Social Networks

Social media and the 'narcos' in Mexico

In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Mexico was at risk of becoming a failed state. Some criticised her for that but now one can safely argue that what she warned about has come to pass, with paramilitary groups having taken matters in their own hands. The state has failed to protect its own people and narcos – participants in the illegal drugs trade – last month shot down a police helicopter, an action one finds in war. On the eve of his re-election after Sunday’s poll, critics of the President of Mexico say he tries to ignore the problem and focus on the economy instead. Enrique Peña Nieto does not get involved except in the rare situation such as when protesters set fire to his front door last year, trying to gain his attention, they say.

All of this plays out on social media where anonymous persons have set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to crowdsource narco news and warn of trouble in the streets, like missing persons and what roads to avoid. These writers have to be anonymous because cartels have killed bloggers. Because of threats to the traditional media there is effectively a news blackout in many areas so social media plays an important role in keeping the people informed.

Consider the case of Valor Por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaupilas, a state in Mexico). The cartels had offered an award to anyone who could identify the administrator of this Facebook site which broadcast news about the security situation issuing #SDR Situación de Riesgo (Risk Reports). The anonymous administrator, whose site has 600,000 followers, stepped down after four years in 2014, saying he was retiring but cartels tracked down his co-editor María del Rosario Fuentes Rubioe. They murdered her and put pictures of her dead body on her Twitter site.

Yet, Valor Por Tamaulipas lives on.  

Looking there, you can see there is a hashtag for every situation with “SDR” plus the name of the town so that people living there can filter results. For example, here are a few posts for #SDRTampoco.

“Someone called from the number 722 638 1697 saying that they could have kidnapped my family and that I should be careful.”

 Another one says:

“We heard two bursts of automatic gunfire in the hills of the North Zone of Cruz Roja.”

Another shows photos of banners narcos have put up with proclamations. The print is too small to read. Finally there is a portrait of a missing person.

In Michoacán, last year, paramilitary groups (that is, citizen militia) stepped into the void left by the absence of any honest leadership and took over the mayoralty of towns in the regions and set up roadblocks. They decided to fight back against the Knights Templar cartel who were extorting businesses. In a rare victory, the paramilitaries won and sent the Knights Templar into hiding. Only when their control over the area was complete did the Federal Police step in. Then they told the paramilitaries to put down their guns. They refused so the Mexican government made them deputies, a tenuous relationship that continues. 

They leave off the #SDR and simply issue Risk Reports using the town names like #‎Yurecuaro. The first item of news there today is the assassination of the leader who founded the same paramilitary group.  He had been running for mayor. 

In Michoacán, the Associated Press reported that “42 suspected gang gunmen and one policemen were killed” at the Rancho del Sol as the Federal Police went in pursuit of members of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, the gang that had brought down the helicopter. International media picked up the API report which now appears to be inaccurate. Messages on Facebook and Twitter from eyewitnesses and reporting from Mexican traditional media say that of the 43 people killed, 42 were civilians. Now a human rights investigation has been opened. You can see a video of some of the fighting here on YouTube recorded by a Federal Policeman.

Another social media outlet in Michoacán is Grillonautas2.  Much of what is posted there points to their rather professional looking YouTube videos. The About page says, “We are a group of citizens who have the moral responsibility to broadcast information with a sense of ethics, truth, without censorship in a society that is not well informed, is manipulated, is not totally free, and is condemned to the slavery of ignorance.” One video declares “Michoacan is at War” and shows a representative in the state assembly of Michoacán explaining why.

One of the older narco-news sites, simply called the Narco Blog, (and its associated Facebook page) covers news about which gangsters have been arrested.

While cartel members are trying to hunt down anonymous Tweeters, the cartels themselves do not hide from social media. Some even have their own pages although a number of these accounts have been suspended by Twitter and Facebook. But that is not the case for Claudia Felix Ochoa who, before she allegedly assumed the leadership of the Anthrax mafia, took lessons in modelling. The Anthrax mafia act as sicarios (hired killers) for the Sinaloa cartel. You can see her Facebook account here where, in addition to dozens of selfies, you can see one photo of her firing a machine gun.

The leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was captured last year and extradited to Mexico. The Excelsior news website says that the Twitter account of his son Alfredo e Iván Archivaldo Guzmán is located here. Alfredo has 66,000 followers. Take a look and you can see photos of a gold-plated machine gun and lots of luxury cars. Many of the faces on the Twitter site are faded out for obvious reasons.

While the Americans crow about having finally captured El Chapo, their most elusive prey, not much has changed on the ground. Those in America who continue to characterise this as a Drugs War miss the point as the cartels have moved far beyond heroin and cocaine. Their business now includes extortion, kidnapping, and even exporting iron ore. Instead of a War on Drugs, the situation in Mexico is more like the history of Italy. There Mussolini almost succeeded in killing off the mafia, until the Italians killed him off instead. The revolt against the system of patronage and threats that kept the mafia in power took more than 100 years to unfold. Could it take that long in Mexico?  Follow the narco news on Facebook and Twitter if they want to stay informed.


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Walker Rowe

Walker Rowe is a US citizen living and working in Santiago, Chile. There he edits the online magazine SouthernPacificReview.com and writes the blog "The Avocado Republic" about life in rural Chile.

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