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Facebook Threats A Tactic For Terror

On a ride along through San Fernando with the Tamaulipas state police.
Photo by Peter O'Dowd
On a ride along through San Fernando with the Tamaulipas state police.

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Someone has placed a $47,000 (600,000 peso) bounty on the head of the organizer of an anonymously controlled Facebook page that posts narco-gossip about the state of Tamaulipas. But whether it's real or an elaborate piece of drug-war fiction, it's impossible to know for now.

This is a typical posting on the Valor por Tamaulipas Facebook page:

"It’s been nearly two months since the businesses on Boulevard Hidalgo de Reynosa have been threatened by a group of people who work for a drug cartel, a group who has them at their mercy under threat and constant watch. Some of those businessowners have found it impossible to conduct their business, remodel their businesses or simply move around without these people finding some way to extort them. "Disgracefully, hotels, banks, pharmacies and other neighbors can no longer put up with the situation. It is said that disgracefully, they do not feel they have anyone to go to since police let these people control the streets after 9 p.m. and allow these people to do as they please. From the Mante River to the IMSS (public hospital), a group of young people who call themselves the Guardians do whatever they please. Recently, they’ve begun soliciting money from the local businesses."


"In Colonia Nuevo Madero on the way to the coast in Altamira, Tamaulipas, it has not been confirmed that they’re criminals but please be careful. There is a truck and an attitude. Various men are standing on both sides of the freeway.”

Photo by Peter O'Dowd

On a ride along through San Fernando with the Tamaulipas state police.

The Facebook page has 146,000 “likes” and posts are filled with people remarking, asking questions, making observations, posting still more gossip and damning the government for allowing the situation in Tamaulipas to deteriorate.

I’ve spent some time in Tamaulipas, a state that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Most recently, I went with two Fronteras colleagues, Jill Replogle and Peter O’Dowd, and produced a story about the reticent campaignings going on in San Fernando, the town where two mass graves holding hundreds of bodies had been discovered earlier.

Other than a chase down the highway ( and it was us doing the chasing), I encountered no problems in Tamaulipas on this trip. But other of my colleagues have. The offices of El Mañana newspaper have twice been shot up, once permanently disabling a reporter. Outsider colleagues have been threatened in their hotel rooms and local reporters have had their cameras taken at gunpoint or been shot dead when they wouldn’t play ball with one of the cartels warring in the area, Sinaloa, Zetas or Golfo. On one memorable 2008 trip, I was followed by two men carrying hand-held radios for the entire six hours I spent in Nuevo Laredo.

And then this message surfaced earlier this week:

“600,000 pesos to whomever apportions precise information about the owner of the page, Valor Por Tamaulipas, or instead, direct family members, be they parents, brothers, children or wife. "This is just free speech, but we are offering good money to shut the fucking face up of asshole pussies like these stupids who think they’re heroes.”

The owner of the Facebook page has implored that whomever made the threat not target their family.

“The problem you have, you have only with one person. It’s not necessary to hunt my family … You criminals think that us citizens have to surrender to you and that’s not the way it is.”

Now, and I can’t stress it enough, I take all of this with a strong skepticism. So far, the reporting, the threats and the challenge have only played out on the pages of Facebook. We still have no idea who is running the page; it can be some bored 16-year-old in Nuevo Laredo, it can be the social media editor for el Cartél del Golfo trying to drum up negative news on the Zetas (this has happened before). It could be a real Tamaulipas citizen who saw fit to open a Facebook page and report wrongdoings.

And whomever made the threat, well, they can also be an angst-filled teen, a negative publicity campaign, a real thug.

About a year ago now, Anonymous drummed up a cyber-fight with the Zetas, an absolutely foolish and dangerous piece of what turned out to be pure fiction, because it placed actual reporters working on the streets of Tamaulipas in real harm’s way. Two reporters working in the area told me they were terrified that Anonymous would provoke the cartel. Some of my colleagues in the news media reported on the one-way debate as if it were fact.

For that reason and others, I strongly caution people to take the threats against Valor por Tamaulipas with a healthy dose of skepticism, too.

For now, the owner of the page has asked people to stop using their real Facebook accounts to post information on the cartel-related goings-ons in Tamaulipas.

I’m going to continue monitoring the page and will update as the situation mandates.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.