Mexican Traffickers Wage Publicity War

Julie Watson, AP, April 12, 2007

Drug traffickers are waging a highly effective publicity campaign in Mexico that began with a chilling show of brutality in Acapulco: two police officers’ heads, streaming with blood, were stuck on metal spikes outside a downtown building with a fluorescent cardboard sign. “So that you learn to respect,” it read in thick black letters.

The spectacle a year ago in the Pacific resort set off a ghoulish trend among the drug lords battling for billion-dollar smuggling routes into the United States. They’ve since left a trail of bodies and bloodstained notes across Mexico, with a goal of spreading feara sense of dread so deep that rivals, police, witnesses and even President Felipe Calderon won’t dare cross them.

Regular citizens used to be left out of this calculation as organized crime groups quietly settled scores between themselves.

No longer. The drug gangs now publish newspaper ads, and tack threatening notes to corpses with ice picks or tape them to trash bags filled with body parts for public display. They’re even using the Internet, posting a video on YouTube that showed the apparent beheading of an alleged hitman.

“Before long, they’re going to have their own TV program, ‘Narconews,’ where they drag out their dead for show,” drug expert Jorge Chabat joked grimly.

Drug-related killings using corpses as message boards have been carried out in a dozen Mexican states in the past yearan indication, experts say, that Mexico’s rival Gulf and Sinaloa cartels hope they can frighten the population to the point that Calderon will retreat from his nationwide military crackdown.

In many areas, it’s working: Police are resigning in record numbers, newspapers are censoring themselves, and witnesses rarely expose themselves to a justice system seen as inefficient and corrupt.

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One of the boldest displays yet was a video posted on YouTube this month. It showed a man in his underwear, tied to a chair with a “Z” written on his chestan apparent reference to the Zetas, former military operatives who now are Gulf cartel hitmen. The video, which was picked up by newspapers across the country, called on Mexicans to “do something for your country, kill a Zeta.”

Someone off-screen interrogates the man about the Feb. 6 killing of five Acapulco police officers and two secretaries, punching him repeatedly until he says he participated in the attacks. Then he’s shown being strangled by using metal rods to twist a cord around his neck. The video then shows his headless body.

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