The Fugitive Reporter Exposing Mexico's Drug Cartels
These are the opening paragraphs of Dying for the Truth, a book written about the infamous Blog del Narco, which fills Mexicans in on the (often bloody) activities of the murderous local drug cartels, where the nation's mainstream media has failed:
Shortly before we completed this book, two people—a young man and woman who worked with us—were disembowelled 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.
As you can see, the people who keep the blog running risk their lives to do so. The book, which will be published in both English and Spanish by Feral House, will include a selection of the most relevant posts and pictures published between March 2, 2010, when the blog first started, and February 2011. Choosing to remain anonymous for safety reasons, the blog’s editor finally agreed to talk about her work, and the threats and trials she and the site’s programmer have faced in order to keep this project alive for so long.
According to the book, in 2012, their website—whose aim is to collect uncensored articles and images (they don't personally do any reporting from the field) about the Mexican cartel’s extreme violence, their activities, and the government’s fight against them—registered an average of 25 million visits a month. According to Alexa, it is one of the most visited sites in Mexico. Although criticized by some media outlets for publishing gory images and information that’s given to them by cartels (such as executions and video messages aimed at rival organizations), and aggregating content from newspapers or websites without crediting sources, the blog has become an essential source of news for journalists, citizens, and visitors.
VICE had the opportunity to speak with Lucy (a pseudonym she has chosen to protect her identity) about her blog, her new book, and what’s next for Blog del Narco.
VICE: Let’s start from the beginning. How did Blog del Narco come about?
Lucy: It was a way to show we were angry with the authorities and the media who had forgotten their number one responsibility, which is to keep the public informed. I’m a journalist, and my partner does both social networks and programming—so the idea was born, and on March 2, 2010, we went live with the blog.
Was there anything in particular that made you act?
Stories from people like, "I went on vacation to Tamaulipas and they were saying absolutely nothing on the news. I walked into the lion’s den and the gangs stole my vehicle, they locked me up for two days”—that kind of situation. People who had nothing to do with this, but ended up being affected due to a lack of information.
Why weren't the media reporting what was going on?
They had been gagged in two ways: the federal government had told them, “You won’t say anything, there’s nothing going on here,” and on the other hand, there was the pressure from the criminal organizations.
What made you feel differently?
You learn these things from books and professors, the importance and beauty of being committed to the truth, and how to be objective. But then you start working for the media and you realize that’s not how things work. Why shouldn’t it, if that’s what the public deserves? We’re not talking about the score in a soccer match, we’re talking about people getting killed, it’s a life or death situation. This is a war between the authorities and criminal organizations, but we, as a society in general, got trapped in the middle and are the ones who suffer the most. That’s the whole point.
How did the blog evolve?
People began to wake up, to realize there’s a shoot-out going on two blocks away from their home and they’re seeing nothing about it in the news or in the papers. Citizens realize drug traffickers have set up a road block on the main avenue in broad daylight and no one is covering that. People got angry with the traditional media and started using the blog as a means to express what’s going on. That’s what it was created for, so that people could use it to their advantage, to protect themselves. If no one will take care of us, we’ll take care of ourselves.
Is there a particular moment when you started to realize that the blog was really achieving something?
Lots. I remember a woman who wrote to us saying that thanks to our blog, she’d found out her son had been executed. She saw a picture of what had happened, went to the Medical Forensic Service, claimed his body, and took him with her. Criminal groups recruit people, for example, in the state of Veracruz and take them to Tamaulipas, so that they won’t be recognized by their relatives. Thousands of bodies end up in mass graves, and people never find out what happened to their relatives, so the blog helped to identify lots of people.
Do you worry that the blog might become a place where the cartels announce their executions in order to instill fear in the public?
That kind of thinking gave us a lot of bad press. Lots of people were thinking we were the cartels' spokespeople, but that’s not true. If we published something, we had to publish everything; otherwise it was as if we were taking sides, and that would’ve been a problem. We’re also criticized for publishing narco messages, I’ll tell you why we do it: because it is happening. That was the reality, whether people liked it or not.
The truth is there are great journalists reporting on Mexico's war on drugs, but it's also true that major media outlets often take sides or censor themselves. Why do you think that happens?
It seems the media’s bible is doing what their clients want, from the local politician, the federal politician, the political party who pays the most, the football team that buys more ads or even artists who cough up payola. Traditional media go with their clients, we don’t, and we won’t ever have a client. I think reporting on one group and the other, and on the authorities, is being objective.
Do you think the images you publish work as a deterrent for young people who might otherwise get involved with drug traffickers?
Yes, of course. If you’re young and see what we’re doing, you can say, “I’ll work as a bricklayer, I don’t want to end up like this. That money will last maybe a couple of years tops, but I won’t get to see my baby grow, I don’t want that to happen to me.” It worked. And it worked so well, that criminal groups used to sit and wait for the young ones to come asking for a job, and now they have to recruit them by force. It worked better than ten politicians handing out a million soccer balls.
Do you ever wish you hadn’t taken such a huge, dangerous responsibility into your own hands?
It’s very hard, but it’s about having the courage to say, “I’ll stay here because I’m not doing anything wrong, and I’ll stay here because I love Mexico and I love my country and I want peace to eventually come back.” Obviously we want our lives back, because it’s been two very intense years.
Are there things you have decided not to publish?
There were some very strong images, harsher than what you see. Things that were contra natura, pictures and videos I saw that wouldn’t let me sleep for two weeks, and when I was finally able to close my eyes, I’d have nightmares for two months.
Why are they so gory? Why not just shoot people in the head instead of cutting them into pieces and skinning them?
Because of fear. Lots of people are threatened, lots of sicarios [hit men] are told, “If you don’t do this, we’ll kill your family.”
In your book, you recount how people who have given you information have run into trouble or been killed.
A number of our informants in Tamaulipas met a horrible end, and that obviously gets to you. Why do we keep doing it? Because we care about Mexico. The minute Mexico is safe is the minute we’ll stop doing this.
Both the cartels and the government sent you threats—which was more frightening?
The threats from the government were much harder, and they came from very high up. We had someone on the inside helping us, who would tell us, “They’ve found out the area where you are hiding,” so we would grab whatever we could and run again. We lived like nomads for two years.
Which cases angered the government the most?
The videos from “La Tuta,” “Los caballeros Templarios” [The Templar Knights are one of the cartels from ex-president Felipe Calderón’s home state, Michoacan]. The situation in Michoacan would upset Calderón a lot—it still does.
Casino Royale—because they couldn’t carry on hiding the real number of deaths. The official figure says 50-something, but we got word that there had been 100 people who never showed up, bodies that were never presented.
At the end of Calderón’s war, the amount of drugs crossing into the United States went up instead of down, and over 70,000 were killed. Did we get something out of this war?
We lost a lot. Maybe we gained some courage. We now value what we have; I used to be a materialistic person, but all of this made me change. I see life in a different way, I value being able to breath, drink coffee, have a smoke.
How is the new government behaving?
They’re rearranging things. It’s an educated form of censorship and a very different strategy from that of Calderón. It’s about working in the dark. Peña Nieto hasn’t said a thing. Maybe he wants us to forget about Calderón’s presidency, and maybe he’ll manage to solve the problem.
Your book will initially be published in the United States, and many articles will be available in English for the first time. How do you expect people to react?
They have to understand that every joint they smoke and every line they snort comes with a huge pool of Mexican blood. Americans are the biggest consumers. Drugs will never go away because they’re a good business, so why not legalize them?
What do you think?
Who has something to lose from drugs being legalized? That’s the question.
Finally, why have you chosen to publish the blog in book form?
We didn’t enjoy our lives, we said no to our own lives in order to do something for millions of others. Anything can happen with the website, and anything can happen with this president, but this will go down as part of history.
Buy the book on Amazon now.
For more information visit http://feralhouse.com/dying-for-the-truth/ and http://feralhouse.com/the-grotesque-murder-scene/.
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