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Mexico 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Matamoros

Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Matamoros

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Mexico has been assessed as Level 2: exercise increased caution. Tamaulipas state in Mexico has been assessed as Level 4: do not travel.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate 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.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Matamoros as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Mexico-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Matamoros is located along the U.S.-Mexico border, sharing multiple international bridges with Brownsville, Texas, and is situated 50 miles from the Reynosa-McAllen border area. There are frequent gunfights throughout the consular district (including Mante, Ciudad Victoria, San Fernando, Valle Hermoso, Rio Bravo, Reynosa, Miguel Alemán). The random nature of violence, combined with one of the highest kidnapping rates Mexico, exposes everyone to a high risk of being subject to dangerous situations.

Crime Threats

There are no safe areas in Matamoros due to gunfights, grenade attacks, and kidnappings. Crime and violence related to the activities of Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) are continuing concerns that directly affect the safety and security of U.S. government personnel. U.S. citizens remain under constant threat of abduction, robbery, or violent crime. The situation in northeast Mexico remains volatile; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.

The primary security threat stems from the TCOs and the on-going turf war between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. Drug-related violence grew in 2017 in the Matamoros-Rio Bravo-Reynosa corridor. RSO statistics indicate an increase in the number of local nationals killed as a result of drug-related violence largely due to the chronic volatility around Reynosa. The true number of drug-related deaths, however, is difficult to obtain due to underreporting. Gun battles may occur at any time, as rival TCO gunmen engage in hit-and-run attacks and as military and federal police encounter TCO gunmen while on patrol. In 2017, firefights took place throughout the state, particularly in the border land around the Reynosa-Rio Bravo area. These gun battles have occurred in broad daylight, on public streets, and at other public venues. Additionally, the consular district has been the scene of many violent, uncontrolled incidents during which innocent bystanders have been injured or killed.

The government has increased the number of troops and federal police in this region in an effort to quell the violence. However, this support changes due to the security environment elsewhere in the country. 

Visitors have been victims of armed robberies, sexual assaults, auto thefts, murder, carjacking, and kidnappings. Street crime and theft in urban areas are also common. All types of crime statistics are unreliable due to the lack of a functional governmental tracking mechanism and underreporting. Additionally, separating victims from perpetrators is often problematic.

Although no reliable statistics exist, individuals associated with the maquiladora (factory) industry in Matamoros and Reynosa continue to experience carjacking, express kidnappings, and kidnappings for ransom at an alarming rate.

Much of the crime is indiscriminate, with criminals generally selecting victims based on the appearance of vulnerability, prosperity, or inattentiveness. While U.S. citizens not involved in criminal activities may not be specifically targeted, innocent bystanders are at risk from the increased violence on the streets of border cities and nearby towns.

Violent crime (kidnappings, extortions, homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, residential break-ins) and non-violent crimes (financial scams, vehicle thefts, and petty drug crimes) continue to be serious concerns for those living or transiting Tamaulipas.

Theft of vehicle car sound systems is a common crime. The installation of a car alarm is strongly advised, as precaution to deter vehicle thefts and thefts of interior contents.

U.S. citizens should be cautious when using ATMs in Mexico. Cloning or counterfeiting debit/credit cards occurs routinely. Travelers are encouraged to plan their cash needs in advance, using only reputable ATMs in secure areas. Card “skimming” and double-charging are common types of electronic fraud. Use credit cards only when you are able to maintain physical control of the card; never let it be taken away by an employee. Travelers are advised to check their account activity online at least weekly to detect fraudulent charges early. It is advised that visitors on day trips use ATMs or exchange currency in the U.S. prior to crossing into Mexico. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Other Areas of Concern

The Department of State Travel Advisory for Mexico specifically urges U.S. citizens not to travel to the state of Tamaulipas due to crime. Violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault, is common. Gang activity, including gun battles, is widespread. Armed criminal groups target public and private passenger buses traveling through the state, often taking passengers hostage and demanding ransom payments. Local law enforcement has limited capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state. If travel cannot be deferred, travelers should exercise extreme caution.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico, as U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel to these areas. U.S. government employees are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when visiting the border region. U.S. government employees are also not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior parts of Mexico. Travel between Matamoros and cities along the border is conducted through the U.S., re-entering Mexico at the nearest port of entry. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from traveling overland into the interior of Mexico from the Texas border, except those instances that have been deemed mission-critical. All adult entertainment clubs and casinos in the consular district are off-limits to U.S. government personnel.

Travelers should defer unnecessary travel on highways between Matamoros and Reynosa, Reynosa and Monterrey, and from Ciudad Victoria to the Texas border. Criminals have followed, harassed, and kidnapped U.S. citizens traveling in these areas.

Official Americans living in Matamoros are under strict travel restrictions and a curfew from 2400-0600. These restrictions severely limit personal and work capabilities in a region plagued by endemic crime and violence levels similar to those experienced in conflict zones. Even with these restrictions, shoot-outs between TCOs and government security forces occur in areas where U.S. government employees are allowed to travel in Matamoro

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please 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, and roads and road conditions are below U.S. standards in general. The highways are generally well-maintained, but their isolation leaves travelers vulnerable to crime. All highway travelers should avoid travel at night, especially along highways connecting major cities. Use toll roads when possible, plan routes ahead of time, and notify family/friends of your itinerary. Travelers are advised to keep a cell phone on their person and to know how to reach friends and family in an emergency. Travelers should ensure they use road-worthy vehicles and maintain a full size spare tire.

Travelers on the highways between Tamaulipas and the U.S. have frequently been targeted for kidnapping and robbery. Travelers have also been caught in TCO roadblocks, and incidents of gunfire between criminals and Mexican law enforcement are normal. Several commercial companies have also reported being harassed or encountering checkpoints along rural highways along the border. There have been numerous carjackings and kidnappings along these major highways.

In an effort to prevent the military from responding to criminal activity, TCOs have set up roadblocks or “narco-blockades” in Matamoros, Reynosa, and Cuidad Victoria. At these blockades, armed gunmen have carjacked unsuspecting drivers (usually buses and commercial trucks) and used their vehicles to block-off roads or have spiked the road with tire-puncturing projectiles.

The Consulate advises U.S. citizens to give security convoys a wide berth, as the TCOs have been known to engage them without regard to civilian casualties. Travelers are advised to remain cautious and to identify potential “safe havens” if violence breaks out in their area. Maintaining communication with travelers to this area is critical in case of an emergency.

Continued concerns regarding road safety along the border have prompted the U.S. Embassy/Consulates to impose certain restrictions on U.S. government employees transiting the area. Since July 2010, Embassy/Consulate employees and their families have not been permitted to travel by vehicle to/from any Embassy/Consulate in Mexico.

Public Transportation Conditions

U.S. government personnel are prohibited from utilizing all forms of public transportation in the Matamoros Consular District.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Be prepared for U.S.-styled security screening and unpredictable wait times.

Other Travel Conditions

Special precautions should be taken during hurricane season for any maritime activity.   

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Matamoros as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There are no significant regional terrorism threats. However, the presence of the TCOs and the movement of large sums of money through the area have had a decaying influence on civil institutions, and corruption of police and rule of law officials remains the most serious concern. There is no evidence of transnational terrorists residing or transiting the region. However, the nature of the border and the ready access to both human smugglers and counterfeit documents continue to make this area a potential transit point for international terrorists.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Matamoros as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

American interests in the consular district are generally not targets of political violence. Corruption stemming from narco-trafficking remains and has affected service levels delivered by some state and local governments. Political violence against local Mexican politicians is common in the consular district. Mexican politicians are frequently coerced into cooperating with TCOs, possibly affecting U.S. interests in the region.

Civil Unrest 

Some small, peaceful demonstrations took place in/around Matamoros in 2017, including areas near the ports of entry (Veterans Bridge, Gateway Bridge) and the main plaza (Plaza Principal). Any protests may turn violent and should be avoided. 

Non-sectarian, agrarian interests have disputes and legal cases involving land, water, and other issues, but few have sparked violent episodes or the formation of groups responding with violence.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Hurricanes are common during June-November.

  • Hurricane Harvey skirted the coast near Matamoros, bringing tidal flooding and dangerous winds to the area in 2017.

Heavy rains can lead to localized flooding and also frequently lead to widespread power outages. Officials sometimes remove manhole covers to speed the evacuation of standing water. These areas are often not adequately marked and can lead to road hazards. Travelers moving during storms are advised to watch for poles with plastic garbage bags tied to them, as these are often the only warnings to motorists of a missing manhole cover.

Critical Infrastructure

Utility service can be unreliable in areas of Tamaulipas. The area was subject to several power outages due to adverse weather in 2017, and service was disrupted from an hour to a day in various sections of the state.   

Privacy Concerns

TCOs maintain a system of lookouts (halcones). Visitors can expect to be watched or even challenged about their business in the consular district. Be alert to possible surveillance. Note any individual who appears out of place along your routes. Avoid sitting outside at restaurants. Instead, try to find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.

If hiring domestic help, ensure that they are trained not to volunteer information to strangers or to allow access of workers without prior authorization. A vetting process should include background info and public documents (ID, license, etc.).

Drug-related Crimes

Mexico is well-known for its illegal drug trade and the violence/corruption fostered by the industry. Mexico is the primary route for illegal drugs into the U.S.

Kidnapping Threat

Express kidnappings are a common form of abduction and are based on the withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards industry-wide. The victim is generally held for 24-48 hours and is forced to withdraw funds from a series of ATMs. Official Americans have not been victimized by this type of crime recently, but some Mexican employees of the Consulate either have been victimized themselves or know a victim.

Government statistics for kidnappings in 2017 show Tamaulipas ranked first among states in Mexico for disappearances. More than 5,700 people have gone missing in the state since 2008, the highest number of disappearances in Mexico. This includes many dual U.S./Mexican nationals and Central American migrants. Many of them are victims of kidnappings or narco-related violence. In the rare event that a victim is released or has escaped, they have reported to authorities of being beaten, tortured, and abused.

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

Telephonic or “virtual” kidnapping is an increasing threat. Calls follow a similar methodology: the call includes a crying/pleading voice immediately after the call is answered but before the "kidnapper" gets on the phone. In this manner, criminals hope to confuse the victim and coerce him/her into giving away important information. Calls are planned for times when it is difficult to contact the purported kidnap victim (when a child is traveling to/from school). All calls demand money for the release of the loved one and stipulate no police involvement. Callers often give vague statements to suggest surveillance. Know the details of your family's travel and location and how to reach them.

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”

Police Response

Since the escalation in TCO violence began, the government has significantly increased the number of troops and federal police in the region in an effort to quell the violence. These numbers constantly change due to the security environment elsewhere in Mexico. Military and federal police frequently conduct patrols throughout the city.

There are no municipal police forces in Tamaulipas. They were disbanded years ago due to endemic corruption. Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is common. Generally, police receive low wages, are vulnerable to corruption, and receive less training than their U.S. counterparts. Police enjoy little respect from the general population. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to the sense of lawlessness. The general perception is that the majority of victims do not report crimes due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. The result is that most crimes go unreported or uninvestigated. Reporting crime can be a bureaucratic, time-consuming process, and is widely perceived to have limited effectiveness, except for the most serious of crimes or where a police report is required for insurance purposes. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged.

U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned. Travelers should not be expected to pay an officer directly for any traffic violations but should be prepared to report to the nearest Mexican Traffic Police office to pay a fine.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens who are detained or harassed by government forces may seek assistance at the Consulate. A duty officer is available 24-hours per day. It is particularly important to identify which agency was involved. A description of the vehicles and uniforms is helpful. Being able to accurately describe what occurred, the time, date, location, and which agency was involved will greatly enhance the Consulate’s ability to reach a satisfactory result from the complaint.

Crime Victim Assistance

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.

The police emergency telephone number is 911 throughout Mexico, though response time varies.

Police/Security Agencies

A state police force (Fuerza Tamaulipas) began deploying to Matamoros in late 2014 but has faced serious recruitment and retention deficits. The force is estimated at one-third the size needed to police the state.

The Mexican Army (SEDENA) and the Mexican Marines (SEMAR) combat organized crime across Mexico. The military operates checkpoints at the ports of entry and patrols throughout the city providing basic security functions. 

Medical Emergencies

The health system is not directly comparable to U.S. health care standards.

Travelers can contact private ambulance services who charge a fee. Life Ambulance Service: 011-52-868-812-3049.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Air ambulance services include: AEA International, (800) 752-4195.

Insurance Guidance

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

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Food and potable water standards are different than those of the U.S. One should take precautions with regard to drinking water, eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Rio Grande Valley Country Council is active. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere Team with any questions.

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information:

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

Consulate General Matamoros

Calle Primera 2002

Matamoros, Mexico

Consulate Contact Numbers

Country code: 52

Matamoros area code: 868

Telephone - 812-4402

Switchboard Operator:

In Mexico- (01-55) 5080-2000 or International- 011-52-55-5080-2000

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

Nearby Posts

Embassy Mexico City: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/embassy/

Consulate Ciudad Juárez: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/ciudad-juarez/

Consulate Guadalajara: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/guadalajara/

Consulate Hermosillo: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/hermosillo/

Consulate Mérida: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/merida/

Consulate Monterrey: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/monterrey/

Consulate Nogales: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/nogales-2/

Consulate Nuevo Laredo: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/nuevo-laredo/

Consulate Tijuana: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/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. While Consular Officers will do their utmost to assist Americans in a crisis, travelers should always be aware that local authorities bear primary responsibility for the welfare of people living or traveling in their jurisdictions.

Additional Resources

Mexico Country Information Sheet