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Mexico 2013 Crime and Safety Report: Matamoros

Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Matamoros

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Matamoros is located along the U.S.- Mexico border, sharing multiple international bridges with Brownsville, Texas, and situated 50 miles from the Reynosa-McAllen border area. Although some aspects of drug violence seem to have decreased, in Matamoros and some other parts of its consular district, which includes Altamira, Mante, Victoria, San Fernando, Valle Hermoso, Rio Bravo, Reynosa, and Miguel Alemán, during 2012, there was still a high incidence of gunfights and grenade attacks. Consequently, crime and violence related to the activities of Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) are continuing concerns that directly affect the safety and security of Consulate personnel. Additionally, visitors traveling to these border areas have been victims of armed robberies, sexual assaults, auto thefts, murder, and kidnappings. Although there is no indication that U.S. citizens are being specifically targeted, they have been victims of such crimes. Much of the crime that victimizes the public is indiscriminate. Criminals generally select victims based on the appearance of vulnerability, prosperity, or inattentiveness. These characteristics almost certainly increase the precautions necessary to deter criminals by those travelling in Matamoros.

Crime Threats 

The overall crime and safety situation in Matamoros varies widely depending upon location. Armed robberies, sexual assaults, auto thefts, and kidnappings continue to be reported in and around Matamoros, in some cases within close proximity to the U.S. Consulate. Crime, overall, remains indiscriminate. Furthermore, although Mexico employs strict gun-control laws, thieves and robbers are often armed with knives or handguns.

Overall Road Safety Situation

In general, roads and road conditions are below U.S. standards. 

Military and police checkpoints are common in and around Matamoros and Reynosa. Checkpoints set up by suspected narco-traffickers have occurred in and around the Matamoros and Reynosa areas. 

Carjackings occur frequently and are often perpetuated by armed, organized gangs, particularly in the middle to southern part of Tamaulipas state. Victims of carjackings are often forced off the road by criminals/gang members in multiple vehicles working in unison or are accosted at secluded locations (gas stations, off the main highways, etc.). U.S. Consulate Matamoros’ American Citizen Services office (ACS) reported approximately 10 carjackings of Americans for this period, although the figures are likely much higher as a result of underreporting.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

American interests in Matamoros’ consular district are generally not targets of political violence. Accordingly, there is no history of political violence directed at Americans in the Matamoros-Reynosa area.

Political violence against local Mexican politicians is common. Politicians are frequently approached or coerced into cooperating with TCOs; this can affect U.S. interests in the region. Specific examples of TCO violence against Mexican politicians include the June 2012 kidnapping/extortion of Matamoros’ Director of Water and Drainage Bureau and the February 2012 kidnapping of the Director of Foreign Relations.  

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Due to inadequate statistics and underreporting, it is difficult to determine whether drug-related violence has increased or decreased in the Matamoros-Reynosa region. During the last year, there were indications that the citizens of Matamoros were more willing to congregate in public spaces. While U.S. citizens not involved in criminal activities are generally not targeted, innocent bystanders remain at risk due to the increase in violence in the streets of border cities and nearby towns.

While there do not appear to be any Middle Eastern terrorist groups active in Mexico, lax immigration controls, the ease in which fake Mexican travel documents can be obtained, and Mexico's geographic location make it an attractive transit point for potential transnational terrorists.

Civil Unrest

Some small, peaceful demonstrations have taken place in and around Matamoros, including areas directly in front of the ports of entry (Veterans Bridge, Gateway Bridge, etc.).

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards 

Matamoros is approximately 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes are common during June-November.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when visiting the border region and to exercise common sense precautions, such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas and attempting to travel only during daylight hours.

Drug-related Crimes 

Mexico is well known for its illegal drug trade and violence and corruption that the industry fosters. Mexico is the primary route or conduit for bringing illegal drugs into the United States. Matamoros and the surrounding areas have been the scene of many violent, uncontrolled incidents in which innocent bystanders have been injured and killed. Security forces and police have not been effective in eliminating the threat from such incidents in these cities along the U.S.-Mexican border.  

Drug-related violence has remained high in the past year in the Matamoros-Reynosa region, despite signs of the 2011-2012 reduction. RSO statistics indicate an increase in the number of local nationals killed in the Matamoros-Reynosa region as a result of drug related violence, from 71 killed in 2011 to 76 killed in 2012. The true number of drug-related deaths, however, is undoubtedly much higher due to underreporting. A 2012 survey by Mexico’s National Survey on Victimization and Perception of Public Security revealed that almost 92 percent of crime went unreported “due mainly to a lack of faith in police and the judicial system.” Additionally, separating victims from perpetrators is often problematic.  

Kidnapping Threats

Kidnapping for ransom is an established criminal activity in Mexico. Unofficial estimates of kidnapping levels vary wildly, from 600 to 5,000 per year countrywide. In most cases, the ransom is paid, and the victim set free. The usual practice is not to notify police authorities, as the popular belief is that the police may be involved in the crime and are unable to resolve the situation.

Express kidnappings are a common type of abduction and are based on the withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards industrywide. The victim is generally held for 24 to 48 hours and is forced to withdraw funds from a series of ATMs. Americans at the U.S. Consulate Matamoros have not suffered this type of crime in over a year, but, anecdotally, most Mexican employees of the Consulate either have been victimized themselves or personally know a victim. 

The term "express kidnapping" is also applied to the kidnapping of random victims held for brief periods where only small ransom amounts are demanded. A typical kidnapping may last for several hours and be settled for the peso-equivalent of a few thousand dollars.

Another tactic used is the telephonic kidnapping threat, also known as virtual kidnapping. Although the calls vary in style, the methodology is similar: the virtual kidnapping call includes a crying/pleading voice immediately after the call is answered and before the "kidnapper" gets on the phone. In this manner, they hope to confuse the victim and get them to give away important information; for example, if the crying voice sounds like your child in any way, and you call out that child's name, the caller now knows the name of the child that could potentially be a kidnap victim, and he will use this knowledge against you. The voice of the "victim" will usually be crying and/or hysterical. This makes it difficult to identify and increases the likelihood that you will believe it is your loved one. Criminals will try to use fear, tact, and timing against possible victims. For example, they plan their calls to coincide with times when it will be difficult to contact a child or another adult immediately (e.g., when child is either on their way to or from school). All calls demand money for the release of the loved one and stipulate no police involvement. Often times, the callers will give statements to suggest surveillance such as: "we saw you at the school with your camioneta (SUV)." These are vague but imply they have been watching your family and using fear and everyday routines against you to reinforce the threat of the kidnapping. One of the most important things for you to know are the details of your family's travel and location (where are they supposed to be, who are they supposed to be with, etc.). In addition, it is equally important that you know how to reach (land-line and cell phone numbers) your family members.

Regardless of the tactic used in any given kidnapping, Mexico City’s Noticieros Televisa recently announced that Mexico is “the country with the most kidnappings in Latin America.” According to Noticieros Televisa, “Kidnapping is a crime that has increased 203 percent in the past five years” in Mexico.

Police Response

Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is common. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to the sense of lawlessness. The general perception is that the majority of crime victims do not report crimes against them due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. Matamoros police receive low wages and are vulnerable to corruption and receive less training than their U.S. counterparts. Police enjoy little respect from the general population. Reporting crime can be a bureaucratic, time consuming process and is widely perceived to be of limited effectiveness except for the most serious of crimes or where a police report is required for insurance purposes.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

Travelers may contact the Consular section or the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate for assistance in dealing with the police (numbers listed below). U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned.

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged. Travelers should not be expected to pay the officer directly for any traffic violations, but should be prepared to report to the nearest Mexican Traffic Police office to pay the fine.

The Mexican police emergency telephone number is 066, though response time varies, and other citizens will turn to taxis or private vehicles for emergency medical transport.

Medical Emergencies

Health insurance is an important consideration. Travelers should ensure that they have adequate health coverage while in Mexico.

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

CMI Hospital
Calle Sexta y Avenida Longoria #9
Matamoros, Mexico
Telephone - 811-0000
CEMQ Hospital
Calle Primera y Gonzalez y Morelos 1105
Matamoros, Mexico
Telephone - 813-4303/813-4653/813-4191

The Red Cross (Cruz Roja) can be reached at 065. This medical service may not be reliable.

Travelers can also contact private ambulance services who do charge a fee.

Life Ambulance Service: 011-52-868-812-3049

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

Air ambulance service (recommended for severe injuries or illnesses best treated in the U.S): AEA International, (800) 752-4195.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Food and potable water standards are different than those of the U.S. One should take normal tourist precautions with regard to drinking water, eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads. For additional health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/mexico.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices

Protect items inside your vehicle. Theft of the vehicle's operating computer and sound systems are common crimes. The installation of a car alarm is a necessary precaution in deterring vehicle thefts and thefts of interior contents. Also, if you purchase a car radio, look for models that can be removed from the dash and locked in the trunk. Also, keep your vehicle sterile, storing anything that would entice a thief out of plain view. The headlights and tail lights are held in place by easily accessible screws; install grilles around the lights or simply tap out the heads of the screws holding the lights in place. If your tire is mounted on the outside of the vehicle, secure it in place with chain and padlock or similar device. If this is not possible, remove the spare tire and keep it at home, reinstalling it only for extended trips outside the city. Replace one lug nut on each wheel with a specially keyed bolt that locks or can only be removed with a special attachment to the tire iron. Emblems should be secured with rivets. Avoid leaving your vehicle on the street. Park inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or at least within view of the location of your visit. If this is not possible, leave your car at home and take a trusted taxi if available (consult with the RSO if possible). When parking in a lot of a shopping facility, be sure to park as close as possible to the store entrance and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Be sure to lock your doors, close windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk, out of sight. 

Avoid wearing jewelry and carry a clutch purse or a neck purse instead of a shoulder bag. Carry a wallet in the front trouser pocket or front jacket pocket. Never leave shopping bags or merchandise unattended. 

When hiring domestic help, vet them to the greatest extent that you can. Ensure that they are trained to not volunteer information to strangers or to allow access of workers without prior authorization.

Maintain a low profile. Do not advertise the fact that you are American. Dress casually, keep valuables out of sight, and do not draw attention to yourself with your actions. Be alert to your surroundings. Minimize valuables and do not carry large sums of money while in crowded, urban areas. Be aware of popular scams and robbery tactics used to distract your attention.

Vary your routine. Be unpredictable in your movements, vary your routes from home to the office as well as your departure and arrival times. Be alert to possible surveillance. Note any individual who appears out of place along your routes to regularly scheduled activities, such as going from home to office. Avoid sitting outside at restaurants. Instead, try to find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information 

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation 

Calle Primera 2002, Jardín, 87330 Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico

General Business Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00AM to 5:00PM
American Citizen Services: Monday through Friday, 9:00AM to 12:00PM and 1:30PM to 3:30PM.

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

Mexico country code: 52
Matamoros area code: 868
Telephone - 812-4402
Regional Security Office Hours: 0815-1730 M-F
RSO Duty Officer can be contacted 24/7 by calling the Consulate Switchboard Operator

OSAC Country Council Information

Mexico City supports an active OSAC Country Council with a large number of member companies. Future OSAC events are expected in the Matamoros area in 2013. For information on OSAC and future Matamoros OSAC Country Council events, contact RSO Rob Castro at 011-52-868-812-4402, ex. 2069. For more information regarding OSAC Country Councils in Mexico, contact the Regional Security Office at U.S. Embassy Mexico City or OSAC's Program Officer for the Western Hemisphere through www.osac.gov.