Maria elizabeth macias

Imagine if the war in the Mideast devoted resources of 5 billion to fight the drug cartels.

Two weeks ago, the bodies of a man and a woman were hung from a bridge with a message warning people not to report drug violence on social networks.

Macías’ decapitated body was found on a road near the city of Nuevo Laredo, news reports said. A note found with the journalist’s body said she had been killed for writing on social media websites and attributed the murder to a criminal group, news reports said.

Macías reported the activities of criminal groups on Twitter and on the website Nuevo Laredo en vivo (Nuevo Laredo Live) under the pseudonym “La NenaDLaredo” (The girl from Laredo). Her last posted comment before her death was “Hunting rats, if you see where they run, denounce them.” Another message from Nuevo Laredo en vivo’s Twitter account read, “Raid by federal police on false document makers on bridge II, it was time.” It is not known how Macías’ killers discovered her identity.

His dismembered body was found near the monument to Christopher Columbus, located on the main streets of this border city Nuevo Laredo, legs and trunk thrown on the lawn, while the head was placed in a pot along with keyboard, mouse, cables, headphones and speakers all computer components. The note found with her body identified the website and the pseudonym.

If the ghoulish crime scene and props weren’t illustrative enough, the note left by the murderers left no doubt. “Ok. Nuevo Laredo Live and social media, I am the Girl from Laredo and I am here because of my reports and yours… ZZZZ.” The “ZZZZ” signature suggests a link to the vicious Zetas drug cartel.

It was not immediately clear whether a particular story or Macías’ uncensored reporting in general angered the killers. Neither was it clear how the killers discovered her identity.

In northern Mexico, as in other parts of the country, organized crime groups have terrorized the local press into silence, leading citizens to begin reporting criminal activities on websites and social media, either anonymously or using pennames. Professional journalists told CPJ that they, too, have reported stories under pseudonyms on social media websites that they couldn’t cover under their own names through their traditional outlets. Facebook, Twitter, and other such websites are filling the void in covering crime and drug violence, CPJ research showed.

Macías, 39, had reporting and administrative responsibilities for the local daily Primera Hora, although the newspaper would not confirm her employee status.

Mexican criminal groups began targeting social media users in 2011. On September 13, the bodies of two young people, who were not identified, were hung from a pedestrian overpass in Nuevo Laredo. Press accounts said notes left with the bodies warned against writing on websites.

Tamaulipas has been at the centre of a bloody turf war between the Zetas and their former allies turned bitter rivals, the Gulf cartel.

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.

One of the most irritating aspects of NLV, for the Zetas, was likely its use of interactive city maps which logged where drugs were sold, stash houses were based, and where the “halcones” (lookouts who give the Zetas street intelligence) stand watch.

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