A police officer holds up yellow police tape at a crime scene where six people were strangled to death and one decapitated in a shack on the outskirts of Cancun, Mexico.
In one of Mexico's most dangerous states, bravery is trending. Valor Por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaulipas) is a Facebook and Twitter account that reports on violence in Tamaulipas, the northeastern Mexican state that borders Texas stricken by violence carried out by rival drug cartels. Launched in January last year, the crime watchdog posts citizen complaints and so-called “risk situations” related to organized crime in the region.
Last month, the anonymous administrator of the watchdog project reportedly shut down its site after flyers offering a reward of 600,000 pesos ($46,000) for information on his identity were distributed in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas. Undeterred, the blogger vowed to keep tweeting to his thousands of followers “to the very end,” he tells Metro Mexico.
How did you get the idea for this project?
I am just continuing the work of a Facebook page called Un grito de ayuda por Tamaulipas (A cry for help for Tamaulipas), but that page decided to discontinue publishing risk situations after the administrator of a similar site in Nuevo Laredo (in Tamaulipas state) was killed. I first decided to make a page reporting missing people, and then I started to publish risk situations and expose impunity and injustice.
Why did you create the account?
To be honest, I think that I made the account because I was powerless at not being able to help in another way, to see how organized crime chooses who will live and can inculcate fear in everybody.
Recently you announced that you would close your account. Why did you decide not to do it?
Yes, I did announce it. I thought I could create a new account, a safer one with less focus on organized crime, but it was not possible. I had to keep it open to answer questions from my followers on Twitter. I knew that if I stopped it completely, that would be a victory for the criminals. Organized crime with or without VxT keeps causing violence, but at least with VxT it's likely that some crimes are reported.
Do you see any changes in the pipeline?
Besides having my trusted partners make some adjustments, I need to control every action I have on Twitter. I think what has changed in me is the decision to stay with VxT to the end. I never thought about giving up but I thought I could change my platform. Now I see that my platform is VxT, and I must defend it.
Who or what could shut down your social media accounts?
I can't answer that because it would only give ideas to the criminals. I can just say that I'll be here to the very end.
Are you afraid of being found out?
Always. I have faced it in the best way that I could. The gangs would have to live in the area where we live, and know how to end the lives of those who decide not to follow crime's rules, to know how to have those who have refused to obey murdered. But how can we not be afraid if we know what awaits us the day we get caught?
Criminals offered 600,000 pesos for uncovering your identity. How did this make you feel?
They constantly make threats. I have always faced them. The answer has been the same as with previous threats and it would continue in one or another way, though. When the flyer [offering a price on the blogger's head] was released in different media, I was concerned that the risks for my followers would increase.
Do social media accounts do the job of police authorities in your region?
It seems that the existing authorities in the region only make us cling to a hope that the Army or Navy could regain control of the state – so far this has not happened. Social networks are no substitute for the authorities and the government has to enforce the rule of law, but at least we can expose this situation. But it's sad to see that the government itself is part of the corruption and criminal groups. And while the government has its own battles, people are still suffering criminal control.