El Grupo Escorpión: The Armed Wing of the Gulf Cartel

1. Introduction

The Scorpion Group (in Spanish: Grupo Escorpión/Los Escorpiones) is an armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, which is based in northeastern Mexico. The organisation handles a variety of illegal activities, including drug trafficking, money laundering, and extortion.

Group operations are carried out with extreme violence. This includes kidnapping, murdering, and attacking law enforcement officials. Furthermore, the organisation engages in numerous clashes with rival criminal organizations. Most notably, Los Zetas, which was formerly a part of the Gulf Cartel before splitting off and becoming a separate entity (source).

The Mexican government has taken steps in recent years to crack down on the Gulf Cartel and its various factions, including the Scorpion Group. However, the group is still active and poses a significant criminal threat in the region.

Logotype used by the Gulf Cartel and the Scorpion Group.

2. History and Mission of Los Escorpiones

2.1 The Betrayal of Los Zetas

In the late 1990s, Los Zetas, the then-armed wing of the said Cartel, became too powerful and wanted to take over the leadership of the Gulf Cartel. With this betrayal, the Gulf Cartel created different cells that would function as bodyguards to protect specific leaders and cities (source). This led to the creation of four main factions:

  • “Los Metros” in Reynosa.
  • “Los Rojos” in Camargo and Mier.
  • “Los Ciclones” in Matamoros.
  • “Los Escorpiones”.

2.2 Los Escorpiones: Tony Tomenta Bodyguards

During a fight between the Gulf Cartel’s key commanders, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén and his brother Antonio Ezequiel, they founded The Scorpion Group. As noted above, and given the threat that Los Zetas posed, Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, alias “Tony Tormenta”, wanted more protection (source). According to reports, he created Los Escorpiones to be his personal guard (source). Former police and military personnel made up The Scorpion Group, and they became known for their brutality and the utilisation of military-style techniques (source). 

Los Escorpiones are allegedly responsible for Tony Tormenta’s escape, at least twice, from the army’s operations to capture him (source).

2.3 Defeat and Return to Criminal Activity

Soldiers guard a street in Matamoros after a confrontation with Los Escorpiones. This operation led to the death of Ezequiel Cárdenas.

After the murder of Tony Tormenta in 2010 by the FES (Mexican Navy), authorities believed that the group had disappeared (source). However, it came to light that Los Escorpiones retreated to Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Furthermore, they allied with another group, identified as “Los Ciclones”, another faction of the Gulf Cartel (source).

House where authorities eliminated Tony Tormenta, Matamoros, Tamaulipas.

By 2015, Los Escorpiones were operating in Ciudad Madero and Tampico, in Tamaulipas. Authorities identified The Scorpion Group’s leader as Lázaro Martínez Rodríguez, aka “El Escorpión”. Martínez was the former police chief of Madero. However, he was executed in 2015. His successor remained secret for some time (source). 

In recent years they have declared war on crystal meth and fentanyl in Matamoros. The group has recorded videos exposing alleged sellers of the drug in the city (source).

3.0 The Organisation of Los Escorpiones

Because of its forced disappearance after the events of 2010, information about The Scorpion Group is scarce, particularly in recent years. However, authorities believe that the organisation is currently led by José Alberto García, also known as “La Kena” or “Ciclón 19” (source). On 19 January 2024, Mexican authorities announced the capture of La Kena, in San Pedro Garza Garcia. This arrest was considered a priority for Mexican and US authorities, especially after hitmen under his command kidnapped four US citizens in Matamoros in September 2023, leaving two of them dead and rescuing the rest (source).

This map shows the successors of the Gulf Cartel, as well as their areas of activity. Credits: InsightCrime.

The Scorpion Group is believed to have several hundred members. Similar to Los Zetas, many are thought to have served in the Mexican military or law enforcement. Its brutality and the utilisation of military tactics characterise the group. In addition, they are accused of employing sophisticated weapons and tactics (source).

  • Modern and high-quality armament.
  • Grenades and grenade launchers.
  • Ballistic vest
  • Armoured vehicles.
  • Ambushes. 
Translation: “Impunity and narco power in the middle of the day in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas border. A commando of about 15 pick-up trucks with armed assassins surrounded State Guard officers and rescued four detainees, including an alleged leader of Grupo Escorpión of the Gulf Cartel, CDG.” Credits: Jesús Rubén Peña.

3.1 Los Escorpiones and Los Ciclones

The Scorpions are based in Matamoros and have joined forces with the Cyclones, another Gulf Cartel faction. On the one hand, some believe that Los Escorpiones and Los Ciclones have allied to ensure their continuity given the numerous criminal organisations that abound in the region. Some analysts refer to the Scorpions as the Cyclones’ armed wing, viewing them as a single criminal threat (source).

Regardless of this, authorities believe that ‘Los Escorpiones’ and ‘Los Ciclones’ have joined forces. Their purpose is to generate terror among the population, to consequently take control of territory close to the border with the United States (source).

4.0 Notable Activity of Los Escorpiones

Currently, the Scorpions are involved in various criminal activities. This includes kidnapping and drug trafficking. Its most relevant activity is the killing of Tony Tormenta.

4.1 Killing of “Tony Tormenta”

Mexican Navy operatives after the elimination of Tony Tormenta in 2010. 

On 5 November 2010, Antonio Cárdenas Guillen, alias “Tony Tormenta”, leader of the CDG (Gulf Cartel), is killed during a shootout with Mexican marines in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. The FES managed to successfully neutralise several Scorpions, Tony Tormenta’s personal security team (source). 

They later identified the Scorpions killed as Sergio Antonio Fuentes, or Escorpión 1; Raúl Marmolejo Gómez, or Escorpión 18; Hugo Lira, or Escorpión 26; and Refugio Adalberto Vargas Cortez, or Escorpión 42 (source).

4.2 Massacre of Reynosa

On 19 June 2021, ‘Los Escorpiones’ and ‘Los Ciclones’ murdered 19 civilians in various streets of the city of Reynosa. This is one of the worst violent events in Tamaulipas and Mexico (source). The investigations suggest they were carried out by both factions, who joined forces to destabilise and obtain territory in Reynosa (source).

4.3 Beheadings 

In April 2022, the Gulf Cartel’s Grupo Escorpiones beheaded two men in Cadereyta Jiménez, Nuevo León. Several men left a tarp and clear bags in the street that contained the dead bodies of two males. The tarp contained a narco message signed by the Gulf Cartel – Grupo Scorpion (source).

4.4 Video interrogation

Armed members of the Gulf Cartel’s Grupo Escorpión interrogating several people. Note the quality of weaponry.

A video that went viral in January 2023 showed a group of armed men subduing some people. The victims were on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs. The video showed four men and two women being interrogated by armed men identifying themselves as members of the Gulf Cartel’s Grupo Escorpión. The kidnappers asked if the abductees were sorry for selling and using crystal meth and fentanyl (source).

4.5 Bar attacks

In January 2023, eight people were killed and three more injured during a series of simultaneous armed attacks in bars in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz (source). The “Scorpion Group” claimed responsibility for the attacks by posting a video in which they send a message to another rival gang. They also established a curfew after 20:00 hours (source).

4.6 Kidnapping of US Citizens

A message was left by the Scorpions, apologising for the kidnapping of several American citizens. Credits: El Heraldo de Mexico.

In March 2023, four Americans were kidnapped by a drug cartel, and they killed two of them while visiting the city of Matamoros (source). Days later, five cartel gunmen appeared tied up and abandoned on the side of a road (source). A letter, signed by the “Scorpion Group”, accused them of acting “under their own decision and lack of discipline”, as well as allegedly violating the cartel’s rules on “protecting the lives of the innocent” (source).

On 19 January 2024, as a consequence of the priority assigned to catch those involved in this attack, Mexican authorities announced the arrest of the leader “La Kena” (source).

5. Conclusion

Despite recent efforts by the Mexican government to crack down on the Gulf cartel and its various factions, including the Grupo Escorpión, the group remains active and poses a significant criminal threat in the region.

Government forces will continue to put pressure on these groups and stifle them economically and socially to make them disappear. Nevertheless, while Mexican special forces are capable of dealing with these organisations, the Scorpion Group and its allies are showing remarkable flexibility and resilience.

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