Data journalism project NarcoData peels back curtain on Mexican organized crime

A transnational collaboration between two Latin American digital sites has resulted in yet another data journalism project that exposes structures of some of the region’s biggest power players.

NarcoData, a project between Mexican digital news site Animal Político and Chilean digital platform Poderopedia, peels back the curtain on criminal groups in Mexico over the past four decades.

So far, the site has published visualizations, accompanied by videos, showing the growth of organized crime over the past seven Mexican presidencies, with a spotlight on that of current President Enrique Peña Nieto.

In the coming days, NarcoData will unveil new data visualizations around different topics, including the emergence of armed groups attached to cartels, the rivalries between cartels that started in the mid 1990s, the effects of the war on drugs on cartels, the geographic growth of organized crime over four decades and the evolution of organized crime in Mexico into large international drug trafficking organizations. Yet, the team at NarcoData plans to expand the project further.

“The Mexican State has failed, for decades, to give citizens information clearly, constantly, orderly, systematically and via open data, about organized crime and the results of their fight. NarcoData wants to be the digital platform to fill that void,” said Dulce Ramos, editor of Animal Político and coordinator of NarcoData.

Almost exactly one year ago, on Oct. 21, 2014, Animal Político received a document from the country’s Attorney General’s Office that they had requested through the Law of Transparency and Access to Information, according to the NarcoData site.

In addition to showing the criminal groups operating in Mexico and the cartels to which they answer, the document called into question “'myths’ created by public figures, like Mexico City is free from organized crime or that all the criminal groups lose power under the current federal government,” NarcoData said.

Ramos said the project would have been very difficult, but not impossible to do without the Law of Transparency and Access to Information. The team created the databases using documentation obtained through the transparency law, Ramos said, “but as journalists should always do, we never give information, no matter the source, until all is confirmed and well corroborated.” Consequently, the team supplemented official information with information taken from books about the history of drug trafficking (el narco) in Mexico and from interviews with experts and former intelligent agents in Mexico, she explained. The methodology section explains the team also consulted newspaper archives and official government statements.

About a dozen people, plus the team at Poderopedia, worked on the project, which was funded in part by HacksLabs, Hivos, Avina Foundation and the International Center for Journalists.

Animal Político, established in 2010, is a digital native news site focusing on politics and other special investigative and fact-checking projects.  Poderopedia, founded by Chilean journalist Miguel Paz, investigates and reveals power structures and relationships in Latin American countries. It recently released a project called “Media Map,” which shows media ownership in Chile and Colombia.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.