Mexican activists under fire after blogger kidnap

MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press ALBERTO ARCE, Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican peace activists and bloggers who try to warn fellow citizens about drug violence said Friday they feel under attack following the kidnapping and possible killing of one of their colleagues.

The kidnapping of Dr. Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio has sent a chill through the border state of Tamaulipas, where common citizens have used Twitter and Facebook accounts to warn each other about drug gang shootouts in which passers-by can be hit by stray bullets or have their vehicles stolen at gunpoint.

The few who dare speak out on the home turf of violent drug gangs insist they will carry on, but they say the situation has grown more difficult.

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“I think the killing of the doctor is a watershed moment. I think a lot of people are going to think hard” about continuing such work, said activist Eduardo Cantu, who organized a rare protest for peace in the port city of Tampico in May that drew about 12,000 people.

Such public demonstrations are rare in Tamaulipas, a state where the Gulf and Zetas cartels have long been active and often fight pitched battles on city streets with .50-caliber rifles and hand grenades.

In issuing their reports, activists make a rule of never mentioning which gang is involved, or what its objective is.

“We don’t get involved with them. What we do is create a network … to warn people through social media: ‘Hey, there is a shootout, don’t drive through there,'” Cantu said. “We never mention details. And if even that bothers them, if even that is a reason to kill you, then things are bad.”

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He has suggested to authorities that they take over the job of warning people, but he said in most cases, they have refused.

“They say, ‘No, that would cause panic,'” Cantu said. “In the end they are forcing us to do it. We as citizens have to defend ourselves … we have to use unofficial means to provide information that the government should be providing.”

Fuentes Rubio’s home city of Reynosa sporadically offered a warning service.

The Tamaulipas state prosecutor’s office said Thursday that Fuentes Rubio’s relatives had filed a complaint saying she was kidnapped by gunmen outside a business in Reynosa on Wednesday. The prosecutors’ office said it was investigating reports she had been killed, an apparent reference to images that were posted on her hacked Twitter account after she disappeared.

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The hacked account, @Miut3, was later suspended. But before it went down, someone using Fuentes Rubio’s cellphone posted a photo of her apparently lifeless, bloody face and the words “today my life has reached its end.”

“Close your account, don’t put your families at risk like I did. I’m sorry,” tweets on the hacked account read. “I died for nothing. They are closer on our trail than you think.”

The hyper-violent Zetas cartel has been blamed for attacks in previous years on social media activists in Tamaulipas. But the killing of Fuentes Rubio occurred in Reynosa, which is controlled by the Gulf cartel.

The administrator of the Facebook page Valor por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaulipas), the foremost social-media source tracking violence in the state, wrote to The Associated Press on Friday that Fuentes Rubio was a valued contributor until 2013, when she was asked to stop contributing for her own safety.

“She was so daring she was putting herself at greater risk by collaborating with me,” the administrator wrote, saying Fuentes Rubio “gave her life for the community … she is a hero.”

The administrator, who works anonymously for safety reasons but is known to control the write, wrote that the killing would not stop the work of the page, which records killings, shootouts, carjackings and other risk situations that local newspapers have largely stopped covering after themselves coming under attack from the cartels.

“The doctor’s efforts over the last few years to strengthen social networks will have to continue, to honor her memory.”