Mexico drug war: Zetas' biggest rival may be social networks
The Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo has seen three brutal killings in an apparent campaign by the Zetas cartel against social media websites. What is it about these sites that makes the Zetas so angry?
The first two victims were found hanging from a bridge on September 13, with signs warning that “this will happen to all Internet snitches,” and naming the websites Frontera al Rojo Vivo, Blog del Narco, and Denuncia Ciudadano. One of the signs was marked Z, for the Zetas.Skip to next paragraph
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Less than two weeks later, the head and decapitated body of a woman were left close to another busy road in the city, with a message addressed to Nuevo Laredo en Vivo (NLV) “and social media sites,” saying “this happened to me because of my reports, and yours.” It was signed with the nickname that she used online -- “La Nena de Laredo” (the girl from Laredo), followed by “ZZZ.”
The bodies in the first killings have not been identified. The most recent victim, however, was quickly named as Maria Elizabeth Macias, who reportedly worked for a local newspaper. Her online identity, as La Nena de Laredo, has also seemingly been confirmed by the NLV website, which has put a tribute to her up on its logo, "RIP 1972-2011 NenaDLaredo."
Clearly, the work of NLV and other similar websites is bothering the Zetas, who have gone out of their way to send an initimidating message to the sites’ users in the most extreme way possible. The three killings stand out for their use of exaggerated violence and heavy symbolism. Macias’ head was placed next to a keyboard, computer mouse, headphones, and speakers, while the other two corpses had ears and fingers cut off. These are killings intended not just to get rid of the victim, but to graphically display the extent of the Zetas' power. It can be read as following in the tradition of cartel killings in Mexico, where physical mutilations serve an almost ritual purpose as well as providing a warning -- for example, cutting the throat of police informants.
It is unknown whether any of the Zetas' criminal operations were actually disrupted thanks to information posted on the site. What the deaths do make clear is that NLV is symbolically subverting the Zetas' authority. The website features general information about life in the city, but focuses prominently on the security situation. At the top of the homepage is a message urging citizens to report on organized crime, with phone numbers for the army and marines, and an online form for submitting anonymous tips. Users in chatrooms swap information on suspicious vehicle sightings, or name locations that should be avoided.