MUST Read: She Tweeted Against the Mexican Cartels. They Tweeted Her Murder.
MEXICO CITY—She was a crusading Twitter journalist in a bastion of organized crime who chose a photograph of Catwoman as her online avatar and christened herself Felina. Like a comic-book avenger, her alter ego defied the forces of evil in her real-life Gotham of Reynosa, a border city in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas located a short drive from McAllen, Texas. Tamaulipas is notorious as a state caught in the iron grip of organized crime. Extortion, kidnappings, shootouts, arson, bodies excavated from arid pits, all of this happens in Tamaulipas, practically on a daily basis, but hardly any of it gets reported because of a media blackout the cartels decreed four years ago that is as strictly enforced as martial law after a coup.
Two rival drug cartels in Tamaulipas, the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, have final say over what gets printed or broadcast in the local media. By necessity the people of the state increasingly have turned to social media to share information about organized crime and its infiltration of the government. They are referred to as citizen journalists and have received international attention for their innovative use of sites like Facebook and Twitter to defy the imposition of the blackout.
Felina was an administrator for Valor por Tamaulipas (which means Courage for Tamaulipas), the most popular citizen news hub in the state, with more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and over half a million on Facebook. A sampling of the site’s content varies from the sensational to the specific. There are photos of young teenagers holding military-grade firepower with captions or comments that identify them as members of organized crime. There are posters of missing persons and news alerts about violence that are timely and specific: “At 10am there were isolated gunshots heard coming from Unidad Obrera”; “Since 12:25a.m. Explosions and machine gun fire at Cañada/Fuentes, and pickup trucks passed at high speed on 20th Street”; “In Balcones sector 2 white Ford pickup with 3 armed Men on Everest Street and Seventh.” Soldiers at the Mexican army base in Reynosa also post news alerts to the site about violent confrontations between the army and the narcos.
Felina posted under the handle @Miut3 and was best known for her posts of danger alerts that pinpointed the location of violent incidents in real time. People sent her bits of information as a way for them to resist the hegemony of the cartels. She also wrote posts pleading with victims of crime not to remain silent, to file a police report even if it meant having to brave reprisals. She would post emergency telephone numbers as a way to try to help.
Understandably the narcos wanted to know the real identities of Felina and hercompañeros at Valor por Tamaulipas. A year and a half ago, a cartel had hundreds of leaflets distributed throughout Tamaulipas offering a reward of 600,000 pesos (about $48,000 at the time) for anyone who would divulge the names of the site’s administrators. At around the same time there were videos posted online of executions of individuals alleged to be contributors to the site. The founder shut it down and left the state, hoping that time away would diminish the danger. But when Valor por Tamaulipaswent back online the situation only intensified: The number of followers to the site quadrupled and the threats resumed.
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