Free speech turns deadly

By Luke Wilusz

Here in the U.S., we enjoy the privilege of criticizing or speaking out against whomever or whatever we want. We can feel free to decry corruption in our political system and denounce criminal activity and violence in our communities.

Unfortunately, our neighbors to the south do not enjoy these same luxuries. Drug cartel-related violence in Mexico has been on the rise recently with a string of high-profile murders targeting people who have spoken out against the cartels. While it’s unfortunately nothing new for journalists to be the targets of violence for their coverage of crime and corruption, Mexican cartels have begun targeting average citizens who have made unfavorable posts on social networking sites and blogs.

On Sept. 13, the bodies of a man and woman were found strung up from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo by their arms and legs, accompanied by a note that read, “This will happen to all the Internet snitches,” followed by a list of anti-cartel blogs and websites. The bodies showed signs of torture, and the woman had been disemboweled. On Sept. 25, the decapitated body of a web site moderator was found near a Christopher Columbus statue one mile from the U.S. border accompanied by a similar warning. On Nov. 9, the decapitated body of a man was found next to that same statue accompanied by a message that read, “This happened to me because I didn’t understand I shouldn’t post things on social networking sites.”

These actions are absolutely appalling. People are being brutally tortured, intimidated, murdered and publicly displayed in an attempt by cartels to control the population with fear. Law enforcement in Mexico seems powerless to stop the violence and the drug wars, and the government as a whole appears to be looking the other way for the most part. Traditional media outlets have been targeted with similar ultraviolence, and many have become less adamant about covering or exposing the gangs, presumably out of an understandable sense of self-preservation. Now, when ordinary citizens who just want to go about their daily lives with some sense of safety and security turned to the Internet as a source of possible salvation, they have also become targets.

It’s hard to encourage people to stay the course, to not give into the gangs’ intimidation and continue to speak out about the hell that their lives have become despite the very real threat of horrific reprisal. As a journalist who has never faced anything even remotely this terrifying, I cannot, in good conscience, encourage people to put themselves and their families in direct danger. However, I have to

admire and commend the courage of the men and women who do choose to put everything on the line to make a stand for the future of their communities and their children. These people are nothing less than heroes, and I genuinely hope that fighting the good fight pays off for them in the end.