Cartels Fight for Press Attention

By McCarton Ackerman 05/24/12

Mexico's rival Sinaloa and Zetas cartels increasingly try to outdo each other for gruesome violence, in a sick publicity battle.

The gangs "seek new extremes" to grab media
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It's a new type of paparazzi battle, and the images are far from red carpet material. In Mexico's struggle between the more established drug-smuggling Sinaloa cartel and the younger, paramilitary Zetas, more innocent victims are being killed in increasingly gruesome ways, often involving mutilation. To make matters worse, these dismembered bodies are dumped in public locations, and presented to the world through internet photos and videos posted on YouTube, all in the name of intimidation and propaganda. Earlier this month, 49 decapitated bodies were discovered alongside a highway in Nuevo Leon; a leader of the Zetas cartel, Daniel de Jesus Elizondo Ramirez, has since been taken into custody for the murders. Other recent incidents include two criminal groups and their allies depositing 14 headless bodies in front of city hall in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, and hanging nine people, four of them women, from a bridge in the same city. “What was once viewed as extreme is now normal," says Alejandro Hope, a security analyst with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a nonpartisan think tank. "So these gangs must find new extremes. And the only real limit is their imagination, and you do not want to know what is the limit of psychopaths.”  Martin Barron, an expert on security at the National Institute of Criminal Science, says that since most of those murdered are innocent victims, not cartel members, the killings are simply a tactic to show force. "[The cartels' actions] tell the world, the government, their opponents, that ‘I am alive! You have not defeated me. I still am here.’ They show muscle,” he says. “Now why have things gone so far? Why cut off the heads, hands and feet? Previously, these organizations settled matters with a bullet in the head. Not anymore. Now there is a psychopathology at work. Some of these people obviously enjoy this, and they are teaching their surrogates, teenagers, to enjoy it."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.