By Christina Noriega
The recent murder of María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, a physician and citizen journalist known on Twitter for her reports of cartel activity in northern Mexico, has sent shock waves through the state of Tamaulipas and shaken journalists working in citizen news networks across the region.
Using the pseudonym Felina or “Catwoman,” Fuentes Rubio was known to use social media to report on narco-activity and other acts of violence unreported by local media. At the time of her death, her Twitter account @Miut3 had 9,000 followers.
Fuentes Rubio was kidnapped on Oct. 15 in Reynosa, a Mexican border town controlled by the Gulf Cartel which, according to the Committee to Project Journalists, has infiltrated the local police, government, and media, censoring major newsrooms and prohibiting the publication of anything that has not been pre-approved.
The following day, a photo of her corpse was posted to her Twitter account by her killers. A message was posted with the photo: "My life has come to an end today,” the tweet read. “Don't put your families at risk like I did. I'm sorry. I died for nothing. They are closer on our trail than you think."
While the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 30 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, some have indicated that the death of Fuentes Rubio might be different, or that it may have the effect of thwarting similar citizen journalist reporting.
"I think the killing of the doctor is a watershed moment,” Mexican activist Eduardo Cantu told the Associated Press. “I think a lot of people are going to think hard" about continuing such work.
In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, a user on the citizen news site Valor por Tamaulipas or “Courage for Tamaulipas,” where Fuentes Rubio worked until 2013, reflected on the effects of the recent murder of the citizen journalist:
“Another aspect that worries me about the short-term future is the threat of organized crime that is not aligned with the State or narco-trafficking,” the post read. “We will have complicated days, like those we’ve had before.”
As a regular contributor to the news site Valor por Tamaulipas, Fuentes Rubio used #ReynosaFollow, a hashtag that was known to national and international media outlets as signaling reports on local violence.
Sergio Chapa, a broadcast reporter based in Harlingen, Texas, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that reports from #ReynosaFollow were accurate, timely, and that contributors regularly monitored and cleared the account of false reports. "They are a sincere group of citizen journalists," Chapa said. "They expose stuff that makes national news."
The news site had become a clear target for drug trafficking groups operating in the area. Last year, an unidentified cartel offered a reward of about $48,000 for the identities of Valor por Tamaulipas' administrators, according to The Daily Beast.
In a recent statement to the Associated Press, however, the website admin, who works anonymously for security reasons, promised that the death of Fuentes Rubio would not stop their operations, adding that "The doctor's efforts over the last few years to strengthen social networks will have to continue, to honor her memory."
Police have not yet recovered the body of Fuentes Rubio and the crime has been reported as a kidnapping for the time being. Reporters Without Borders has openly condemned the murder and demanded that the Mexican government conduct a thorough investigation. Currently, as emphasized by freedom of expression watchdog Freedom House, those accused of attacks on the press enjoy almost complete impunity in Mexico.
“Organized crime groups’ terror campaigns against citizens are unfortunately not new in Mexico,” said Virginie Dangles, a representative of Reporters without Borders. “The fight against impunity is the only way to protect the citizens who risk their lives to provide information on the violence afflicting the country.”
While Tamaulipas continues to grapple with the death of a well-known citizen journalist, others who collaborated with Fuentes Rubio on Valor por Tamaulipas have taken measures to protect their identities.
According to the Daily Beast report, many have changed their cell phone numbers, fearing that the cartel may have acquired their contact information when they confiscated the phone of Fuentes Rubio.
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.