Monday, December 05, 2011


In a case of the real world spilling over into the cyber world and then back again, it seems that women journalists who have utilized the internet are being tracked, threatened and murdered by the drug cartels in Mexico (If you are in Mexico, maybe it would be best for your help to move on quickly now).  

The violence against women journalists is just one more addition to the violence against women in general that has rocked Mexico in recent years and sees no sign of abating.  It is also worth noting that it isn't only the cartels that are targeting women, and it isn't only against women that violence is taking place.  The State is a prime actor in the overall game as well.

All that said, the cartels have taken a new tact by literally tracking twitter, facebook, and other other on line sources to see who is reading or writing what and then taking action to shut up the writers, and scare off the readers.  The tactic is not without success either.  For example, almost no newspapers in Mexico reported any of this.  The State hasn't done anything to take this on either.  My guess is that the State sort of likes the idea.

So expect this crap to continue.

The following is from the Women News Network.

MEXICO: Drug cartel targets woman journalist through online social media

Cynthia Arvide – WNN Features
Mexican journalist María Elisabeth Macías Castro
Mexican journalist María Elisabeth Macías Castro
(WNN) MEXICO CITY: In less than two months, two women journalists who covered drug-related violence have been killed in Mexico. Yolanda Ordaz a reporter for the Vera Cruz coastal newspaper “Notiver” and more recently, thirty-nine-year-old María Elisabeth Macías Castro, a reporter for the regional newspaper “Primera Hora”, based in the town of Nuevo Laredo located in northern Mexico close to the U.S./Texas border.
Macías murder is considered the first documented case in Mexico where the murder is thought to be a direct retaliation for journalism that was specifically posted using online social media. She was also an active Twitter user and was in favor of using social media to post helpful information for society related to organized crime.
Her violent early morning murder came with a cryptic well-placed message: “…For those who do not want to believe, this happened to me for my actions, for trusting ‘Sedena’ (Mexico’s Army) and ‘Marina’ (Mexico’s Navy). Thank you for your attention. Sincerely, ‘La Nena de Laredo’ (Elisabeth Macías’ name online)… ZZZZ”. The signature with the letter ‘Z’ suggests a strong link to the notorious criminal cartel named ‘Los Zetas’.
Los Zetas has been known as one of the most active cartels in Mexico. The cartel’s headquarters is the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Working as a paramilitary arm of its present drug war rival ‘the Gulf Cartel’ in the 1990s, Los Zetas managed military-like operations. The crime ring is considered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration today to be one of the most  dangerous armed cartels in Mexico.
When seasoned crime reporter thirty-two-year-old María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe completely disappeared on November 2009, she was in the process of writing about local police corruption and about the activities of two members of the another active Mexican crime organization called ‘La Familia’. Aguilar vanished from her home in Zamora in south-western Mexico without a trace. Today she continues to be missing.
Violence against women journalists in Mexico’s cartel corners mirrors the violence against women in other locations in Mexico that are also controlled by corrupt forces, such as the hundreds of women who have disappeared or were found missing in the border town of Juarez. The ongoing violence against Mexico’s press is another action of intimidation that is the most dangerous in areas where cartels have more control.
“Violence against the press has swept the nation and destroyed Mexicans’ right to freedom of expression”, says CPJ – Committee to Protect Journalists in special 2010 report on violence against journalists in Mexico. “This national crisis demands a full-scale federal response”.
In regions where cartel violence is high the fear is tangible for those trying to get information out online and in-print about the drug cartels.
“With most of the police here you don’t know who you’re talking to—a detective or a representative of organized
crime”, said Aguilar’s husband and former police chief David Silva.
With cartels now carefully watching internet forums, blog posts and twitter tweets, all journalists and bloggers are in increased danger as they are monitored and identified as online targets. The recent murder of journalist Elisabeth Macías is a case in point.
“The fight for territorial control of the border zone is also waged in a new battleground: the internet and its social media”, says the new November 2011 Social Media Manifesto Against Mexican Drug Cartels by a group which calls themselves ‘the Mexican Internet Community’.
“We the twitterers and hashtag users of Northeastern Mexico (#reynosafollow, #nuevolaredo, #matamoros, #tamaulipas, #mier, and others who) released this manifesto in response to the murder of our companion, a social media user attacked by a group of drug traffickers, that occurred early this morning in the city of Nuevo Laredo, in the state of Tamaulipas,” continued the Manifesto.
“We repudiate and condemn this criminal act that has provoked a state of terror, and we demand justice in the face of the national silence it is meant to impose, and the stage of amnesia and impunity it portends. This murder is the fourth against twitterers and bloggers that has occurred in less than two months”, added the Mexico Internet Community.
As the news of Macías murder spread throughout the internet, UNESCO condemned the assassination of Macías and demanded “urgent measures to stop the violence against journalists in Mexico”.
“…in practice, there is no efficient defense, investigation or preventing measures. We live in an absolute state of anarchy, of save-yourself, where the journalist has no option but to self-censor”, said Mexican Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora in one of Mexico’s most popular daily newspapers La Jornada. A few months after his September 2011 statement, Blake died in a mysterious helicopter crash on November11. Investigations are currently looking at the possibility that the helicopter’s fuel may have been contaminated.
As social media becomes an important tool for communicating, the already high incidence of violence in Mexico has accelerated rapidly as those who speak out, including numerous women journalists, who have also been particularly daring in there actions in speaking out online, are targeted.
Map showing Mexico's drug cartels
Map showing Mexico's drug cartels, their regions and those leaders who influence the cartels. Image: Wikimedia
“These murders seem to represent an alarming strategy to intimidate internet users to stop communicating information related to violence”, said Amnesty International following a report release on the death of Macías. “The fact that at least eight communicators have been murdered this year indicates the vulnerability of media professionals and the lack of real impact of measures to prevent and punish the aggressions against journalists”, continued Amnesty.
Creating a climate of fear and widespread censorship throughout many local in-print news outlets as violence continues, reports on drug trafficking crime, collusion and corruption in the region have almost come to a complete halt. But the citizens of Mexico want to know more about what’s happening in their region. Instead of reading in-print newspapers to get the news many are committed to getting it via social media.
The problem is that social media is proving to be more than just an opportunity for muckrakers to speak the truth. As cartels find and target journalists, bloggers, facebook and forum members online who report or comment about drug related crime and crime cartels it is expected that the violence will continue or accelerate.
Like the rest of the world Mexico City is jumping on the band wagon in using digital interactive tools that are available to the public online. Mapa Delictivo is an online interactive map that reports crimes across the city in real time.
“…with the traditional media silenced, Mexicans have gone online in search of news. But now that looks risky too… Although many sites are anonymous, the mobsters seem to be getting better at tracking down contributors, even outside of Mexico”, said The Economist in a recent September report. “Last year two Mexican students at Columbia University in New York set up a website to track violence in Monterrey, another troubled city in Mexico’s north. The project was cancelled after the site’s administrator, based in the United States, received a threatening phone call”.
Before Elisabeth Macías left her office for the night on September 23 she posted one last comment on her website ‘Nuevo Laredo en Vivo’. “Hunting rats if you see where they run, denounce them”, Macías said.
Ten days earlier, on September 13th, two young internet users (a man and a woman), who allegedly informed two Mexican cartel watch blogs some details surrounding criminal activity, were found murdered next to threatening messages signed Z (thought to be the signature of Los Zetas).
Their bodies were hanged from a bridge in the same city of Nuevo Laredo where journalist Elisabeth Macías lost her life. A more recent case of a beheaded man’s body found with a similar message also occurred recently on November 9th, 2011. He is believed to be another administrator of the chat forum Macías used to chat and post news.
According to Amnesty International these murders and the murder of Elisabeth Macías are a clear threat to social network users who live in the most violent regions of Mexico.
Following Macías death, few local newspapers featured the story. Not even the daily newspaper Primera Hora, where she worked, mentioned her on their sunday editorial. There was only a brief report on the “discovery of an unknown woman, beheaded”. The Tamaulipas Government, through the Justice Department, confirmed the murder the night before.
As the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) declared: “Throughout Mexico, but especially in the north, unrelenting violence by criminal groups has terrorized the local press into silence. In the face of this rampant censorship and a near-complete void of information, Mexican citizens, and many journalists, are turning to social media and online forums to share news and inform each other… The murder of the Mexican journalist in the city of Nuevo Laredo on Saturday marks a potential watershed: It is the first case CPJ has documented in which someone was murdered in direct retaliation for journalism posted on social media”.
According to recent CPJ statistics, 888 journalists worldwide have been killed since 1992. Of these, 60 journalists and 4 media workers have been murdered in Mexico. 93 percent were male and 7 percent female. 44 percent were threatened beforehand; 32 percent were taken captive and 20 percent were tortured.
Internet and social media provide no longer a safe space for free press in some parts of Mexico, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman, young or old; if you publish information on traditional media or via internet.
“I wouldn’t go to Mexico now. I don’t think its any more dangerous for an American than a Mexican, but the drug violence is so random everyone is at risk”, says a member of an online motorcycle riders forum only four weeks ago.
“…ultimately, we feel unprotected in the face such atrocities and we are fearful, because this war has now cost the lives of victims in cyperspace, which is our element”, says a November 9, 2011 statement by the Mexico Internet Community in their new Social Media Manifesto.
Documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz interviews Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, Mexican journalist and human rights activist, about her life and courageous work on behalf of women and children caught up in Mexico’s child pornography and prostitution crime rings.  Arrested, jailed and repeatedly harassed as a result of her investigative reporting, Cacho continues to take enormous personal risks in her fight to unveil the corruption that shields criminals who exploit women and children.  This interview was created while Cacho attended the Amnesty International’s Annual Conference in Berkeley, CA in March 2011.
For more information on this topic:
Additional information for this story has been provided by The Economist magazine, CPJ – Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, UNESCO, La Jornada, Washington Post World, (U.S.) Congressional Research Service, NPR – National Public Radio and Foreign Policy magazine.
WNN correspondent in Mexico, Cynthia Arvide, is a freelance journalist who specializes in women issues, her stories have been published in Marie Claire magazine, the Latin American edition. She also writes human interest stories, travel features and investigative reports about diverse cultural and social issues in Mexico and every country has the opportunity to visit.
©2011 Women News Network – WNN

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