By Patrick Corcoran
A series of recorded phone conversations between alleged members of the Mexican drug gang Caballeros Templarios offers insight into the group’s attempts to manipulate the media and organize protests against the police.
Milenio newspaper reports that it had access to recordings of suspected gang members talking about mobilizing residents of the town of Apatzingan to protest against the recent arrival of the Federal Police to the state of Michoacan, where the Caballeros are located. They also discussed seeking an audience with media outlets, and publicizing the arrival of the federal forces.
The government has long accused gangs of orchestrating protests against the security forces, arguing that those marching in the streets often represent the interests of the wealthy mobs, not the public will, but the recordings offer a clearer view of the nature of criminal organizations’ role in such events.
The Caballeros, as one of the gangs most deeply linked to society in its home turf, has a capacity to manipulate the public using both carrots and sticks that goes well beyond that of most gangs. However, the recorded conversations also seem to reveal a deeper concern for public relations than has previously been understood. While many gang leaders have sought to paint government forces in a bad light and have organized sporadic and mostly ineffective public relations efforts, the conversations between the Caballeros offer a picture of a group that views popular opinion as a vital source of its power.
This is likely due to the group's leader: Servando Gomez, alias “La Tuta.” Even while a member of the Familia Michoacana gang, before splitting to form the Caballeros earlier this year, Gomez showed himself to be unusually interested in communicating with the public and offering justifications for his actions. He attracted national attention in 2009 for calling into a television program and engaging in a lengthy interview.
What follows is InSight Crime's translation of three conversations, transcribed by Milenio, among alleged members of the Caballeros Templarios. The first is between a man known as "Pantera" and his subordinate, who goes by the nickname "Toy." The two men discuss ways to increase participation in an anti-government protest, so as to embarrass the Calderon administration. They seem to agree that they will impose fines on any stores which defy their orders and stay open.
P.- We gotta mobilize everyone, there’s an [expletive] march.
T.- Ah, it’s on Wednesday, right?
P.- No, [expletive] Wednesday, we need to do it now.
T.- I had everything ready, there was even going to be food...
P.- On Wednesday.
T.- Yes, food, barbecue, tortillas, water, drinks.
P.- [Expletive] it. I want you to close everything, stores, everything, on Wednesday, I don’t want a single store open and I want everyone marching, listen to me, if they don’t close, we will fine them, just so they know.
T.- The whole town closed.
P.- The whole [expletive] town closed, just so they know, everyone needs to go just like that, spread the word, [expletive] it all, there will be a huge protest, I’m going to dare to do this, and if they get angry at me, let them get angry at me.
T.- Ah, sounds good, sounds good.
P.- Please: I want all the stores closed and start telling people now, I want you to tell them that on Wednesday we will wait for them at 4 in the afternoon.
In the second conversation, two unidentified alleged gang members complain about the "blues," or the Federal Police. They appear to be discussing ways to encourage media outlets to cover the arrival of the force, and seeking a meeting with one media group.
— Those sons of [expletive] are around here already?
— Who got here already?
— Those blue [expletive].
— They are here again?
— Those dogs are around here, look here ... please, with cameras, put it on Televisa, on Milenio, everyone that came here, let’s get them to work ... please.
— Sounds good.
— And tell that guy from ABC that I was supposed to meet with them and we didn’t meet.
— Right now we gotta go so that they meet with me please, with the boys ... let’s get rolling, with cameras rolling, it looks like they are filming ... please.
In the third conversation, two men discuss meeting with various prominent media outlets. It is not clear how far they are trying to manipulate the coverage, though the references to "our people" suggest that the group may have journalists they are in regular contact with, or even on their payroll.
— Talk to me.
— I mean, if you could take me over there with the boys to give them a little paper.
— I’m sorry?
— If you could take me over there with the boys to talk.
— Let me check with them to see what they are doing in the afternoon.
— Let me call them, I mean.
— Call them to see where they are.
— Where who is?
— The people on the outside or our people?
— No, buddy those on the outside.
— Ah, there are three.
— Who is it?
— One coming from El Universal, Telemundo, and Univision.
— The guy from Milenio, he’s coming too?
— Yeah, Tony is here covering, the guy from Televisa, he is sending stuff to Televisa and Milenio.
— No, no, no. Did the guy from Milenio come? Did he come or not?
— Yeah he came.
— OK, good, tell me where they are and I’ll stop by right now.