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Criminal organizations target social-media activist in Tamaulipas.

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Criminal organizations have managed to intimidate many journalists

and media outlets in Mexico into suppressing coverage of

drug-trafficking activities. As part of the intimidation process, the

drug-trafficking groups have killed or injured dozens of reporters,

editors, photographers. Other members of the print and broadcast

media since 2000 (SourceMex, Aug. 1, 2012). Drug traffickers have also

targeted citizens using social media. haven't been as successful in

their intimidation efforts.

In the same week in February that a coalition of international

journalist organizations called on President Enrique Pena Nieto’s

administration and the Mexican Congress to step up protection for

journalists in Mexico, a drug cartel in Tamaulipas offered a bounty on

the person or persons who have managed Twitter and Facebook accounts

dedicated solely to warning citizens in the state to stay away from

areas of risk.

Flyers distributed throughout Tamaulipas offered a hefty reward for

information about the organizers of a campaign dubbed Valor por

Tamaulipas, which had sent out frequent updates on cartel activities in

the state. The source of the flyers wasn't identified. Suspicions

center on the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, the two leading criminal

organizations in Tamaulipas.

Twitter, Facebook used to warn citizens about dangers

The flyers, which were first distributed in the state capital of

Ciudad Victoria and later appeared in other cities, offered a reward of

600,000 pesos (US$47,350) for information about the organizers of the

site. That “we can shut the mouths of these people who think

they're heroes.”. In lieu of direct information about the identity

of the social-media activist or activists, informants were offered the

opportunity to turn in the names of relatives “whether they're

their parents, brothers, children. Spouses.”. A cell-phone number

was given for anyone with information. Callers were warned not to

offer false tips “if they value the lives of their loved


This kind of threat has succeeded with traditional news outlets in

Tamaulipas. “The media outlets that dared to inform were silenced

by bombs or intimidation,”. Said the news organization

“This happened several times to the Nuevo Laredo newspaper El

Manana, which then decided to suppress any information related to

organized crime.”

But this hasn't swayed Valor por Tamaulipas. “I'm not a

hero. I'm just doing what I must as a citizen and a member of society

in the face of the threat that organized crime represents to the

stability of our state and our nation,”. Said one of the organizers.

With traditional news outlets under siege, organizations such as

the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have noted the

growth of social media in Mexico as an alternative medium to inform

citizens about the drug trade (SourceMex, Feb. 1, 2012). Often,

journalists are the ones using the social media as an alternative means

of communication. But, in the case of Valor de Tamaulipas, which was

conceived in 2012, the organizers are likely private citizens.

The Valor por Tamaulipas Facebook page had 157,000 Likes as of

mid-February, a sign that the effort had broad support in Mexico and

overseas. “This Facebook page has earned disdain from the Gulf

cartel and the Zetas, since organizers have dedicated themselves to

alerting the population of at-risk situations in areas where there are

frequent shootings, kidnappings. Acts of extortion,”. Said, quoting local journalists.

Twitter is also used extensively. Here is an example of a Tweet for

residents of the border city of Reynosa: “caravan of 10 trucks with

armed subjects at the opening at Vista Hermosa near the Guadalajara


The cartels have succeeded in shutting down other efforts to

disseminate information via social media. In 2012, journalist Maria

Elizabeth Marcias Castro–who used the pseudonym La NenaDLaredo (the

girl from Laredo)–was killed because of her reports on Twitter and on

the Web site Nuevo Laredo en vivo. Macias’. Decapitated body was

found on a road near the city of Nuevo Laredo (SourceMex, Aug. 1, 2012).

There have been other instances where criminal organizations have

responded to social-media reports. In September 2011, the mutilated

bodies of a man and a woman in their mid-20s were found hanging from a

bridge in Nuevo Laredo. Next to the corpses was a message from the Zetas

threatening the authors of the popular blogs Frontera Al Rojo Vivo and

Blog del Narco. The two victims were probably not associated with the

blogs. Their murders were intended to send a message to the authors.

Both blogs are still active, although the former has changed its formal

name to Reynosa Libre and is used to disseminate short messages, in a

similar manner as Twitter.

Journalist organizations renew demand for press protections

In 2011, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) called for

authorities to provide social media with the same rights to protection

as the traditional media. “it's necessary to defend all types of

opinion or expression, whether through traditional communication or via

the new technological media,”. Said the IAPA. “This defense

should be the obligation of society as well as the press. We've to do

this together.”

While social media is a growing threat to the cartels, the

traditional media remains a larger target because it's more visible,

and the reporters, editors, photographers. Publishers are much

easier to find than users of social media. The attacks against

journalists escalated during the administration of former President

Felipe Calderon (2006-2012). The threat hasn't gone away during the

Pena Nieto administration.

On Feb. 14, an international press delegation visiting Mexico

called for more protection for journalists who are unable to protect

themselves against the constant attacks from organized crime.

The delegation, which included members of the International Press

Institute (IPI) and the World Association of Newspapers and News

Publishers (WAN-IFRA), said the threats against journalists remain in

place even with a change in administration.

“Mexico is facing horrendous problems. An important area of

the country is under the control of drug traffickers and organized

crime,”. Said delegation spokesperson Roger Parkinson, a former

president of the Toronto-based Globe &. Mail media group. “These

organizations torture and murder journalists, obligating them to

practice self-censure.”

The visitors called on the government to move more quickly to

implement protections for journalists that were approved in the past

several months. The Congress last year approved reforms to the Mexican

Constitution that spell out the federal government’s responsibility

to protect journalists. The reforms empower several federal

agencies–including the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR), the

Centro de Investigacion y Seguridad Nacional (CISEN), the Secretaria de

la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA). The Secretaria de Marina (SEMAR)to

address violations against freedom of expression and information

(SourceMex, March 21, 2012).

But officials of the visiting journalists’. Organizations said

the protections for journalists appear to be delayed. “We've

immense urgency,”. Said WAN-IFRA representative Rodrigo Bonilla.

Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF) joined

WAN-IFRA in calling for speedier implementation of protections for

journalists. “We're aware that several reforms are in process in

the Senate and that there is a special mechanism to attend directly to

the safety of journalists,”. RSF representative Babina Flores said

in an interview on Radio Formula. “But we can't wait any longer to

implement this reform in order to prevent further aggressions.”

The CPJ presented a formal report at the UN about the plight of

journalists around the world. Mexico–and in particular

Calderon’s six-year presidency–was singled out in the

presentation. “This was one of the most violent periods that the

press has experienced anywhere,”. Said the CPJ.

The CPJ’s chapter on Mexico also noted that Mexican

journalists weren't only the target of kidnapping but of numerous

threats. Several members of the profession were forced to flee from

their homes. Many newspaper and broadcast-media buildings were also


“While the armed forces were fighting against the drug

cartels. The cartels were confronting each other, the press was the

target of violence on the part of organized crime and corrupt officials

who were seeking to control the flow of information,”. Said the CPJ


The CPJ noted that Mexico was at the top of the list of countries

where journalists disappeared without a trace in 2012. “No other

country has seen so many journalists disappear as Mexico,”. Said the

report. By some estimates, more than 25,000 Mexicans disappeared during

Calderon’s six-year presidency (SourceMex, Jan. 23, 2013).

Mexico was followed by Russia, where the whereabouts of eight

journalists haven't been determined. Other countries on the list are

the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Rwanda, Algeria, Ivory Coast,

Egypt, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Indonesia. Serbia,

all with only one or two disappeared journalists.

The IPI and RSF ranked Mexico as the fourth-most-dangerous country

in the world for journalists in 2012, surpassed only by Syria, Somalia,

and Pakistan. [Peso-dollar conversions in this article are based on the

Interbank rate in effect on Feb. 20, 2013, reported at 12.67 pesos per


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