Citizen Journalists in Mexico Risking Death to Expose Cartels, Corruption and Media Blackout
REYNOSA, Tamaulipas — In a city overrun by drug cartels, shootouts, kidnappings, extortion, and executions, a group of citizen journalists continues to shed light into what local media will not report and on what Mexican officials continue to deny: the extent of cartel violence and the corruption of officials in the Mexican government.
A team from Breitbart Texas traveled deep into the Gulf cartel-controlled city of Reynosa, Mexico to meet with one of the citizen journalists leading the effort. In a small secret room deep in the heart of this Mexican city, Breitbart Texas spoke with a man who lives under constant threats because of his effort to use social media in alerting his fellow citizens about “situations of risk”. For security reasons, the man known as “Chuy” never shows his face on social media, but his twitter handle @MrCruzstar, has become synonymous with exposing information about the confrontations between the criminal organizations, the cartel members’ names, their locations, and corruption in the government. “Chuy” can be seen only from behind in the Breitbart Texas video and he wore a ski mask in an effort to protect his identity.
Information and photographs about the de facto war-zone immediately south of the Texas border are consistently revealed by “Chuy.” He covers the cartel insurgency and their convoys of gunmen carrying automatic weapons, grenades and rocket launchers. He covers the frequent clashing of cartels with their rivals and with authorities in broad daylight and throughout the night.
Twitter users in the region rallied in 2010 when the Gulf Cartel and its former enforcers known as the Zetas went to war and set off a series of brutal firefights and blockades. The fights continue to this day. “When the violence ramped up, public officials and local media kept a lid on things,” Chuy said. “Reynosa has always been a drug corridor, before the local press used to cover violent crime. When the violence started, there was a complete media blackout so the citizens took it upon themselves to fill in that void.”
Using the twitter hash tag #ReynosaFollow, the citizen journalists began posting information that was ignored by local media about shootouts, cartel activities, and their main players. Soon after other cities began to follow creating an online community of citizens journalists that over time have proven more credible that Mexican news outlets and government officials.
In addition to Twitter and Facebook, Chuy continues to compile the information in his blog Chuy News where he provides a timeline of the shootouts and works to chronicle the motives and likely outcomes.
“Life in Reynosa is split into two realities,” he told Breitbart Texas. “One is the propaganda told by media outlets in Tamaulipas that claims the state is moving forward, constantly improving in the financial and tourism sector while trying to minimize the violence. They constantly praise public officials … the reality is that we live in anxiety, constantly monitor social media to see if it is safe to go to work, to take our children to school.”
Chuy continued, “We have to make sure we don’t end up getting caught in the middle of a gunfight or become a target ourselves for cutting someone off in traffic, looking at someone the wrong way … for no reason.”
While working to remain anonymous, the type of information that citizen journalists gather makes them an immediate target for reprisal. In recent days, Chuy has been subjected to an even greater amount of direct threats with harassment through social media and outside. At least seven social media users have begun circulating photograph of Chuy’s face and other personal information in an effort to muffle him. He has also been the subject of a systemic effort to discredit him and other citizen journalists--it remains unclear if that part of the attack comes from members of organized crime, or public officials, he said
The interview with Chuy concluded with his cry for help from U.S. journalists. He said, “You can get the message out, help spread the word so that people can see the reality that we live in.”
Follow Ildefonso Ortiz on Twitter @ildefonsoortiz.
Follow Breitbart Texas Managing Director Brandon Darby on Twitter @brandondarby.
Note: Moments after Breitbart Texas had left Reynosa, @mrcruzstar began posting information about a raging firefight in the city’s western side that lasted for close to two hours. Mexican officials in Reynosa and Tamaulipas ended up confirming, but have yet to release any official information about the casualties.