Blogging the brutal truth about Mexico's drug wars
For three years it has chronicled Mexico's drug war with images and stories that few others dare show, drawing millions of readers, acclaim and denunciations, but also speculation about its author's identity.
Blog del Narco – <a href="http://www.blogdelnarco.com" target="_blank">blogdelnarco.com</a> – has become a must-read for authorities, drug gangs and ordinary people because it lays bare, day after day, the violence censored by Mexico's mainstream media.
The anonymous author has been a source of mystery, with Mexico wondering who he is, and what his motivation is for such risky reporting. Now, in the first major interview since launching the blog, the author has spoken to the Guardian and the Texas Observer – and revealed that she is in fact a young woman.
"I don't think people ever imagined it was a woman doing this," said the blogger, who asked to use the pseudonym Lucy to protect her identity. "Who am I? I'm in my mid-20s, I live in northern Mexico, I'm a journalist. I'm a woman, I'm single, I have no children. And I love Mexico."
The telephone interview is the first time Lucy has spoken directly about her motivations for running a blog that could cost her life. In the early days, her male colleague who manages the technical side engaged in a few short, anonymous email exchanges with reporters, but neither has spoken out since. "I'm in love with my culture, with my country, despite all that's going on. Because we're not all bad. We're not all narcos. We're not all murderers. We are well educated, even if many [foreign] people think otherwise," she said.
Both she and her colleague live in fear of retribution, either from the cartels or government forces, she said. She revealed that a young man and woman who were tortured, disembowelled and strung from a bridge in September 2011 – murders that shocked even atrocity-hardened Mexicans – were collaborators on the blog. "They used to send us photographs. That was very hard, very painful."
Despite those fears, Lucy is about to publish a book that gives an inside account of the blog and provides the most gruesome, explicit account yet of the mayhem that the cartel wars have brought to Mexico. Dying for the Truth: Undercover Inside the Mexican Drug War was published in the United States this week in English and Spanish, and documents a full year of killings from 2010.
Drug-related violence claimed nearly 3200 lives in President Peña Nieto's first three months in office, according to government figures, and in recent weeks killings have spiked along the border, including in the tourist city of Cancun.
Former president Felipe Calderon declared his war on Mexico's drug cartels when he became president in 2006, sparking turf battles between groups such as Sinaloa, La Linea and the Zetas, and bloody interventions by the police and armed forces, who have been accused of siding with criminals. More than 70 000 people had died and 27000 had disappeared by the time he finished his term at the end of last year.
Intimidation of journalists – dozens have been murdered, often sadistically – neutered news coverage by newspapers, radio and television stations. Massacres, kidnappings, corruption, even pitched battles in city centres, often went unreported. Blog del Narco sprang up three years ago to fill the vacuum.
Over time, the blog acquired multiple sources, including drug gangs, and became indispensable reading, drawing more than three million hits a month. Narcos occasionally sent photos of themselves partying with pop stars, but the blog refused to publish such material, Lucy said. It takes advertising for cars and cellphones, among other things.
The blog has come under repeated cyberattack – the government was more aggressive than narcos in this regard, she said – but the main concern was being identified and captured, either by narcos or government forces who have been accused of multiple abuses. "We change where we live every month. We've been in basements. It's very difficult. We hide our equipment in different places. If the authorities get close, we run."
A sign left beside the disembowelled couple in Tamaulipas said the bloggers were next. Lucy had not met the couple, but received material from them by email. A few days later, another contributor was killed. A keyboard, mouse and sign mentioning the blog were strewn over the corpse.
"It's very painful. But they believed this work was necessary," she said. – © Guardian News & Media 2013