Translated by Otis B Fly-Wheel for Borderland Beat from a Sinembargo article written with Vice news, pictures are from Valor por Tamaulipas and BB archive
(Otis: this was much too important a piece to be left untranslated on Sinembargo, I am sure all of the reporters of BB can relate in some way to this piece).
[ Subject Matter: El Valiente de Tamaulipas (the administrator of Valor por Tamaulipas)
Recommendation: No prior subject matter knowledge required]
A fan page of Face book with 615,000 followers is the ultimate enemy of the Mexican narcos
Reporter: Rodrigo Rodriguez
I wrote to the Administrator - the theatrical nickname I use occasionally, since I do not know his name; nobody does - to find out if he had had time to look at a few questions I sent to his encrypted email.
I wasn't expecting much in regards a reply, as his responses in the past, most of which began with the phrase " for security reasons...." and then went on to give me a negative. At other times, he answered in a very dry, cutting fashion. Very few times has he released the kind of class of answers that journalists seek to achieve a good story.
The good story that I sought was of this man, administrator of the web page Valor por Tamaulipas, unknown but with a price on his identity - 600,000 pesos, close to 46,000 dollars because he had done more harm to criminals such as Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel with a fan page on Face book than could be done with the Mexican Army.
While cartels have the ability to table enough fire power to resist any attack, with RPG7 rocket launchers, ( Otis: they now also have the new RPG21 tandem warhead anti armor projectile), and .30 caliber machine guns and even monstrous narco tanks reinforced with metal plate armor with portals to shoot out of, reports their activities to more than 615,000 followers of the page are a direct hit to their reputation, to their domain of fear and intimidation.
Every tweet and every Administrator post bleeds them a little. On this occasion, however, I was not going to receive any answers, good or bad, none.
- Valor por Tamaulipas (VxT): Something happened and I am doing a lot of things. I will see what I can do.
I asked him what happened? Was it a SDR1, a kidnapping: Some high profile person assassinated in some part of the region, Ciudad Victoria or Nuevo Laredo? All of these scenarios were very urgent but like normal for activists like him. But he replied and said this:
- (VxT) They killed Miut3
Two white vans arrived at the Tierra Santa clinic in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, at 11 in the morning. It was the 15th of October of 2014. The Doctor Maria del Rosario Fuentes had just finished her shift when the vehicles arrived.
She had gone outside to protest when armed men got out of the vehicles and dragged her with another Doctor and a Nurse inside the two vehicles, then sped away.
Those are the facts. The cause of the kidnapping are still a matter of speculation. Anyway, when the assailants - presumably from the Gulf Cartel - reviewed the cell phone of the victims, they observed that the Dr. Fuentes was known on twitter as Felina (@Miut3). Felina was dangerous to the cartels, a hardened activist, a tweeter who denounced disappearances, gun battles, assassinations and all of the activity carried out in Reynosa.
She had been working with Valor por Tamaulipas, but lately had been reporting in an independent manner. Very few knew her identity, and definitely not the criminals.... until this moment. In the night of the same day, the medics that were kidnapped with the Dr Fuentes was set free. Later they said to the authorities that probably the doctor "was not going to return".
At 05.06 in the morning of the following day the following tweet arrived:
@Miut3: Friends and Family, my real name is Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio. I am a Doctor, today my life has arrived at its end.
It was published from the account of Felina, hacked by the kidnappers, then two minutes after....
@Miut3: I don't want to stay more than to say don't commit the same error as me, you will gain nothing, on the contrary today I give account that
@Miut3: I found that death for changing nothing @Bandolera7 @civilarmado_mx @ValorTamaulipas they are closer to us then we believe
Her last tweet said:"#ReynosaFollow close your accounts do not risk your families as I did, I apologise to them.
Two photos accompanied the publication: one with the DR with an expressionless face, resigned, against a dark background that is impossible to identify; the other of her body on the floor, hands on her head at a strange angle and bloodied: eyes open and completely lifeless.
But that didn't prove anything to the authorities. Not this death, it is only a disappearance. They couldn't find her body to confirm the killing.
17th of October of 2014
- VxT: - she was a colleague, a person that had collaborated with me for 2 years on responsibility for tamaulipas. She was a person I held in esteem and respect.
Vice: and you kept in contact?
-VxT.- Well because you believe it pains me very much to have lost her? She didn't know me, well I never shared my identity with her. But yes I knew who she was, she elected to help me with RxT, and then I walked away to protect her. But it turned out to be a bad decision, as she reached out to people who were unreliable.
Vice: I am sorry. The risks are great doing what you do, but no one deserves that for doing the right thing.
-VxT.- She had a baby, a daughter. She was a very special person to her family, I know that they are going to miss her. I will miss her very much.
Vice: Could you assist with the ceremonials, for the burial ceremony? taking into account your security?
-VxT.- No I couldn't go, and they still haven't found her body. The criminals have her.
Vice: If you'll pardon the question, does there exist a possibility that they will find her body?
-VxT.- In this area they frequently "cook" their victims. I don't know what will happen.
The recent history of Mexican narco trafficking and its wars is so long and complex that it could well pass as an epic work similar to Lord of the Rings. It also is speculation, since there is no historian recording what happens within these organizations, but it goes more or less like this: since the 90's the Cartel del Golfo operated in Tamaulipas, dedicated to trafficking cocaine, backed up by Los Zetas as their armed wing, a group of mercenaries with military training.
When in 2003 their leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen was arrested, the command structure inside the organization decentralized , and it gave an opportunity to the Sinaloa Cartel, the biggest cartel in Mexico, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who recently escaped from prison in a cinegraphic way, to advance from the West coast to the Gulf region.
The war between the two cartels produced the birth of the excessive force and influence of Los Zetas. Osiel Cardenas was extradited to the United States in 2007, which impeded his ability to manage the business of the cartel from prison, and Los Zetas started activities like their were their own cartel. The violent rupture between them and the Cartel del Golfo happened in 2010.
"They commenced a series of attacks with grenades, revolving with surveillance of the attacks, "said one of several activists in the region that I had the opportunity to interview by skype, @MrCruzStar, and citing a history book.
The administrator doesn't want to be a hero and much less a martyr. For that, like all the other activists, he has maintained a secret identity. He only wanted to do something, to leave the side of fear and silence.
Since then, with a state divided by factions, the violence hasn't stopped. the sight of armed men in the streets is converted into a common advertisement to those who visit. Families stay fragmented, those who had to flee because one of their parents, even though they were political or distant - were involved with narco trafficking.
"Its that they didn't know they were paying the consequences: families disappeared, kidnapped, tortured and executions", remembers the administrator.
The media also remembered the battles, the disappearances, the attacks with fragmentation grenades. Closer to the heart is the activists that were killed in La Nena de Laredo. Maria Elizabeth Macias, a blogger of Nuevo Laredo in life, whose decapitated body appeared one morning of 2011, in the locality which she used as an online pseudonym, together with a letter that read "I am La Nena de Laredo and I am here for my reporting and yours". (Otis: see link to article by BB reporter Ovemex about this killing).
One year later, in the same city, two activists were reported hanging from a bridge after being tortured and massacred. A letter in an envelope on one of the bodies read: "This is going to happen to everyone reporting on us on the Internet. We put this up for all to see, already we bring them cut Atte: Z".
However, on the 1st of January 2012, I can only suppose it was a common man that created the fan page "Valor por Tamaulipas". At that moment the man became the administrator, and activist among many who denounced criminal groups such as Los Zetas and the Cartel del Golfo.
On the page, the administrator then registered disappearances, situations of risk that were presented as a diary of the city, the locals that carried out business with the criminal groups.
It belongs to a guild of tweeters such as @Agente King, @Bandolera7. amd @MrCruzStar, who had already been denouncing crime in Reynosa since 2010. Some of these were the precursors of the famous hashtag #ReynosaFollow, used to inform on Twitter about the criminal activities in the city of Reynosa.
I wanted to help the people and I felt the necessity to reveal what Tamaulipas is in reality, a state that testifies to how far gone is the barbarity of the Cartels, so much so that it was impossible for people from other parts of the country to believe that things were thus.
But according to the administrator, it is even worse: shootings in the middle of the city streets since 2010, with lots of disappeared people - 4875 between 2011 and 2014 - innocents killed with no relation to organized crime, armed criminals still the middle of the streets, the Military taking control of the streets but they were like the very corrupt Government, complacent to make any difference. A state in which if one sees a certain type of van, it can bring terror to the passers-by.
It was not the first to do it, but it became the most popular site. The site took off. It had more than 200,000 followers after a year of having begun to report, writing everyday the names of those who had been "disappeared", where the shootings were happening or which places should be avoided due to the strong influence of the criminals.
According to some activists I spoke with, their reports developed for residents, were giving a better service than those showing on TV. Reading one of those reports before going out onto the streets could save your life.
When the page started, the Cartels seemed even grateful with the idea of the page, because they wanted someone who would inform them of the movements of their opponents, according to the administrator.
He had received messages from people related to the Cartels, asking for his collaboration. He refused to help them, blocked any individual connected with drug trafficking and did not respond to any of their messages.
"And that was where the problems started", he recalls that the first threats were soft in nature, but they escalated very rapidly. In a little while, he found accounts ghost writing that they wanted to use "his eyes on a key chain".
In the middle of 2013 came the strongest threat ever, in the form of a flyer distributed clandestinely in Ciudad Victoria in which they offered 600,000 pesos for anyone who provided accurate information on the identity of the owner of Valor por Tamaulipas.... or their parents, siblings, children or wife. "This is just free expression" said the Cartel. (Otis: see link to article on this flyer from our very own Matriach, Chivis), but in exchange for that,of money to shut the mouth of asshole pussies like these dumbasses, who believe they are heroes. They included a telephone number and the guarantee that those who called would be anonymous, and that there was no worry that those who called would receive their money.
According to a communication that he divulged, the administrator had sent his wife and children to the United States for their security, while he continued with the denunciations.
Innocent lives were also sacrificed because of this search. In May of 2013, a partner was kidnapped, well the criminals, apparently Los Zetas - alleged that they were family members of the administrator. They weren't, said the administrator in another communication, and it made the authorities responsible for the death by heart attack of one of the family that were kidnapped.
The same year, the first time he closed the Facebook and Twitter accounts, he received another threat:"they sent me a video of a beaten woman, and I heard a voice of a man that said that this would happen to anyone else who cooperated with me. They cut off her head in the video. What sense does it make to maintain a page to avoid risk, if you become one?"
I don't sleep like the class of person who takes a beer to calm their nerves. He also confessed that these type of things give him anxiety attacks: he cannot walk calmly down the street, he is always looking over his shoulder fearing whomever is walking behind him, the suspicion and the fear is always in his eyes. He needs to take to medication to calm himself and his mortality is never far from his mind. At times it seems impossible that he can live this double life.
Now I have backed off a little of these type of things. He said that he spoke with God to relieve this heavy burden that he carries. People are very few that would not metaphorically drown in this situation.
Vice: does your family know who the administrator of the page is? What do they think?
-VxT.- The only family member who knows, knew from the very first moment, and they have told me that I am responsible for anything that happens to my family because of it. Only one person has said this to me. This has not been very sensible for me, but I am not here to complain or reproach anyone. I am living from moment to moment, and every day that I continue to do so is a day I have gained over the bad people.
The administrator doesn't say much about himself. "It is not advisable for me to expand on this," he says when asked about his likes, I watch tv series whilst eating meals, day to day. While this is of interest to you, I don't want to give out too much information about me."
"I used to watch television before, and do many other things, now I don't have many opportunities. A lot of work, and that makes it difficult for me to attend to the site as it deserves."
There is no way to know what he had for breakfast in the mornings, of knowing what kind of work he does to support himself, what route he might take from work to home in the evenings. Nothing at all. In addition to his dissatisfaction with the Government and its current leaders, one of the few things that he will speak about with freedom, are the checks he makes every day on the 100 or so messages that he receives from networks to his email.
Other activists like@Agente_Rey and @MrCruzStar report that they receive no more than a dozen or so denunciations by email per week, which is evidence of the popularity and influence of this site.
The administrator examines everything in fine detail, verification of who is reporting the crimes or disappearances to be close family members and that there are details consistent with their history.
Some times he asks for more information to ensure that people are blocked because, according to him, many times the criminals are trying to pass on false information, and many others are the Government themselves, either waiting for him to make a mistake and reveal his identity or some other ulterior motive.
Of his personality, the only thing one can say is that, to his respect he hides a certain paranoia. Carrying out work which can cause cartels to trap the activist if they make only a single mistake, its comprehensible.
It is powered by the threats and blows he takes from others trying to discover his identity, like the phishing attempt in March, when an email " that looked like and official face book notification", stole the passwords and took temporary control of another two sites, Esperanza por Tamaulipas and Valor por Huasteca. But he ensured that the attackers did not have access to his personal information or that of the people sending in denunciations.
Even though he has little evidence to sustain his allegations, but taking into account the testimony of other activists, he assures that the Government initiated a strategy for control of social networks that involves Semar and Sedena (marines and army). It makes it sound like all are involved in the conspiracy.
"The only persons that made a public movement of social activism here are part of the bureaucracy", said the administrator, when we argued about the protests generated after the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero State, last year.
"They now operate in favor of the Government, I published the data of a missing person and after I published it, others called the family and offered them the support from the Institute of protection of victims, but they were told that they had to have the publication removed." He adds that "it gives me courage to think that Miut3 died in the midst of this strategy to control the social networks."
The Secretary of the Public Security for Tamaulipas, after receiving a considerable quantity of calls and emails, until this moment has made no comment on this article.
If you check the site Valor por Tamaulipas in Facebook you may feel that the reports are a little impersonal. Crimes that unleash anger and outrage are registered with cold professionalism on the page. The administrator is afraid of that. "I am concerned that I am dehumanizing myself, that I am already beginning to see some of these crimes as normal, and that worries me more than any stress that the website could give me."
Occasionally, the concern can also cause more harm than good with what you write.
@MrCruzStar: La Cucaracha depository in San Fernando has been attacked. A teacher was killed, with the teachers son injured, and it burnt down together with the clients.
@MrCruzStar: 2 dead. Sicarios shut in a teacher and a worker and set them on fire. They also fired a burst from a weapon at the son and a client.
These tweets were published in June of 2013, two days after Valor por Tamaulipas indicated in one of its reports of situation risk, that the depository La Cucaracha was pertinent to a man that was collaborating with Los Zetas to move illegal money. The following Saturday, the depository was attacked. Little by little the rest of the activists in networks revealed that the depository was not pertinent to the reported person, it was a woman that owned the business, the same one that died in the attack.
@LaTecolotita: What will you do now @ValorTamaulipas? How can you justify yourself now: One death provoked by your pure stupidity.
During the following days, Twitter was used to protest against the irresponsibility of the administrator that published the incorrect information. He intended to defend himself, but with the life of innocent persons because of the media, his comments only would make him seem insensitive and incapable of realizing "what had been done".
The administrator did not retract the story. On that occasion he published on his website and long written article in which he said that the would not be scared by this, and would continue to do the right thing despite the consequences, and that the information he shares is always checked in the best way that he can. These reaction, it is said, are proof of how deeply the denunciations - and the citizens - can hit the criminals.
"So the question is..." said his article, " do we shut up or must we continue?"
At various time he has thought on shutting up. At the end of 2014 the administrator announced that he had ceded his page to another person. Another anonymous man, or woman, would take his place, I hope with certain connections to the Government and Sedena, the arrival of the denunciations to the authorities, maybe would obligate them to act. The followers of the page were divided about this was a good or bad thing, but its not important, the said transition never took place.
The administrator is still there, in the line of fire, despite the fact that he knows of few cases in which their actions have saved lives, despite the fact that the risk for him increases, and that he could join the list of bloggers and activists executed throughout the length and breadth of Tamaulipas for expressing themselves, despite all that he does not believe that there is a real solution to the conflict in the country.
-VxT.- What brought me back? when I realized that the page is not mine, it is the page of the people who have made the denunciations. I could not take from them what is not mine. Already the Government is replicating the concept of VxT ton inform and receive complaints. They have information with more frequency than I can report today. It is not that I want to leave, but that I am running into obsolescence. But I prefer to get the information myself, so I will not leave the page.
Vice: Do you believe that what you are doing makes a difference?
-VxT.- Now I am not sure.
Original article in Spanish at Sinembargo