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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The power of video has become a tool for police and criminals alike in Mexico's bloody drug war: both share the goal of displaying their victories over the defeated.

09:25 |

The drug gangs post videos on the internet that show beheadings and torture, so as to to intimidate viewers. Some of them even end up on YouTube, although they are usually immediately removed from the popular video website.
Mexico's Federal Police, in turn, broadcast their interrogations of drug bosses before handing them over to justice officials.
The country's criminal underworld leaves little to the realm of imagination. Crude images, sarcastic smirks and startling comments recorded by the cameras allow the average Mexican a look inside the drug cartels.
Sometimes, it is hard to keep one's eyes open to such stark images of the gruesome battle that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since December 2006.
But to balance that out, the police also show reassuring footage of their capture and interrogation of criminal suspects, sending a message that they too can come out on top.
The most recent episode came this week, with the police interrogation of Jose de Jesus Mendez, better known as El Chango. Mendez, the head of the bloody drug cartel La Familia, was arrested Tuesday.
In the subsequent interrogation, he gave astonishing advice to young people to follow the path of good. Even more surprising, he gave his blessing to government and police efforts to combat the drug gangs.
'I think they are doing the right thing in arresting criminals. It's their job, and that's what they're there for, to look after the citizenry. It's great they can do that,' Mendez said, when an unidentified interrogator asked for his opinion on government actions.
He was also asked what he would tell people who are just getting started in the drug trade.
'I'd tell them to get honourable work, there is a lot of good work around. They should do their best, however. It is not just with illegal stuff that you can get by. There are thousands of ways to get by through work.'
Before the El Chango interview, police showed off other drug bosses, like Jorge Balderas Garza, alias JJ, and Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias Barbie.
JJ, who is charged with shooting Paraguay striker Salvador Cabanas in the head, even gave two TV interviews within one day, as if he were a pop star: one after his arrest and one before being handed over to the courts. Later, he took back what he said on his lawyer's advice.
The shooting took place at a Mexico City bar in 2010. Cabanas survived but has yet to recover from the injuries.
Criminals also show off their bloody achievements on the internet. One website, El Blog del Narco (The Drug Blog), posts shocking videos of torture, beatings and even killings and beheadings that are clearly supplied by the drug gangs.
Such content would, for example, be immediately removed from mass video websites such as YouTube, which closely controls content.
But the Narco Blog administrator states on the drug website that he is not a criminal, but rather serves to display items sent to him as insight into the drug scene. Police say it's not necessary to investigate the website, and there is a belief throughout Mexico that the police find information there that is useful to their investigations.
Servando Gomez Martinez, better known as La Tuta, also knows the power of television. The former ally of El Chango at the head of La Familia currently leads the new gang, The Knights Templar.
In 2009, La Tuta gave a surreal telephone interview which was broadcast on television: He offered the government a deal and prayed to God for a chance to escape arrest on earth.
In Mexico, the videos aired by the federal police are popularly nicknamed Garcia Luna Productions, after Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna.
Last year, Garcia Luna brushed off criticism for showing drug lords like Barbie.
'Why is a criminal shown before the media? First of all, I have to tell you that the criminals already aim for media impact, through extreme violence around the drug trade, making their behaviour already public,' he said.
Garcia Luna said that by broadcasting their work in arresting important suspects, the public gets the message that the state is stronger than the gangs.
The gangs aim to intimidate anyone who resists their claim to rule in a territory by using videos. Unlike in the police videos, however, their hostages sometimes finish their appearances with a gunshot to the head.

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