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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Mexico 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Matamoros

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Mexico at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Do not travel to the state of Tamaulipas.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Mexico-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Matamoros is located on the U.S. - Mexico border, across from Brownsville, Texas and 50 miles from the Reynosa-McAllen border area. The Matamoros Consular District is nearly the entire State of Tamaulipas. Areas not in the Matamoros Consular District are those located north of the Falcon Dam, as well as the City of Tampico. The random nature of violence, combined with one of the highest kidnapping rates in Mexico, exposes everyone to a high risk of being subject to dangerous situations.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Matamoros, Violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault, is common. Gang activity, including gun battles and blockades, is widespread. Armed criminal groups target public and private passenger buses, as well as private automobiles traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers hostage and demanding ransom payments. Federal and state security forces have limited capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state.

The primary security threat stems from Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) and the ongoing turf war between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas and the police or military. In 2018, gun battles took place throughout the state of Tamaulipas. These violent incidents occurred at public venues, in municipal buildings, on public roadways, and near U.S. ports of entry. 

The security situation in Reynosa is consistently violent and dire. Rolling gun battles between police elements and TCOs occur daily. Many of these gun battles result in the death of cartel members and police officers. Carjacking and kidnapping occurs with similar frequency. 

While Matamoros has historically been a violent place, it has experienced a reprieve from the Reynosa level of violence in the past couple of years. The level of violence in Matamoros has stabilized (although it still exists) due to a strong cartel leader taking control of the area. Meanwhile, in Reynosa two rival cartels vie for control of the drug trade there, keeping the violence level elevated. 

The Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) recently released the 2018 crime report for Tamaulipas. However, since underreporting of crime is a major issue, and authorities do not track crime with any consistency, consider tallies (under)estimates at best. There were 1,472 recorded murders in Tamaulipas in 2018; most are directly due to TCO violence. Additionally, there were 2,458 cases of aggravated assault reported in 2018. 

SSP only reported 102 kidnappings for Tamaulipas in 2018, with 743 attempted kidnappings reported. Police note 1,231 reported sex crimes.

Exercise caution when using debit or credit cards in Tamaulipas; cloning or counterfeiting debit or credit cards occurs. Plan cash needs in advance, using only reputable ATMs in secure areas. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Other Areas of Concern

During peak travel times like weekends and holidays, prepare for long wait times when crossing back into the United States. Both the toll lanes and the ports of entry can experience significant delays at times. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road safety is an area of particular concern. Road conditions are below U.S. standards in general. The highways are generally in good condition, but their isolation leaves travelers vulnerable to crime. Travelers have been stuck in TCO roadblocks. Incidents of gunfire between criminals and Mexican law enforcement are normal in the cities, and along major highways. There have been carjacking and kidnapping incidents along roadways and near the ports of entry. There were 448 reported traffic deaths and 692 traffic injuries in Tamaulipas. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Avoid public transportation in Tamaulipas.     

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The General Servando Canales International Airport in Matamoros (MMA) only offers flights to and from Mexico City, while the General Lucio Blanco International Airport in Reynosa (REX) offers flights to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Veracruz, and Cancún. Prepare for U.S.-styled security screening, unpredictable wait times, and travel delays from all airports in the region. 

Other Travel Conditions

The area experiences localized flooding during heavy rainstorms.

Terrorism Threat

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Matamoros. There is no significant regional terrorism threat. However, the nature of the border and the ready access to human smugglers and counterfeit documents continue to make this area a potential transit point for international terrorists.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest 

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Matamoros. There were protests in Tamaulipas during 2018. Most of them were local issues and none targeted U.S. interests. U.S. interests in Tamaulipas are generally not targets of political violence. Political violence against politicians is common and stems from widespread corruption.  

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The Consular District borders the Gulf of Mexico, and is subject to hurricanes. Hurricane Harvey skirted the coast near Matamoros, bringing tidal flooding and high winds in 2017. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.gov page helps with contingency planning for hurricanes and other tropical storms.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex sexual relations are legal in Mexico. The law provides for protections against discrimination based on gender identity. Travelers will find more openness and acceptance in urban areas, and conservative stances in rural areas.

Drug-related Crimes

The U.S.-Mexico border is a focal point for the illegal drug trade and the violence and corruption the industry fosters. Most if not all crime in Tamaulipas relates to the drug trade or conflict between TCOs. Street crime does occur, but most go unreported due to the lack of trust in the police.    

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping for ransom is an established criminal activity in Mexico. However, most incidents go unreported. Express kidnappings are a common type of abduction in Mexico, timed along the 24-hour industry-wide withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards. Kidnappers will generally hold a victim for 24-48 hours and force them to withdraw funds from various ATMs.

Virtual kidnapping is another form of criminal activity common in Mexico; it is a form of telephonic extortion. There have been reports of virtual kidnapping calls made to family members in the U.S. claiming to have kidnapped a traveler in Mexico. A good defense is to communicate travel plans to family/friends/co-workers, providing detailed contact information and having multiple means of communication. In case you receive a call claiming someone you know may be in danger, verify before proceeding with demands. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Federal and state security forces have limited capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state. The general perception is that the majority of victims do not report crimes due to fear of police reprisal, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would result from such reports. The net result is that most crimes go unreported or uninvestigated. Reporting crime can be a bureaucratic, time-consuming process. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned. Do not pay an officer directly for any traffic violation; report to the nearest Mexican Traffic Police office to pay any fine.

Detained or harassed U.S. citizens may seek assistance at/from the Consulate. A duty officer is available 24-hours per day.  

Crime Victim Assistance

An investigating officer may require anyone involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime to accompany him/her to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions.

The Transit Police in Matamoros have a very limited presence and response to even minor car accidents can take a long time. The police emergency telephone number is 911 throughout Mexico, though response time varies.

Police/Security Agencies

State and federal police agencies operate similar to their U.S. counterparts, but law enforcement capabilities are not comparable to U.S. standards. Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is common. Police receive low wages, are vulnerable to corruption, and receive less training than their U.S. counterparts.

Mexico disbanded the municipal police forces in Matamoros and Reynosa due to deep-rooted corruption several years ago. There are currently no municipal police forces in Matamoros or Reynosa. The Tamaulipas State Police took over in 2014, and have a limited presence in both cities. The Federal Police also have a limited presence in both cities. Federal and state security forces have limited capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state.

Medical Emergencies

Health care standards are not comparable to those in the United States. If necessary, contact a private ambulance service that charges a fee for service: Life Ambulance Service: +52-868-812-3049. Find useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Your Health Abroad.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

CMI Hospital

Calle Sexta y Avenida Longoria #9

Matamoros

Telephone: 811-0000

 

CEMQ Hospital

Calle Primera y Gonzalez y Morelos 1105

Matamoros

Telephone: 813-4303/813-4653/813-4191

 

Reach the Red Cross (Cruz Roja) by dialing 911.

Available Air Ambulance Service: AEA International (800) 752-4195.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Food and potable water standards are different from those of the United States. Take precautions with regard to drinking water and eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mexico.

OSAC Country Council Information

Review OSAC’s Mexico-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information. The OSAC Rio Grande Valley Council meets out of the Consulate General in Matamoros. Contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team if interested in private-sector engagement in Matamoros, or with questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.

U.S. Consulate General Matamoros Location and Contact Information

Calle Primera #2002, Colonia Jardín, Matamoros, Tamaulipas 87330

Consulate Contact Number: +52 (868) 812-4402

Website: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/matamoros/

Nearby Posts: Embassy Mexico City, Consulate Ciudad Juárez, Consulate Guadalajara, Consulate Mérida, Consulate Monterrey, Consulate Nogales, Consulate Nuevo Laredo, Consulate Tijuana

Consulate Guidance

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known. Please see Consular Affairs Guidance for Travel to High Risk Areas.

Additional Resource: Mexico Country Information Sheet

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