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Mexican blog sheds grim light on drug war

By F. Brinley Bruton, msnbc.com

In a universe of diminishing sources of news on the escalating “war on drugs” in Mexico, one website has consistently chronicled the horror engulfing swathes of the country – the BlogdelNarco. The 6-month-old website – which regularly runs pictures and videos none of the formal news sources have – has created quite a following: Its Twitter feed has more than 14,000 followers and, according to its administrator, the site gets 3 million hits a week. (Warning to readers: The photos on BlogdelNarco can be extremely graphic).

The site, slick and complete with a chat room and a gruesome list of readers’ favorite stories, follows the Mexican government’s struggle to contain the murderous drug cartels transporting cocaine, marijuana, heroin and amphetamines into the United States. This struggle took an even more vicious turn in 2006, when President Felipe Calderon declared war on the powerful networks and the private armies that serve them.

Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

Members of the Mexican Federal Police arrive at the scene where a group of gunmen launched grenades at police on the main avenue of Ciudad Juárez in northern Mexico on July 15, 2010. The city has been the site of extreme violence during the ongoing drug war in Mexico.

Since then, an estimated 28,000 people have been killed. Whole communities live in terror, as the cartels’ sidelines in kidnapping, extortion and people smuggling flourish. The horror seemed to reach its apex in August when authorities uncovered a massacre of 72 Central and South American migrants just south of the border with the United States.

Aside from the tens of thousands dead, another casualty of the ongoing war has been reporting. With 35 journalists killed or disappeared since Calderon’s war on the drug cartels was declared in 2006 – Mexico is now the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists to ply their trade.

“This is a situation where journalists are terrified and indulge in pervasive self-censorship,” says Carlos Lauría, who runs the Americas program for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “This affects not only the press but Mexican society [who are] deprived of basic information about their lives.”

Journalists have no safety guarantees without fear of reprisal and a whopping 90 percent of crimes against the press go unresolved, said Lauría. The advocacy organization released a report Wednesday on Mexico entitled “Silence or Death in Mexico’s Press: Crime Violence, and Corruption Are Destroying the Country’s Journalism.”

The resulting unofficial news blackout means that gunbattles, rapes, beheadings, and shootouts at parties and drug treatment centers often get neglected. The cartels have effectively shut down the news media in whole sections of the country.

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One source where there are few
This is where the BlogdelNarco steps in; the site, published anonymously by a young man said to be in his 20s, keeps track of the violence and displays controversial and often sickening videos and pictures unavailable elsewhere.

While often clinically following the violence sweeping the country, the administrator also expresses outrage at the news: “72 migrants are killed; the man investigating the massacre disappears, they kill the mayor of the town where everything happened … and NOBODY DOES ANYTHING!”

In recent days BlogdelNarco focused on the apparent unprovoked shooting deaths of two Mexicans on the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo highway.

And recently, an extremely graphic series of photographs series chronicled the assassination of Rodolfo Torre Cantu, a candidate for governor in the Northern state of Tamaulipas.

The series of photographs of the killing showed a highway bathed in sunlight, bodies strewn across four lanes, blood pooling on asphalt. Men in bullet-proof vests stood around holding rifles, arms akimbo. Two vans with the picture of the candidate emblazoned on them stood in the middle of the road, their doors flung open.

Another posting showed a horrifying before and after – first the smiling figure of Edelmiro Cavazos Leal, the mayor of a small town in the north of the country. Then a close-up the same man lying on grass and his skin and clothes smeared in blood.

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‘It is a reality in Mexico’
The gruesome pictures and videos have led to accusations that the BlogdelNarco is in the pocket of the cartels, who seem intent on terrorizing the population and government into submission. How else would images of beheadings and policemen being interrogated by the Zetas, one of the terrifying drugs militias, have ended up on the blog before anywhere else?

Generally, though, the consensus among journalists and readers seems to be that the blog is getting its information from all sides in the war.

“The blog is showing what is going on in Mexico. Like it or dislike it, it is a reality in Mexico,” CPJ’s Lauría says, adding that it is reporting on events and issues that the conventional media would cover in other countries .

A look at the comments on the web site would lead one to believe that the estimated 3 million hits the site allegedly receives weekly come from those in the armed services, Mexicans searching for an explanation for the surging violence, and those who feel the cartels represent new revolutionaries intent on upending the rigid class system.

The administrator remains anonymous – probably a wise move in the midst of a conflict that seems to respect no boundaries or taboos. And as the war on the cartels shows no signs of abating, the BlogdelNarco could well be the best way to keep track of the unfolding war.