"Now you know who you're dealing with, come and test your luck." - from "To My Enemies"
Nicknamed "The Golden Rooster," Valentin Elizalde, 27, was well known in Northern Mexico for his brass-based traditional "banda" music: polka-inspired and with gritty lyrics. Musicians like him along the Mexico-Texas frontier have long documented the trials of border life and have turned the region's drug lords into living legends.
In August 2006, on the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube.com, someone posted a photo slideshow depicting a succession of bullet-riddled bodies set to Elizalde's song "A Mis Enemigos" ("To My Enemies") as the soundtrack.
The gory collection had a partisan theme: it was taunting the Gulf Cartel, showing only victims aligned with it and its enforcement arm, known as Los Zetas. And just so nobody missed the point, the screen name of the person who shared the gloating documentary was "matazeta," or Zeta killer.
Volleys of foul-mouthed insults soon began to be posted to the site, resulting in a strange dialogue between self-described supporters of the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels, which are locked in a turf battle over lucrative smuggling corridors into the United States.
On the YouTube site, the rhetoric escalated in the days before Elizalde was slated to play in Reynosa a border town in the heart of Gulf Cartel territory. "Videos like this cause the death of Chapitos," warned a Gulf supporter in a posting one day before the concert, using a slang term for El Chapo's followers.
On November 25, Elizalde played his set in Reynosa, opening and closing it with "To My Enemies."
As he left the fair, two vehicles chased his Chevrolet Suburban and opened fire with automatic weapons in front of dozens of onlookers. Elizalde, his driver and manager were killed. Elizalde had been hit 28 times and died on the scene. As many as 70 cartridges were found.
A cryptic message was posted on YouTube almost immediately after the shooting. "Just because of this video, they filled the Rooster with lead, hahahaha. He cried like a bitch," another poster who sided with the Gulf Cartel wrote.
When Elizalde was gunned down, he was in the passenger seat, his limp body slumped toward the door. These details are clearly visible in another video posted on YouTube, a 50-second clip of the crime scene.
Meanwhile, the comments on the videos continued. Some comments referred to the ousting of Gregorio "El Goyo" Sauceda from the Gulf Cartel leadership after a rift with other bosses. El Goyo's fall had not been reported anywhere, but matched intelligence that U.S. authorities had gleaned from contacts in Mexico.
If there were other nuggets of truth buried among the poorly spelled curses, they are now lost. YouTube yanked the video and comments Nov. 27, citing violation of terms of service.
But other versions of the Elizalde video surfaced immediately on YouTube, one opening with machine gun fire and closing with a video clip of an execution.
In the territory disputed by the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels the names of cartel leaders are mentioned only in whispers, if at all. But under the anonymity bestowed by the Internet, whispers became pronouncements.
It wasn't the first time an assassination was foretold on the Internet. On a Weblog in August, in a similar vitriolic back-and-forth, a threat to kill Monterrey investigator Marcelo Garza y Garza became reality just weeks later.
Last Wednesday, Norteño singer Javier Morales Gomez of the group Los Implacables del Norte was gunned down in the plaza of Huetamo in Michoacan state. Three days earlier, singer Lupillo Rivera was shot at as he drove in Guadalajara.
On Sunday, a large crowd awaited the arrival of Elizalde's body at the airport in Ciudad Obregon. Two police cars then escorted Elizalde's body to his hometown of Jitonhueca, about 60 miles southeast, where a memorial service was to be held at his mother's home, the government news agency Notimex reported. Along the way, the funeral procession was greeted by the strains of norteno music. Some fans applauded from the side of the road. Others tossed flowers or laid out votive candles.
The song in question, framed as a tribute video:
It's not surprising that there's violence when you're talking about drug cartels, but besides the obvious unfortunate fate of Elizalde (who's survived by his three daughters), I thought this was notable just because of how odd this was.