Mexicans Turn to Social Media to Document Narco Violence

Psychosis en el Pueblo”
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An explosion of violence has occurred in the state of Tamaulipas in the last few weeks, and also around the city of Monterrey in Nuevo Leon. From what I hear from friends and family in Mexico is that both the Mexican and U.S. press are only reporting a fraction of what is happening.

Mexican journalists are being tortured, killed and kidnapped along the border to the point where much of the news about narco violence goes unreported.

The Committee to Protect Journalists yesterday demanded that the Mexican government investigate kidnappings and killings of journalists covering the cartel violence in Reynosa just across the border from McAllen, according to a San Antonio Express-News report Monday.

Increasingly, Mexicans are turning to Twitter, Facebook and online chat forums to document the violence erupting around them. Mexicans have distrusted the media for decades since it has a long history of being co-opted by the government which hands out mordidas “bribes” like candy. (The brave and trustworthy reporters who do exist and do an admirable job are being killed, or threatened with death). Mexicans also don’t trust their government to release reliable information. Often they don’t release any information on the gun battles between cartels and the military anyway.

Increasingly, Mexicans are circumventing the old modes of information and relying on the Internet. The other day I received a mass email from a friend in Durango asking that others in Mexico join her in documenting the violence around them with cameras and putting it online.

“An ignorant people is a people condemned to failure,” my friend wrote. “We use the computer to entertain ourselves with silly things but we can also create citizen networks like they created so many years ago in Colombia, only in Internet form.”

To give an idea of how profoundly social media is shaping the psyche of Mexicans, I canceled a trip to Matamoros two weeks ago because a viral email was circulating there that gunfights were going to erupt between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel that day. People in Matamoros were staying home, keeping their children out of school and not going out.  I felt like a real wimp for not going, but the paranoia was starting to overtake me as well. Why go, if I didn’t need to?, said a nagging little voice in my head. And so I succumbed to the “Psychosis en el Pueblo.”

Grupo Reforma, a chain of newspapers in Mexico, has started chat forums for different Mexican states along the border to give citizens an outlet. Grupo Reforma writes at the top of the forum:

“With the increase in violence in border cities there has been a flood of rumors of gunfights with little information from the authorities. This has created a psychosis among the people. What is reality?”

Good question. What in the hell is going on in Mexico? On February 28, a pretty extraordinary post was uploaded to the Reforma site. Who knows if it is real or not, but it has gone viral in Mexico.

Apparently, the post is from the “The New Federation.” In the post it says the cartels have banded together to stamp out los Zetas and “bring tranquility back to the people.”

The Zetas are former U.S trained government special forces that went into the drug business a few years back. Their territory is around Reynosa and Matamoros, across from Brownsville and McAllen. They’ve split form the Gulf Cartel and hence the gun battles that have erupted in the past month.

Things have been especially awful in Reynosa, across from McAllen. The post says that the turning point for the formation of the cartels against the Zetas was the brutal killing of the teenagers in Juarez in January.

“The water that broke the dam for society was the death of the children at the party in Juarez,” they
write.

They then direct people from Reynosa to keep their children out of school and to not go out into the streets until further notice.

They tell people in Monterrey to go about there business and to not get too paranoid.

“El Chapito, CDG y la familia in this agreement  are going to respect the plazas, they are not going to charge more fees and they are going to prohibit the kidnappings,” the New Federation writes.

They also write that the media is remaining quiet as part of the agreement.   Then they give a tip of the hat to Reforma for its chat forum “We give applause to Grupo Reforma for this space. There is no other, this is the only form.”

Apparently, the media that is not remaining quiet in Reynosa is being kidnapped or killed?

Members of each cartel are marking their trucks so that everyone knows who they are. Friends tell me it’s not uncommon these days to see  a line of SUVs filled with masked men with Ak-47s driving down the street. No one knows who they are or who they work for.

What will happen next? Chances are Mexicans won’t tune into their radios or turn on the TV to find out. Instead they’ll turn on their computer and start looking for answers.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.