President Felipe Calderone’s crackdown on drug cartels in Mexico has claimed 28,000 lives since 2006, but the best coverage of the non-stop mob hits and government stings isn’t coming from the nation’s major media outlets.
Instead, it comes from a student with a six-month-old blog. Blog del Narco began as a hobby for the highly secretive blogger, but in time he found that his facelessness allowed him get away with stories that would endanger known journalists — many of whom have been kidnapped or killed for divulging such information. Now, his site has become indispensable for its no-holds-barred coverage of the endless carnage caused by the drug trade. The AP reports that for the first time, a blog on the conflict can count its most dangerous participants among its most obsessive readers, as the kingpins and cops rely on the information just as much as the public does.
“People now demand information and if you don’t publish it, they complain,” the blogger told the AP. Little is known about the person behind Blog del Narco, apart from the fact that he is a male student living in Northern Mexico. And, given that he is sharing content that would threaten the life of a public reporter — a gory video of a decapitation, the execution of a double-crossing police officer, ravaged corpses—the anonymous blogger has chosen the correct major to pursue in school: computer security. He has maintained total anonymity, and when reached by the AP, he spoke from a disguised telephone number.
“For the scanty details that they (mass media) put on television, they get grenades thrown at them and their reporters kidnapped,” the blogger said. “We publish everything. Imagine what they could do to us.”
This cloak he has built for himself allows him to withstand the government’s efforts to quell negative coverage. He encourages submissions from his formidable readership (his site receives 3 million hits per month) and maintains an active Twitter account that boasts over 8,000 followers. (Sample tweet: “Estado podrá ganar hasta 10 mil millones de dólares en impuestos. Legalizando la droga.” Translated, it’s a plea to the government to legalize drugs.)
The Mexican media often attacks the site, saying it is free publicity for the cartels. In negative articles — nevertheless linked to by Blog del Narco on its press page—the site is attacked for its violent videos and referred to by an unsavory nickname: “Narcotube,” a play on “YouTube.” Last April, an article in the Spanish paper La Voz de Galicia said Blog del Narco is “horrifying the world” and that its videos are “terrorizing Mexican society.” The article then mentioned a video in which a member of the Zeta cartel was asked how many members of the rival Gulf Cartel they had killed. “Many, many,” the Zeta member responded. “Burned and killed.” (The video appears to have been taken down.)
In its own defense, the “About Us” on Blog del Narco insists that it is “not for or against any criminal group,” and that its sole mission is that of a “journalist.” Along with its coverage of police seizures and government actions, it devotes much of its space to the various cartels and their leaders, including underworld titan Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villareal, the Beltran Leyva cartel, the Sinaloa cartel and the battling Zeta and Gulf cartels. With the flow of information from traditional media sites stifled by drug lords and bribe-happy officials, underground publications may be the best way to get certain information, regardless of how uncensored or bloody these sites may be. But these sites can only provide so much. A story in today’s Los Angeles Times mentions Blog del Narco as part of the social media wave that is filling the void, but emphasizes that mainstream coverage of Mexico’s drug war will suffer from suppression for the time being.
“You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more,” said an editor here in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, who, like most journalists interviewed, did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the cartels. “We don’t like the silence. But it’s survival,” he said.