How Scorpion Group’s José Alberto García Vilano, AKA La Kena, and his family rule the Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas

Familial ties shape Gulf Cartel's power dynamics, with key members orchestrating operations in Tamaulipas amid escalating competition.

As the ebb and flow of power shifts within Mexico’s criminal underworld, the Gulf Cartel, touted as the country’s most longstanding crime syndicate, has undergone significant transformation. The crux of this metamorphosis? The undeniable power of familial ties in perpetuating and expanding their criminal empire.

Longstanding leaders have fallen, and internal rifts have appeared, but through it all, the strength of family bonds has kept the cartel’s operations robust. The Gulf Cartel, now a mosaic of various factions, sees the Grupo Escorpión as one of its most dominant cells, wielding control over the border city of Matamoros in Tamaulipas.

José Alberto García Vilano, widely known by his aliases “La Kena” or “Ciclón 19”, has emerged as the commanding presence of this cell. Intelligence garnered from both Mexican and U.S. sources corroborates this. Tamaulipas’s Attorney General’s Office has painted a target on his back, offering a hefty reward of up to 2.5 million pesos for intel that could lead to his apprehension. The reason? “La Kena” is a primary catalyst for the escalating violence in the region.

The FGJ of Tamaulipas is offering two and a half million pesos for information on the whereabouts of "La Kena." (FGJ Tamaulipas)
The FGJ of Tamaulipas is offering two and a half million pesos for information on the whereabouts of “La Kena.” (FGJ Tamaulipas)

Familial Threads in the Criminal Web

But “La Kena” isn’t navigating these treacherous waters alone. Several of his kin have been the wind beneath his wings, orchestrating various operations for the Scorpion Group. Investigations reveal that no less than four of “La Kena’s” relatives are deeply entrenched in the illicit affairs of Grupo Escorpión.

Among these is Nereyda Landaverde Vilano, or “La Nere,” identified as “La Kena’s” half-sister and a reputed key player in the Matamoros-based crime cell. Documents leaked from the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) suggest she has her fingers in the city’s food businesses, using them as a front for illicit gains.

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The nephew and half-sister of "La Kena" are allegedly involved in Grupo Escorpión's activities (Twitter/@narcoguerramx).
The nephew and half-sister of “La Kena” are allegedly involved in Grupo Escorpión’s activities (Twitter/@narcoguerramx).

Adding to this family affair, “La Nere’s” son and “La Kena’s” nephew, Juan Enrique Ávalos Landaverde, also known as “La Pingua” or “Escorpión 18”, is touted as one of García Vilano’s chief lieutenants, having the Matamoros plaza under his jurisdiction.

Further tightening the family web, brothers Dario and “More” Rodriguez Vilano, believed to be “La Kena’s” cousins, have been cited in multiple reports. Their alleged crimes? Orchestrating drug shipments to the U.S. and overseeing financial maneuvers for the group’s benefit.

Familial Alliances in a Fragmented Landscape

In conjunction with other criminal families, notably the progeny of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, Grupo Escorpión aims to retain its dominion over Tamaulipas’s border. They face stiff competition from other Gulf Cartel offshoots, such as Los Metros. The latter, interestingly, has found allies in the formidable Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG).

The intricate web of familial ties and alliances underscores the complex, ever-evolving landscape of Mexico’s criminal factions. And as these dynamics shift, the significance of family in sustaining and bolstering criminal operations remains a constant.