The Mexican Doctor Who Leads a Militia Against the Cartels
Michoacan, the fertile agricultural state in western Mexico, is in the midst of war. There are three main players: the cartel known asLos Caballeros Templarios (the Knights Templar), the Federal Police and Mexican Army forces, and the armed civilian groups that have emerged in Michoacan—as well as other states—in the absence of peace and safety.
A sort of moral leader has arisen from these militia groups. Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles Valverde heads the General Counsel for Self-Defense and Community Police Forces of Michoacan. Since communities in the region took up arms to defend their towns from crime last February, Dr. Mireles has been their public voice, appearing on magazine covers and in televised interviews, defending every Mexican’s right to protect themselves from lawlessness.
Last week, photographer Hans-Maximo Musielik spent five days with Dr. Mireles, getting closer to the leader than anyone before. He documented Dr. Mireles, as well as his guards and commanders, as they kept road blocks and sought the expansion of the territory under the command of the self-defense council. On December 29, they peacefully overtook the municipality of Churumuco. Everything remained calm until January 4 when the community police forces took over Paracuaro, the tenth municipality to be added to the self-defense zone. But unlike Churumuco, the arrival of the self-defense groups met resistance, leading to fatal fighting. At least two gunmen for the Templarios were killed during the reported shootings. Two Mexican Army soldiers died in an ambush nearby. Hans-Maximo’s photos also capture the death of one member of the self-defense forces, a killing that was not counted in the major news reports.
My Girlfriend and I Found the Real Hannibal Lecter for Thomas Harris
Diego Enrique Osorno is a prominent Mexican author and poet. He has written six books, primarily focusing on the country’s drug cartels, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo León, where the real-life Hannibal Lecter was imprisoned.
Last week horror fans discovered that one of the genre’s most notorious villains, Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter, was based on a real doctor imprisoned in Mexico, whom the author met while visiting the prison as a young man to interview another inmate named Dykes Askew Simmons. Last spring, through my editor, I received a message from Harris, who wanted me to find and identify someone who had been a prisoner in the Nuevo Leon State Prison during the 50s and 60s. For a few moments I thought I’d wind up sustaining an epistolary exchange with Harris like Hannibal held with some of his patients. As I read the note, however, it became clear that I was only needed as a sort of hired detective. His note read [sic]:
The Fugitive Reporter Exposing Mexico’s Drug Cartels
These are the opening paragraphs of Dying for the Truth, a book written about the infamous Blog del Narco, which fills Mexicans in on the (often bloody) activities of the murderous local drug cartels, where the nation’s mainstream media has failed:
Shortly before we completed this book, two people—a young man and woman who worked with us—were disembowelled and hung off a bridge in Tamaulipas, a state in the north of Mexico. Large handwritten signs, known as narcobanners, next to their bodies mentioned our blog, and stated that this was what happened to internet snitches. The message concluded with a warning that we were next.
A few days later, they executed another journalist in Tamaulipas who regularly sent us information. The assassins left keyboards, a mouse, and other computer parts strewn across her body, as well as a sign that mentioned our blog again.
However, we refuse to be intimidated.
As you can see, the people who keep the blog running risk their lives to do so. The book, which will be published in both English and Spanish by Feral House, will include a selection of the most relevant posts and pictures published between March 2, 2010, when the blog first started, and February 2011. Choosing to remain anonymous for safety reasons, the blog’s editor finally agreed to talk about her work, and the threats and trials she and the site’s programmer have faced in order to keep this project alive for so long.
According to the book, in 2012, their website—whose aim is to collect uncensored articles and images about the Mexican cartel’s extreme violence, their activities, and the government’s fight against them—registered an average of 25 million visits a month. According to Alexa, it is one of the most visited sites in Mexico. Although criticized by some media outlets for publishing gory images and information that’s given to them by cartels (such as executions and video messages aimed at rival organizations), the blog has become an essential source of news for journalists, citizens, and visitors.
VICE had the opportunity to speak with Lucy (a pseudonym she has chosen to protect her identity) about her blog, her new book, and what’s next for Blog del Narco.
VICE: Let’s start from the beginning. How did Blog del Narco come about?
Lucy: It was a way to show we were angry with the authorities and the media who had forgotten their number one responsibility, which is to keep the public informed. I’m a journalist, and my partner does both social networks and programming—so the idea was born, and on March 2, 2010, we went live with the blog.
Was there anything in particular that made you act?
Stories from people like, “I went on vacation to Tamaulipas and they were saying absolutely nothing on the news. I walked into the lion’s den and the gangs stole my vehicle, they locked me up for two days”—that kind of situation. People who had nothing to do with this, but ended up being affected due to a lack of information.
Why weren’t the media reporting what was going on?
They had been gagged in two ways: the federal government had told them, “You won’t say anything, there’s nothing going on here,” and on the other hand, there was the pressure from the criminal organizations.
I recently received an anonymous tip on a piece I wrote last year that catalogued some of the ingenious narco-smuggling tech used by Guzmán, the world’s most powerful and wealthy cartel boss. His methods run the gamut from ancient Grecian artillery (weed catapults) to sly business fronts (his one-time jalapeño company thrived off cans of coke-stuffed peppers) to million-dollar watercraft (narco submarines).
It’s this whatever-works approach to providing Americans with a great deal of their drugs that has propelled his Sinaloa cartel to grim notoriety, and Chapo himself to mythic status across Mexico. Countless narcocorridos sing his high praises. And though he’s known to frequent bustling urban areas, brazenly hiding in plain sight, few pictures of the man exist.
- by Brian Anderson