Mexico: Bloggere risikerer livet for å dokumentere krig mot narkotika
We will tell you as much as we can about why we chose to create and maintain Blog del Narco without revealing any identifying information about ourselves. When we began this blog, we knew we’d receive death threats, but recently, they’ve become more serious.
Shortly before we completed this book, two people – a young man and woman who worked with us – were disemboweled and hung off a bridge in Tamaulipas, a state in the north of Mexico. Large handwritten signs, known as narcobanners, next to their bodies mentioned our blog, and stated that this was what happened to internet snitches. The message concluded with a warning that we were next.
A few days later, they executed another journalist in Tamaulipas who regularly sent us information. The assassins left keyboards, a mouse, and other computer parts strewn across her body, as well as a sign that mentioned our blog again.
However, we refuse to be intimidated. Until writing this, we have never confirmed that we knew these people, so as not to let the narcoterrorists think we are scared or influenced in any way by their threats. We would never give criminals that satisfaction.
Yet the attacks continue. In the last four days, they’ve sent us photos of nine people, dead, with messages on their skin that read: «You’re next, BDN.»
So why do we refuse to stop?
Because we want a better Mexico. We want this nightmare to end for the decent and hard-working people here. A lot of things have been said of Mexicans, but most of us are simply poor people who break our backs working. We leave our homes at five in the morning and don’t come back until midnight. Instead of hoping to grow and prosper so our families can have better lives, all we want is to make it home alive. And that’s heartbreaking. The war against drug cartels and the resulting battles over drug-trafficking routes to the United States, once fought almost solely among cartel members, has destroyed the lives of millions of innocent men, women, and children.
The decision to start the blog emerged out of a chance conversation between a computer scientist and a young journalist in early 2010. We began talking about politics, and soon turned to the irresponsibility of officeholders who were silencing and spinning the news about Mexico’s drug war. So many of our friends were telling us they were taking trips to the beaches of Mazatlán in Sinaloa on the Pacific ocean for their vacation or to Tamaulipas on the Atlantic coast, completely unaware of the danger and the risk. Meanwhile, those who’d seen the horror firsthand had no place to share their stories and tell others about what was happening.
In talking, we discovered that, between the two of us, we’d been carjacked, robbed, and tortured. Our uncles, fathers, and loved ones, none of them involved with drugs or the cartels, had been kidnapped. These extortions decimated our families both emotionally and financially, and not all of our loved ones made it back alive. Even a four-year-old relative came back from preschool one day and said: «Hey, there was a shootout today. Bad guys were shooting at each other. Then some men came into my classroom and said we should stay quiet, and everyone cried.»
These things were happening to so many people we knew. It infuriated us as victims, as Mexicans, and as human beings. So we finally said: «Hey, why don’t we do this? We have the two things we need: one of us is great with computers and the other has experience gathering information. Why stay quiet?»
It was time to leave our indifference behind, to yank open a window and enable citizens, with no shades or blinds, to observe the harsh reality around them.
From the beginning, we knew that we couldn’t share our activities with family or friends, lest we put them at risk. Secretly, we began to invest time and money in the blog, without expecting any financial reward in return. We just wanted to post unfiltered, uncensored news about the government’s war with the narcogangsters, about the shootouts, decapitations, and other bloody acts taking place on a daily basis.
These were events that print journalists and TV news anchors in Mexico should have been reporting to citizens, but their voices had largely been silenced. Unable to manage the cartels, politicians were finding it much easier to manage the local and national media. Because of censorship, threats and assassinations, publishers, editors, writers, journalists, cameramen, news anchors, and anyone involved in mainstream media were downplaying the crisis engulfing their nation.
As a journalist, you couldn’t say that two children – eight and 10 years old – had been executed and found in a box, because it wasn’t allowed. Potentially lifesaving news reports warning citizens to stay out of areas where shootouts, carjackings, and blockades were occurring were rare. But these things continued to happen. Meanwhile, politicians’ promises of safety for their constituents failed to crystallize into results, and people felt frustrated and impotent amid the surging terror.
Not only were government officials in bed with the media; so were the drug cartels. Unscrupulous reporters referred to drug kingpins as businessmen, giving new meaning to the noun. Why would renowned journalists use such a legitimizing word? The answer was simple: gifts from high-end shops regularly showed up on their doorsteps.
Mounting distrust of traditional media – now enslaved by two masters, politicians and traffickers – brought people by the thousands to Blog del Narco. The promise of anonymity spurred people from all walks of life to send us eyewitness accounts of atrocities, as well as pictures snapped on their mobile phones, so that we could circulate material unavailable elsewhere. We received information from soldiers, police officers, mothers, businessmen, students, workers, journalists, even cartel gunmen.
As this steady flow of exclusive news strengthened the bond of trust with our audience, it strengthened the vitriol of our enemies. These people were not seeking to establish a dialogue; they wanted to kill us. These are individuals accustomed to getting rid of any problem that annoys them. And we had become the problem. With this blog, we had signed our own death warrants.
The site suffered hundreds of cyberattacks, and our in-box began to receive more and more threats from traffickers, various authorities, and other detractors. Even Google México, directly after hosting an «Ask the President» chat, blocked our site on their Blogger network.
So each day we were forced to dedicate more hours to keeping the site online and fed with information. It had become as demanding as a child, leaving no time for personal relationships. At the same time, we were forced to take greater measures to protect ourselves. We changed phone numbers, moved, and distanced ourselves from friends and family. We planned our days carefully and avoided any type of routine, which, if detected, could have meant our demise. When you’re an outgoing person, it’s hard to keep secrets from members of your social circle, but the support and contributions of our readers reaffirmed our commitment to forge ahead.
Then came defamation. Most of the Mexican media shunned us. Some reporters spread lies that DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) wrote Blog del Narco; others that they bankrolled the site. We have never favored or opposed any criminal group; we’ve simply told the truth to the best of our abilities. Although we had no target audience other than the Mexican people, over time international security firms, governments of other countries, and nongovernmental organizations began monitoring Blog del Narco.
We’ve even been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for the blog by the Mexican media, but have refused to sell it because we believe they want to buy it for a reason. And that reason is not to keep people informed.
Along the way, we’ve received criticism for the graphic and jolting photographs and videos featured in Blog del Narco. However, we never publish images for the shock value. Because the cartels recruit their sicarios (or gunmen) in one state, then transport them to a distant location to prevent family members from knowing if and when they have been killed, publishing the faces of unidentified victims enhanced the possibility that loved ones might recognize and claim the body. This is particularly important since corpses deteriorate rapidly in most morgues, and are then quickly deposited in mass graves.
The other reason we published the photos and videos was to show the undistorted reality of the situation, and put a halt to the glamorization of drug kingpins by Mexican children, young adults, and the entertainment industry. Fantasies of money and luxury obtained by entering the underworld have made impressionable teenagers easy targets for recruitment by drug syndicates. Cartel bosses have even sent us photographs of themselves partying with pop stars and living glamorously; these we’ve refused to publish.
Fortunately, these decisions have yielded positive results. We receive daily emails from people saying they stopped selling drugs because they didn’t want their relatives to see them decapitated on our blog, or they didn’t want their nine-month-old baby to be killed (which recently happened in the state of Veracruz). Meanwhile, citizens tell us that they are now forming their own opinions about the drug war, rather than accepting the standard government story, and making efforts to stay safe and move out of dangerous areas.
In other blogposts, we’ve discovered corruption cases, including some documented on video that the authorities tried to sweep under the carpet. By exposing them to millions of citizens, who then demanded action from men and women in positions of public trust, officials who had previously avoided accountability were forced to respond.
In 2012, Blog del Narco recorded an average of 25 million monthly hits and was ranked among the 100 most-visited websites in Mexico by Alexa’s search rankings, and in the top 4000 for the world. In the process, our workload tripled, as did the danger. We hope to be alive long enough to hold this book in our hands. It’s very hard to write that we may have been killed by the time you read this. Our voices are shaking as we talk about it. But it’s our reality. And we’d prefer to end our lives this way rather than live with the knowledge that we didn’t do anything at all for our country.
If we are not here tomorrow or next week or next month, please spread the message that we should not fear those in power. We are Mexico, we are good, and there are more of us.