In Mexico, Tweet and Die

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico – “No news is good news,” goes the old adage, but in the city of Nuevo Laredo, where two mutilated bodies were found hanging from a pedestrian overpass, citizens know that if the media doesn’t report it, it’s because the drug cartels want to send a message.

The two – a young man and woman -- were found Tuesday, their bodies half naked and displaying signs of torture, with the letter ‘Z’ representing the drug cartels, known as Zetas, painted across their chests. Nearby were messages containing warnings to users of two Web sites that report on criminal activity.

"This will happen to all Internet busy bodies," one read. Another poster warned in menacing tones, "Shape up, I am on to you."

For a media that has been cowed into silence by the escalating violence, spectacles such as these serve as a sort of cart blanch from the cartels themselves, whose message then reaches those who are turning to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to alert each other about sudden street shootings, or blocked streets and highways.

“They are so well organized that in a matter of seconds they will highjack street buses, get passengers down and block the streets to impede the passage of police vehicles,” said a fellow reporter from the neighboring city of Reynosa, who for obvious reasons requested anonymity.

Needless to say most civilians in the area believe the cartels also count on the help of moles within the police force.

“How can you explain that they patrol the city 24/7 but always get to the scene of the crime after it happens,” asked one eyewitness rhetorically. “Yesterday a lot of people were tweeting that there were a bunch of armed men trying to hang the bodies,” said the witness, who lives in the area.

Others told local media that the bodies were initially hanged in a less busy street but that the culprits then decided to “make them more visible.”

The killings follow a state of the nation address delivered a week earlier by President Felipe Calderon, in which he told crowds gathered in the Mexican capital’s central square that, “Mexico is better off now than ten years ago.”

While mainstream media outlets played repeated broadcasts of the president’s statements across the country, customers at a Nuevo Laredo comedor -- Mexico’s equivalent of a greasy spoon -- jokingly asked to have whatever it was the president was drinking.

Scenes like those at the bridge have sadly become common ones for any ten-year-old in Mexico today. Outside of the Presidential mansion, on the streets and cities of Mexico, the reality is a far cry from the President’s rhetoric.

The Zetas started as ex-elite army officers working as hitmen for the Gulf cartel in the 1990s. A split between the two is blamed for some of the country's most gruesome drug violence in recent years, with the death toll topping 15,000 in 2010 alone.

For journalists, Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with 40 killed since 2004.

“I know that if my cell phone rings after midnight it is them,” says a publisher that also requested anonymity. “Sometimes they will send you a press release and demand that it be run. Or they call you to demand not to report on some specific news… what do you do? Call the police? The police work with them… they have patrol cars, blinded vehicles and a network of informants all over the place… you can’t move without them not knowing where you are,” he said.