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The administration of former president Felipe Calderon had granted high-flying U.S. spy planes access to Mexican airspace for the purpose of gathering intelligence. Unarmed Customs and Border Protection drones had flown from bases in the United States in support of Mexican military and federal police raids against drug targets and to track movements that would establish suspects’ “patterns of life.” The United States had also provided electronic signals technology, ground sensors, voice-recognition gear, cellphone-tracking devices, data analysis tools, computer hacking kits and airborne cameras that could read license plates from three miles away.(HT: Shannon Young)
Jess Bachman at Visual.ly says,
We just produced this animated short on the escalating drug cartel violence on the US-Mexico border. This is some horrific stuff that is a lot closer than Afghanistan and Syria and something we play a much larger role in, yet it get's no national coverage. Additionally its not even mentioned as part of the gun control debate. Mexico has strict gun laws... where do the cartels arm themselves? Imported from the U.S. of course. Our gun policy is not just a domestic one. Here's to hoping we can keep the drug war at the forefront this term.
For a limited time at PBS.org, you can watch the full-length version of "Reportero," an incredible documentary film about Jesús Blancornelas and Héctor Félix Miranda's long-running Mexican newsweekly, Zeta. The environment in Baja California is so hostile -- it is certainly one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters -- that the paper is printed across the border in Southern California to ensure its survival, and that of the people who run it.
Read the rest
Read the rest
At PBS NewsHour, Jenny Marder has a truly epic report on so-called "bath salts," a term commonly used to refer to a variable cocktail of drugs linked to a number of violent episodes throughout the US. Her investigative feauture is the most extensive and authoritative I've seen on the topic, a long read full of the stuff that makes great reporting great: nitty-gritty chemistry mysteries, personal stories about the people who use the drug, and big-picture questions about why the stuff is so widely available, and why it seems to be so destructive. Don't miss the slide shows and video that accompany the beautifully laid-out feature. There's even an instructional animated gif!
Users are often hyper-agitated, hot and sweating, she said. Their heart rate is dangerously high, their blood pressure is up, and seizures are common. Often even high doses of common sedatives don't help them. Doctors instead must turn to antipsychotics or other powerful medications.
Early on, doctors began noticing something else that was strange. Compared with other drugs, bath salts didn't follow a normal dose-response pattern. With cocaine or methamphetamine, the drug entered the bloodstream, and, within hours, began to wear off. Not so for bath salts. “Some patients were in the hospital for 5 days, 10 days, 14 days,” Ryan said. “In some cases, they were under heavy sedation. As you try to taper off the sedation, the paranoia came back and the delusions."
As Ryan was scrambling to grasp the scope of the problem in Louisiana, scientists 1,000 miles away were beginning to tease out the drug's chemistry. What was it about this substance, they wondered, that could make a man cut his own throat or a mother leave her 2-year-old in the middle of a highway?
Read: "Bath Salts: The Drug That Never Lets Go" (newshour.org)
(Disclosure: I've worked with Jenny before, on PBS Newshour stories with science correspondent Miles O'Brien).
In Juarez, we saw fearful human beings — sources — who need to get their information into the right hands. With our packet-switching mind-set, we realized that there may be a technological workaround to the fear: Sources don’t need to physically turn to corrupt authorities, distant journalists or diffuse nonprofits, and rely on their hope that the possible benefit is worth the risk of exposing themselves.
Technology can help intermediate this exchange, like servers passing packets on the Internet. Sources don’t need to pierce their anonymity. They don’t need to trust a single person or institution. Why can’t they simply throw encrypted packets into the network and let the tools move information to the right destinations?
In a sense, we are talking about dual crowdsourcing: Citizens crowdsource incident awareness up, and responders crowdsource justice down, nearly in real time. The trick is that anonymity is provided to everyone, although such a system would know a unique ID for every user to maintain records and provide rewards. This bare-bones model could take many forms: official and nonprofit first responders, investigative journalists, whistleblowers, neighborhood watches.
I'll be interested to hear what people in Juarez, and throughout Mexico, think of the editorial. The notion that crypto, Tor, or other anonymity-aiding online tools might help peaceful observers is not a new one, and not one that activists in Mexico need outsiders to teach them about. There are plenty of smart geeks in Mexico who are well aware of the need for, and usefulness of, such tools. But Google execs speaking directly to the conflict, and how widely-available free tools might help, is a new and notable thing. Red the rest here. (thanks, @martinxhodgson)
UPDATE: One media outlet in Mexico reports that there is no proof that the man killed in Nuevo Laredo on Wednesday was a social media user. Police say they are still investigating. Unlike in previous cases involving administrators/contributors to the online message board in question, the newspaper affiliated with that forum has not come forward to confirm the identity of the dead.
UPDATE 2: Nuevo Laredo Live reports that the man killed is "not one of our collaborators," but "a scapegoat" whose murder serves to send a message of fear.
The moderator of an online discussion forum about local cartel-related crime is reported to have been killed in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Near the corpse, a "narco manta," or sign taking responsibility for the murder, was found and points to the ultraviolent cartel known as the Zetas.
Wired News reports that the victim was a 35-year-old man who went by the nickname “Rascatripas” or “Scraper” (literally, “Fiddler”) on the web-based chat network Nuevo Laredo en Vivo where he served as a community moderator. The body was handcuffed, with signs of torture, and was decapitated and was placed next to a monument for Christopher Columbus about a mile south of the Texas border. That same site has previously been used as a dumping ground for victims of this form of crime.
The discussion board in question is the same one at the center of the near-identical murder of two other Nuevo Laredo residents two months ago. They were outed as active participants in the site's crime-tip forum, and they were gruesomely murdered as "snitches." Their bodies were dumped in the same location, with a sign indicating that their killing should serve as a warning for others who share information about cartel activities on the internet.
Below the man’s body was a partially obscured and blood-stained blanket. Written on the blanket in black ink: “Hi I’m ‘Rascatripas’ and this happened to me because I didn’t understand I shouldn’t post things on social networks.”
The discovery of the body Wednesday morning brings the total number of bloggers and social media networkers apparently killed in the past three months by organized crime in Mexico — and in the border city of Nuevo Laredo — to four.
One important caveat: some who cover this news beat point out that there are insufficient confirmed details to report the identity of the victim as fact just yet. Neither the police, the family of the deceased, nor the operators of the web forum have validated early online reports. It is possible that the victim's actual identity is not what the sign next to the body states. It is possible that the killing was staged by the Zetas or some other individual or entity for any number of purposes.
Given the nature of cartel-related crime in the region, those facts may take time to confirm. But the message delivered seems clear.
Photo: A relative reacts after his arrival at a crime scene where a man was shot dead in Acapulco two days ago. According to local media, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a DVD and music salesman. The next day, the charred and headless remains of five people were found in the same city. And today, five disembodied heads, presumably the same victims, were discovered near a primary school nearby. [REUTERS]
In the Mexican city of Acapulco, where violence related to drug cartels has been escalating in recent weeks, police today found five decomposing human heads outside the Benito Juarez primary school [Google Maps link]. Armed men placed a wooden box outside the school early Tuesday, with a white cloth sack inside containing the severed heads and four handwritten cards inside threatening local officials and drug traffickers. The earliest reports appeared at the Milenio news website.
Prensa Latina reports that teachers in Acapulco schools have increasingly become the target of extortion demands, prompting the closure of schools and causing many teachers and children to stay away in fear. Just 200 feet from where the gruesome discovery was made today, a group of Mexican federal troops are stationed. More from news.com.au:
The discovery occurred in full view of young students and pedestrians, sparking fear in the area. Soldiers and police removed the remains and cordoned off the location.
Yesterday in the same city - a major port and tourist resort on Mexico's Pacific coast - police found five decapitated bodies: three badly burned inside a pickup truck, and two others outside the vehicle.
(Photo: Javier Trujillo/Millenium; via Warren Ellis)
Update, 10:45pm PT: Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom has declared a state of martial law in the Péten region, in response to Sunday's massacre.
On a cattle ranch in the northern Petén region of Guatemala yesterday, at least 27 agricultural workers were murdered, 26 of whom were decapitated, after dozens of armed commandos (reported numbers vary between 30 and 200) stormed the ranch and demanded to know where owner Otto Salguero was. Guatemalan authorities say none of the victims were involved in drug trafficking, all were innocent laborers, none knew where the ranch owner was. Among the confirmed victims: two women and two children. One man is reported to have survived by pretending to be dead after the attackers stabbed him in the stomach. He told a reporter the killing began around 7 pm Saturday, and ended around 3 am Sunday. He escaped two hours later, badly wounded, encountering a pile of human heads along the way.
Another survivor, possibly the only other survivor, was a pregnant mother. According to various reports, the armed men let her go because her little girl was screaming so loudly. What happened to her child, and other children at the scene not confirmed dead, is unclear.
A spokesman for Guatemala's police described what they found on Sunday morning: "One whole body, 26 bodies without heads, and 23 heads." This is the worst single incident of violence since the country's 36-year civil war ended in 1996, and is seen by many in the country as a symbolic act of political terror, while the nation prepares for presidential elections. Messages at the scene written on a wall in the victims' blood (various reports say they were scrawled with a severed leg) make clear who is responsible: Los Zetas, a paramilitary Mexican drug gang that in recent years has expanded throughout Central America and operates with particular impunity and freedom within Guatemala. The organization has long recruited from the ranks of kaibiles, the elite special forces division of the Guatemalan army trained in jungle warfare who carried out massacres of indigenous peasants during the civil war. The brutality evidenced in this massacre, even the killing techniques, brings to mind the worst of the death squad attacks in the 1980s. The leader of the armed group that carried out this massacre is reported to have identified himself to the workers as "kaibil."
Renata Avila at Global Voices has a thorough roundup of news links and updates from people in Petén who posted first-hand observations and photos to Twitter.
The violence continued today. AP:
Two men were killed and one suspect in the massacre was taken into custody after a confrontation with police Monday morning, while grenades were tossed at a home and business in a town near San Benito, where the bodies were taken for identification.
At the top and inset of this post, above: photographs tweeted from the scene by Twitter user Tekandi Paniagua, who traveled there today, as did Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom with senior members of the Guatemalan government and military police. Tweeting from the site, Tekandi described what he saw as "scenes from a horror movie," with the farmworkers' residences torn apart, belongings shredded, blood everywhere. Tekandi described what he witnessed as "unforgettable and horrendous," adding, "I honestly believe that [now] only God can rescue Guatemala."
The massacre took place in a small pueblo in the jungle about 275 miles (440 km) north of the nation's capital, Guatemala City. The site is close to the Mexican border, and not far from the town of La Libertad: Google Maps link here. The Péten region has become increasingly lawless in recent years as the power and presence of drug cartels grows; some refer to it as the country's "Wild West." As regular readers of this blog know, I have traveled and worked as a volunteer extensively in Guatemala. I have avoided the Petén over the past couple of years as security conditions grew poorer, for locals and foreigners alike. This region is rich in pre-Columbian history: it's where some of the greatest ruins of the ancient Maya are located, including Tikal. In much of the sparsely populated Petén, there are more plants and wildlife than there are humans. The infrastructure throughout is limited. Narcos aside, the people here are among the country's poorest and most marginalized.
Below, graphic photos from Reuters taken today that show Guatemalan police standing by the decapitated bodies, and forensic workers in a field of severed heads. Click to un-mosaic and view photos unaltered.
Members of the Colombian Navy stand guard on top of a seized submarine built by drug smugglers in a makeshift shipyard in Timbiqui, department of Cauca, February 14, 2011. Colombian authorities said the submersible craft was to be used to transport 8 tons of cocaine illegally into Mexico. (REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga).
Reported in the Colombian (Spanish-language) paper El Tiempo here:
The sub presents the use of advanced technology seen for the first time in this country, and its construction must have cost the narcotraffickers more than 4,000 million pesos, according to the Naval police of the Pacific.There's a related MSNBC article here.
More photos below, because who can get enough of a hundred-foot-long homemade cocaine sub?