by Bogdan Sucilă
While the events of recent years, such as the Arab Spring and the violent protests in Istanbul or Kiev, have garnered massive media attention, giving television channels worldwide a fair share of graphic imagery, there is one conflict that can easily rival, or even topple them, in terms of bodycount and brutality. It has been going on for more than 7 years, at the other end of the world, in a country that enjoys relative political stability, at least when compared to the aforementioned. I am talking of course about Mexico, where people, albeit poor and generally lacking proper living conditions, prefer not revolt against their government, but rather to dwell under its wing, hoping that it will protect them against a much more terrifying threat: the country’s numerous drug cartels, which besides being notorious for their brutality, can outmatch more than half of the world’s armies in terms of numbers and weaponry.
Their exploits, both financial and military, aren’t simply meant to be forgotten in an old newsreel – they are being broadcasted and immortalized throughout the internet, making sure to leave a lasting mark on Mexican popular culture. In order to achieve such a feat, a variety of everyday social networks are being used, from the more classical Facebook and Twitter, to platforms you would rather associate with duckfaces and food snapshots, such as Instagram.
The culture of the selfie, and of the ownership photo (e.g. “Look at my new bike/ car/ stereo”), took a wild and dangerous turn in this rather numerous subculture of Mexican society. For example, the picture below depicts internet celebrity Broly Banderas, a self-confessed member of the infamous Knights Templar cartel, one of the most active organizations in terms of social media representation.
Broly’s Facebook page, which I thoughtfully linked in the footnotes so that you can have a closer look, is full of photos often depicting him surrounded by a large variety of guns, from “harmless” pistols and shotguns, to much bigger toys such as RPGs and what presumably is a golden AK47 assault rifle. The obsession for flashy weaponry is far from being a new phenomenon, such weaponry being often found in the possession of warlords and 3rd world authoritative figures from all around the world, the most famous example being a similarly gold-plated AKS found in Uday Hussein’s private quarters. However, the tendency of boasting such belongings on the Internet is a relatively new practice, and it seems that Mexican drug cartels seem to have a monopoly on it, at least quantity-wise.
Things become even more gruesome when it comes to showing what cartel members actually do with their guns and machetes. Numerous photos, and even videos, of executions or dead bodies dumped on the side of the road are now a common site on Facebook, with the authorities taking little or indecisive action to remove them. Some go as far as using YouTube for the purpose of transmitting threats and statements which, until recently were done via tapes anonymously sent to TV stations for broadcasting. One famous example is that of Mexican gangster “La Tuta”, leader of the same cartel that Broly is part of (The Knights Templar), whose YouTube speech has gathered 60 times more views than that of president Enrique Peña Nieto, released approximately at the same time. Not to mention that, in his speech, “La Tuta” threatens to kill the aforementioned president, among others.
Still, as a silver lining, these almost narcissistic exploits have also backfired on the tech-loving cartel members, helping the Interpol in one of their biggest busts this year. Top Sinaloa cartel enforcer, Jose Rodrigo Arechiga Gamboa (known in the criminal world as “El Chino Antrax”), was arrested in January after landing on the Amsterdam airport under a false name. Allegedly, his more-than-generous Twitter and Instagram feeds, which among others contain photos of him driving expensive sports cars and photobombing celebrities such as Paris Hilton, helped the investigators track his movements, and “connect missing dots” regarding his current whereabouts. If these claims are indeed true, then El Chino Anthrax’s fellow branch members might want to think twice about the (quite obvious) fact that an excessively powerful presence in the online environment brings not only fame and intimidation, but also unwanted attention and transparency.
And while Sinaloa kingpin “El Chapo” Guzman was recently arrested, which in military rhetoric is nothing short of “cutting the serpent’s head off”, there are no clear signs that the conflict will cease anytime soon. It is interesting to see if this practice will continue to thrive, and how far can it go (tagging people’s Facebook profile on pictures of their dead bodies, perhaps?), or if it will ultimately be the undoing of many of the cartels’ younger, more boastful members.
Broly’s lovely Facebook page (unfortunately you can’t be his friend, only his follower)