A highly troubling development in Mexico due to the war between the government and the drug cartels in recent years, has been the violence affecting journalists throughout the country. According to reports, the cartels have murdered at least 55 journalists between 2000 and 2012 (other official reports put the number at 81) and have harassed numerous others, including editors and other newspaper staff, or threatened them to the point that some chose to flee the country. In some cities, the violence against journalists seems to have reached a tipping point. Editors have published open letters to the cartels where they asked which occurrences they could report on without triggering further violence against their employees. For example, in September 2010, the daily El Diario de Juarez, published a front-page editorial addressing the cartels, simply asking “What do you want from us?” after a number of their staff were murdered. This is a troubling development that shows the dire situation of the state of the press and freedom of speech in Mexico today.
To partially fill in the void caused by the difficulties of sustaining a free and independent press, a critical development in Mexico has been the emergence of an increased number of blogs, online fora and other forms of social media used by e-citizen journalists. The individuals running them have attempted to fill in a journalistic black hole by reporting on the operations of various cartels, particularly the Zetas and the Sinaloa. Among the popular blogs reporting on these developments are Nota Roja, Mundo Narco and El Blog del Narco, which constantly post videos of operations carried out by the cartels.
Nevertheless, it is important to mention that there are suspicions that some of these blogs may have been coerced by cartels that are now using the internet to report on their operations. A researcher interviewed by the author for this analysis, and who is an expert on Mexican cartels, explained that “the posts from narcos usually identify themselves as such and have the words ‘exclusivo’ or something to that effect.” This does not necessarily mean that a blog may be controlled by the narcos, but that they may have chosen to publicly advertise a particular operation and decided to go down the “plata o plomo” [silver or lead] route to reach a wider audience. “The bloggers must know the rules of the game regarding what you can post,” the Mexico expert mused, or they could find themselves in deadly jeopardy. Unfortunately, this has already happened.
It seems clear that the cartel-related violence has also affected amateur internet journalists, with tragic consequences. In September 2011, two individuals (a man and a woman), were found hanging from a bridge in the state of Tamaulipas, with their eyes and fingers missing. According to CNN Mexico, the two had reported on cartel operations through social media, the likely reason for their murder. A sign was found on the bodies threatening people who used the internet to report on organized crime. Two months later, in November 2011, the body of a moderator, an individual known as El Rascatripas, was found decapitated at the foot of a statue of Christopher Columbus in Nuevo Laredo. The body had a sign that read: “I’m Rascatripas and this happened to me for failing to understand that I should not report things on social media websites.”
As such, it is important to highlight that bloggers reporting on either criminal organizations or even their respective government may now be in peril, and not just in Mexico. In Brazil a bizarre case occurred in December 2011, with the apparent suicide of Alexander Hamilton, a blogger known as “Mosquito.” Mosquito had allegedly received several threats, especially after he reported “a rape case in Florianopolis, capital of Santa Catarina, which involved the son of a director (Sergio Sirotsky) of RBS, a leading media company linked to Rede Globo in the region, and a 13 –year-old girl, in June 2010.” His family and friends do not believe that he took his own life.
As is the case with the murder of other individuals (of which there are plenty of unsolved, open cases), the Mexican authorities have proven generally incapable of finding the perpetrators of the assassinations of bloggers and other e-reporters attempting to report on the country’s internal war. As a consequence, some of the media outlets’ staff either flee or, essentially give up independent, objective journalism to give in to the cartels’ wishes in the hope to be left to live in peace. The coercion of traditional media has, sadly, only increased the need for e-reporters on blogs
It is a very tragic and disconcerting development when a country’s situation becomes so dire that there is a need for normal citizens to take over the responsibilities of a sector of society. Other Latin American countries have faced major levels of violence against journalists during high periods of violence, e.g. Colombia during the 1980s, when, besides the guerrilla movements such as the FARC and ELN, other major drug crime groups like the Cali and Medellin cartels ravaged the country. During this violent era in particular, the journalist corps were one of their targets, either via assassination, intimidation or bribery.
Despite Latin America’s recent violent history, the developments that we are witnessing in Mexico are alarming, particularly regarding the safety and professionalism of its journalist corps. Unfortunately, just as local authorities have not been able to protect the staff of the traditional, criminal organizations like the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels have managed to track down bloggers and other e-journalists, making targets out of them as well. These individuals have paid dearly for reporting on stories that drug cartels did not want to have reported. Unless, of course, such operations are reported in the exact manner these criminal groups want them to be, either via cartel-friendly journalists or by coercing themselves into the narco-blogs. The Mexican internal war has certainly spiraled into the internet realm.