Breitbart Texas traveled to the Mexican States of Tamaulipas and Coahuila to recruit citizen journalists willing to risk their lives and expose the cartels silencing their communities. The writers would face certain death at the hands of the various cartels that operate in those areas including the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas if a pseudonym were not used. Breitbart Texas’ Cartel Chronicles are published in both English and in their original Spanish. This article was written by Reynosa’s “AC Del Angel”.
REYNOSA, Tamaulipas — A former Gulf Cartel assassin and survivor of Mexico’s prison system shared his story from Reynosa’s prison–a place where power is earned through blood and fire. There the true power remains in the hands of the inmates. The former cartel assassin is known by the name “Betillo.”
“The prison is guarded by soldiers, but the inside belongs to the Gulf Cartel, Betillo said. The former hit-man arrived to the prison for the third time in 2008 for a car theft. That was when he and his wife were arrested with a stolen pickup at a checkpoint. That event led to a drastic change in his life.
In 2008, tension was beginning to build up between the two main criminal syndicates in Tamaulipas. The Los Zetas cartel had begun to operate independent of their former masters in the Gulf Cartel. The first real clash between the two cartels in fact took place at the Reynosa prison. This clash turned into a great massacre where, according to Betillo and other inmates, the death toll was hundreds of murdered inmates. The official death toll, as reported by the Tamaulipas government, was of only 21 inmates dead, yet as Betillo claimed, what actually happened is very different and more tragic than the official version.
According to the former cartel enforcer, the prison was divided into two factions. They were divided according to their criminal affiliation: the ones from “the letter” (Los Zetas) and “Del Golfo” (Gulf Cartel) since the two factions had already become very polarized. The control of the prison would be achieved that day by blood. It was on October 20, 2008 when, according to Betillo, the gunmen inside the prison received weapons from the outside. Under the command of a man known as “La Martina” from Matamoros, they began to exterminate their rivals. In order to carry out the massacre, the Gulf Cartel hit-men had the help of prison guards and other prison officials from the CERESO (Mexican state prisons).
The Gulf Cartel group gathered its forces and just after midnight they made their way to the Los Zetas side of the prison. Using AK-47’s, they began to shoot at their rivals who were locked inside their cells. Once the cells were opened, the prison turned into a battlefield.
“To survive we had to get out, fight the hordes of people and mix in with the rest of the prison population, staying inside the cells was a guaranteed death,” Betillo said.
The former hit-man stated that he was part of a small group that tried to find a way out, using notebooks and books tied around their bodies to cover their vital areas and using makeshift shanks tied around thief wrists, to not loose their only weapon, they fought their way out.
They made their way out by attacking anyone that came at them. Despite the makeshift armor the group had multiple cuts and slashes, however, none were life threatening. When attacking with their shanks, the inmates aimed for the neck area as to cut into the jugular of their rivals.
Amid the bloodbath, he began to see the landscape as blood and bodies littered the area and the bodies of the fallen were gathered and set on fire even while some of them were still alive.
Betillo said that when the bloodbath ended, hundreds of bodies were burned at the prison’s dumpster. The official number of dead as the government claimed was in fact only but a fraction of the real death toll from that fateful day which put many families from Reynosa and the surrounding communities in mourning.
From the 80 inmates in Betillo’s pod, only 10 managed to survive, it was the ones that rallied up and fought their way out.
“You didn’t have to be from the ‘Letra’,” Betillo said. “Just by being in that area you were the enemy, many people who had nothing to do with drug trafficking died.”
After that fateful massacre, Betillo’s life changed. The man went from being a lowly car thief to being someone that had the respect of cartel members inside the jail. He learned that taking the side with power was the key to his survival.
Betillo climbed his way within the Gulf Cartel and earned the trust of the cartel bosses in the prison. He became a “debt collector” of sorts by delivering beatings to those inmates whose families had not paid their “fee” or extortion money in order to keep their loved one safe.
By 2010 the battles between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas had become a full scale gun-battles. Those arrested by military forces were sent to the Reynosa prison where upon arrival they were “labelled” depending their criminal affiliation. Being a member of “La Letra” in Reynosa was a guaranteed death sentence. This practice resulted in a spike in “prison scuffles” as well as a spike in “suicides” at the prison. It was during this time that Betillo climbed once again. Now he was in charge of welcoming inmates who were part of “La Letra” and killing them.
“I killed I think about 35 during the time I was there,” Betillo said smiling with more pride than regret as he waved his hand mimicking the shanking of a victim.
The same pattern took place throughout the prisons in Tamaulipas as riots were in fact fights between the two cartels. Being a prisoner in Tamaulipas during this time was almost a sure death even if you were not involved in organized crime. Betillo kept climbing as a cartel executioner and soon he had a group of hit-men under his command to hunt down and kill Zetas inside the jail.
During the massive “riots,” which were in fact mass executions, the hit-men left two survivors who were told to take the blame for the riots. The survivors were threatened with a guaranteed death not only for them but also for their families if they did not follow along with the ruse. During the questioning by investigators, the hit-men would walk the inmates to the interrogation room. “You f–k it up and as soon as you come back you are dead,” that was the last thing they heard, Betillo said recalling how they were able to remain blame free for all the murders.
Once each particular cartel began to take over a prison, they began to stage mass escapes in order to bolster the ranks of their particular cartel.
Now that he is out of prison, Betillo was surprised to learn that the majority of the Gulf Cartel bosses that he knew have either been killed or captured. Now that he is free, he talked at length about the late bosses who were his customers when he used to steal cars, one by one Betillo recalled the former leadership of the Gulf Cartel as well as anecdotes about them.
Now that he is free, Betillo has a recommendation letter of sorts to join the Gulf Cartel out of the prison with a good rank. “Maybe Ill be an estaca”, he said.
Estaca is the term used to describe the hit-men who protect the cartel bosses, carry out kidnappings and also carry out their executions.
The last job that Betillo had at the prison before his release was to interrogate inmates.
“There is an area called ‘the 25’ up there we took the inmates tied up and strung them by their feet, we would leave them there a day or two so soften them up,” he said.
When it was Betillo’s turn to be released he had his doubts as to if he wanted to be outside or inside the prison, however, now he knows his answer.
“Even if I die all shot up, I know I’m never going back in,” Betillo said.