On October 16, photographs of a woman were posted on the Twitter account @Miut3 with an ominous message. “My life has come to an end today. Don’t put your families at risk like I did,” the tweet read. “I’m sorry. I died for nothing. They are closer on our trail than you think.”
The woman depicted in the photos was allegedly the same person behind @Miut3: Dr. María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, a physician in the Mexican border city of Reynosa. As @Miut3, Fuentes actively reported via social media according to Sergio Chapa, a reporter with KGBT 4 in Harlingen, Texas. Her reported kidnapping and possible murder have provoked panic among those posting information on shootings, carjackings, and kidnappings to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Fuentes was abducted outside an unidentified business shortly before noon on October 15, according to a statement from the Tamaulipas state attorney general’s office. Colleagues took the warnings on @Miut3–the account has since been suspended by Twitter–seriously, fearing organized crime groups could have her cell phone containing their contact information, Twitter account information, and direct messages. “Her death is being used to intimidate citizen journalists who report,” Chapa, who tracks news shared on social media in Tamaulipas state, told the Committee to Protect Journalists.
While her kidnapping has been confirmed and Fuentes is widely reported to have been killed, her murder and possible motive have not been officially confirmed.
Fuentes was active on Twitter, where she used the handle @Miut3, called herself “Felina,” and adopted Catwoman as her avatar. Chapa told CPJ she re-tweeted his material “daily” and was among the most diligent of the “dozens” of participants using the hashtag #ReynosaFollow.
#ReynosaFollow is commonly used in Reynosa, whenever events such as shootouts and narcobloqueos (cartels commandeering vehicles to block thoroughfares) are underway. Chapa says information collected by Twitter users using #ReynosaFollow has proved accurate–to the point that it is picked up by national and international media outlets. Contributors have also cracked down on attempts at contaminating its information, and dealt with spammers. “They’re a sincere group of citizen journalists,” Chapa said. “They expose stuff that makes national news.”
Tamaulipas borders Texas and has been plagued by drug violence over the past decade as the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas (its former armed wing) battle over a state coveted for its smuggling corridors. Kidnap and extortion are common, along with attacks on Central American migrants transiting Tamaulipas on their way to the U.S. Both cartels have been hit hard by the capture of senior leaders, but security problems persist and power struggles among underlings have broken out.
Reliable reporting is rare in Tamaulipas as most traditional media outlets in the state are either controlled or cowed by organized crime, and reporters are required in some cases to write stories the cartels want published–or keep quiet on others, journalists who have spoken with CPJ said. A 2010 CPJ report from Reynosa stated: “The Gulf criminal group controls the government, the police, even the street vendors. You won’t see that story in the local press. The cartel controls the media, too.”
Observers say the situation of alleged government collusion with crime and cartels controlling the press remains somewhat the same, even if the cartels’ leaderships have changed. “The cartels have an information officer and they work through a person in the press that is colluding with them,” a reporter, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told CPJ. Complicating matters more are suspicions of cartel and government cooperation. “It’s now a fine line between the two,” the reporter, who has worked in newspapers and contributed news reports to social media sites, said. “You don’t know now who is who.”
The reporter was familiar with Fuentes’s work and called her “well informed.” Many people use social media in the state to spread and receive information about security and crime, the source said, but most contribute in a sporadic way. The number of journalists, bloggers and concerned citizens actively reporting events–like Fuentes did–is low because most prefer not to run the risk. “Doing journalism… as it should be done is like playing Russian roulette,” the reporter told CPJ. “If you value your family, value your life, you can’t do it.”
The director of the Facebook page Valor por Tamaulipas, which publishes information on insecurity in the state, told The Associated Press that in addition to her work on Twitter, Fuentes was previously a contributor, but she stopped collaborating in 2013 for safety reasons. The director did not reveal his or her name due to security concerns. Leaflets were distributed last year in Tamaulipas offering a 600,000 peso ($44,000) reward for information on the identities of those working with Valor por Tamaulipas, according to news reports.
Valor por Tamaulipas posted a statement after Fuentes’s kidnapping, saying: “Miut3 stopped reporting today. But what the criminals don’t know is that Miut3 is in our soul and she would never surrender us to organized crime.” Valor por Tamaulipas also showed threatening tweets from October 8 posted in Miut3’s timeline, warning, “We’re getting close to many of you (so) be careful felina.”
Many journalists and bloggers have “in some way … a relationship with Valor por Tamaulipas,” the reporter who spoke to CPJ said. A request for comment sent to an address on the Valor por Tamaulipas Facebook page went unanswered.
Investigations into Fuentes’s kidnapping are ongoing and it was possibly unrelated to her activities on social media, according to one of Chapa’s sources. The source told Chapa that the doctor had been unable to treat the son of a cartel member at her clinic, and the child died en route to the hospital. Fuentes’s captors likely learned her online identity and used it to spread fear, he said.
It is not the first time members of the press in Tamaulipas have come under attack. A video released last year shows a supposed Valor por Tamaulipas contributor being killed after reciting a warning for social media users to stop reporting organized crime activities. The video’s authenticity is disputed. And in 2011, María Elizabeth Macías Castro was murdered in the Tamaulipas city of Nuevo Laredo after reporting on organized crime activities via social media. A note was found with her decapitated body, providing her online identity, and headphones and a keyboard were placed next to her head. The murder was the first case CPJ documented of a journalist being killed in direct retaliation for work published on social media.
UPDATE: The second and fifth paragraph have been corrected to reflect the correct Twitter handle for Fuentes.