Thursday, October 27, 2011

Popular Mexico Drug War Blog Facing 'Security' Threats

The editors of Blog del Narco and Mundo Narco, best known for publishing uncensored, grisly images of Mexico’s drug conflict, say they had to move to anew website after the Mexican government complained to their former hosting platform, Blogger. According to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, since October 24 it became difficult to access the blog through several Internet browsers, including Google Chrome. In a statement published on the website and distributed through Twitter, the anonymous blog founders said they were changing domain names due to “questions of security.” Much of the site’s archives appear to be lost or moved in part over to Blog del Capo.

With a reported three million visits a week, the Blog del Narco was one of Mexico’s best well known websites which track drug violence, compiling video, breaking news and graphic photos. The blog is less than three years old but in some ways became synonymous in the international media for the anonymous documentation of drug-related deaths. Blog del Narco also monitored the expansion of drug gang tactics to include uniforms, armored cars and other high-power weaponry. In some cases, criminal gangs would reportedly distribute videos and other promotional material (like photos of a hitman and his attractive stream of girlfriends) directly to the website. Imitation sites like Diario del Narcoand La Policiaca both perform the same service as Blog del Narco, often using similar design. But no anonymous website on Mexican violence became quite as public as the Blog del Narco did.

If Blog del Narco did in fact begin experiencing technical difficulties due to interference from the government or “other people who want to censure us,” as one editor told the Knight Center, it would coincide with recent threats by criminal gang the Zetas against similar media sites. The Zetas were reportedlybehind the killing of two people in early September, who were left hanging off a bridge in Nuevo Laredo alongside a banner which threatened “Internet snitches.” The sign explicitly named Blog del Narco and two other websites. Shortly afterwards a site administrator at Nuevo Laredo en Vivo, a chat site where residents swap security tips, was killed, her decapitated body dumped by a road.

As for Blog del Narco’s implication that the “government” wanted the site shut down, there could be some weight to this argument considering that earlier this year, many of Mexico’s larger media organizations agreed to follow self-imposed guidelines when reporting on the drug violence. These measures included refusing to publish “propaganda” by drug cartels. A broad definition of “propaganda” could include the same raw coverage supplied by Blog del Narco, which refused at the time to pay attention to the mainstream media pact.

It is possible that Blog del Narco, while in some cases the alleged favored vehicle for some thugs to distribute their videos and photos, could also be viewed as a threat by criminal groups nervous about having their illicit activity documented and discussed online. Blog del Narco performed the key service of recording the extent of Mexico’s drug violence, even as many other local newspapers feared to do so. But the blog also served a useful purpose for drug gangs looking to promote themselves as violent, powerful, and willing to stop at nothing. Mexico’s drug conflict has a key propaganda component, and Blog del Narco, as the most visible of the drug violence blogs, played a key role in the cartels’ efforts to brand themselves online.

At its best, the website was a useful symbol for the power of non-traditional media and the importance of recording the brutal toll of Mexico’s drug conflict. At its worst, the website invited criticism that it was little more than an “amarillista” (yellow journalism) tabloid gone digital.

News Briefs

  • The Miami Herald features a Venezuelan power broker playing the same role, in some ways, played by Howard Dean during the second term of the Bush administration. Ramon Guillermo Aveledo is the man charged with organizing the opposition’s electoral strategy and ensuring that the coalition of anti-Chavez parties stay united and focused on winning votes. The Herald credits Aveledo for masterminding the gains made by the opposition last year in Congress.
  • The Brazilian Senate approved legislation that will make it easier for interest parties to request and receive information from government bodies. Similarly to the Freedom of Information Act in the U.S., the law may make it easier for Brazilian media to access government records, even those previously deemed classified. President Dilma Rousseff is expected to sign the bill into law in the next few days.
  • Twelve former military and police officers in Argentina were given life sentences in prison for crimes committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. BBC reports that among those sentenced is naval officer Alfredo Astriz, behind the imprisonment and murder of three leaders from civil society organization Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The victims include one of the organization’s founders and two French nuns. Astriz was also convicted for the kidnapping and killing of writer Rodolfo Walsh. The two-year trial in Argentina concludes just as neighboring Uruguay voted to revoke amnesty for dictatorship-era crimes.
  • NACLA’s blog on border issues reports on a speech given by retired U.S. military official and ex-”Drug Czar” Barry McCaffrey. McCaffrey, who authored a report earlier this year recommending that the number of Border Patrol agents along the Southwest frontier be doubled, discussed U.S. drug policy at an event hosted by George Washington University. NACLA critiques McCaffrey’s answer to one question by an event attendee representing the Drug Policy Alliance. McCaffrey was asked about collusion between the Mexican government and the Sinaloa Cartel. According to NACLA’s analysis, McCaffrey’s answer (“Well, almost nothing in life works with a yes or a no”) will do little to assuage these suspicions.
  • As Hurricane Rina moves across the Caribbean, IPS reports on the measures taken by Central America to improve emergency-response to weather disasters.
  • Verdad Abierta has two new interesting reports about Colombia’s conflict. One concerns sexual violence committed by paramilitaries, which account for nearly 20 percent of the total number of sex crimes registered between 2001 and 2009. The other report highlights a little-documented phenomenon which could pose a significant threat to the legitimacy of Colombia’s Justice and Peace process. According to some authorities, the government may have provided reparations to people posing to be victims of one of Colombia’s most brutal massacres, registered in 1997 in Mapiripan, Meta. These cases of “false” victims can be best described as an isolated phenomenon, but could still have the negative effect of casting doubt on the effectiveness of the Justice and Peace process.
  • Brazil’s Sports Minister Orlando Silver resigned just a few weeks after local magazine Veja published a report alleging that he embezzled millions of dollars. He is the sixth Cabinet official to resign so far this year, alongside the Defense Minister and the President’s Chief of Staff.

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