved

According to the newspapers Reforma, El Universal and Animal Politico, the men who were shot by the soldiers were named: 

  • Gustavo Pérez Beriles
  • Wilberto Mata Estrada
  • Jonathan Aguilar Sánchez
  • Alejandro Trujillo Rocha
  • Gustavo Ángel Suárez Castillo (alleged American)
  • Luis Gerardo (survived with injuries)

A relative alleges that Gustavo Ángel Suárez Castillo is a US citizen. A spokesperson for the US State Department said they had seen reports of this, but they could not confirm that information “at this time.”

The journalists Raúl Flores Martínez (from Grupo Imagen) and Joaquín López-Dóriga (from Milenio) have alleged that Wilberto Mata Estrada is a CDN hitman known by the aliases of “Mando Willy” and “El Mata”.

In social media posts, Wilberto Mata Estrada has openly posed in a tactical vest bearing the cartel’s initials. 

The Controversial Group

Since a majority of the claims about the incident currently come from the Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee, let’s examine their credibility. 

As mentioned earlier, the local human rights group is headed by a man named Raymundo Ramos Vázquez who has been accused multiple times of colluding with cartel groups.

In June 2015, the arrested los Zetas leader Ramiro Perez Moreno, alias “El Ramas” (the direct successor of Z-42) told prosecutors about his arrangement with Raymundo Ramos.

Nación 14 writes that El Ramas “claimed to have paid Raymundo Ramos five thousand dollars a week to carry out operations against the Navy and to file complaints against military personnel, as well as to carry out various protests against the government and other authorities.”

Quinta Fuerza writes that Ramos was also paid by los Zetas to accuse the military of “kidnapping, as a form of pressure to withdraw federal forces” from the region. Two other CDN bosses (El Pato and El Sonrics) reportedly made similar payments to local human rights groups. 

Ramos has been at the center of a similar case involving CDN before. In 2019, his group alleged the the military unjustly killed a group of civilians. In front of news cameras, Ramos advocated side-by-side with Irma Rendón, the mother of a victim killed by the military. Irma claimed her son was innocent and worked at a car wash. 

It later emerged that Irma’s deceased son, José Indulfo Cepeda Rendon, was a CDN operational leader who went by the alias “El Manchas”. 

He led the hitmen cell Tropa 202 and allegedly posted images of CDN beheading rivals on his social media. El Manchas was accompanied by another CDN member with the alias “El Wicho” when he was killed by the military. 

Additionally, the son of Carlos Domínguez Rodríguez – a journalist murdered in Nuevo Laredo while covering local corruption – has repeatedly alleged that Raymundo Ramos is involved in organized crime and receives money from drug traffickers. 

Ramos, in turn, alleged that the son was working with the Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office.

According to Nación 14, the US FBI and DEA submitted a report in 2020 which compiled evidence of their investigation into Raymundo Ramos’ cooperation with CDN which led the US government to cancel his US visa

That same year an audio recording was released which allegedly depicts Raymundo Ramos passing information about a federal investigation to a CDN plaza boss named Jorge Ezequiel Gutiérrez Pimentel, alias “El Borrado”. 

A number of Spanish-language publications such as El Pais and El Sol, as well as international publications such as Reuters, have chosen to publish quotes from Raymundo Ramos Vázquez with no disclaimer which acknowledges the accusations of his collusion with organized crime, substantiated by a FBI and DEA investigation. 

Sources: NLHRW Letter, Reforma, Lopez Doriga, La Voz del Pueblo, Telemundo, Reuters, El Pais, El Sol de Tampico, Animal Politico, El UniversalNación 14, Los Angeles Press, Quinta Fuerza

Further Reading:

Last year a similar incident occurred in Nuevo Laredo. To read more about it, please see the story linked here.