“Twitter saves lives in Mexico” aftershock

Standard

 Yesterday morning, Americas Quarterly published my article “Twitter saves lives in Mexico”. Apparently the story hit home to a lot of people because it has since gone viral being republished and shared on social networks and the internet at a massive scale (at least I think so anyways).

 I’m glad so many people have found this story interesting. Here is part of the aftershock:

  1. Within a couple of hours, the piece had gone to #1 Most popular on AQ Online.
  2. NBC San Antonio is going to run a report on it sometime next week.
  3. The story was referenced by Hispanic Tips – Hispanic and Latino News Redefined.
  4. NotiSensor translated it into Spanish and republished it here.
  5. Pakistan Voices discussed and linked the story here.
  6. Global Voices promoted the article via Twitter and their website here.
  7. Silobreaker.com talked about the article here.
  8. BuzzBox caught the story and linked it through its Twitter account and via its website.
  9. BuzzTracker also found its way to it and promoted it here.
  10. Twitter users have retweeted the story with impacts over 200,000 just on the first day.  

 The most important thing to remember: the story is only possible due to the fact that we have people behind user accounts like @TrackMty, @SPSeguro and @MAGS_SP helping others be safe. Once again, thanks to them.

Twitter saves lives in Mexico

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Twitter saves lives in Mexico ”

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2576  , published on Jun 10th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

___________

The situation of widespread violence in our border states stemming from drug cartel wars and the federal government’s attempt to combat them is well known.  But I would like to share a story of success that truly symbolizes the strength we can find in social unity when coping with the present state of instability.

The people of Monterrey (located in the northeastern part of Mexico) used to consider the southern part of Texas both their playground and their place for shopping. Even after NAFTA made most consumer products readily available within Mexico, the custom of taking a weekend trip to the Rio Grande Valley or destinations such as San Antonio, Austin or Corpus Christi remained.

That is, until people became too afraid to travel on the Mexican highways near the border. The past couple of years have seen a sharp decline in tourists willing to risk their lives to pass through towns like Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Río Bravo, and Matamoros—all overrun by the cartels. In Monterrey, too, people are less willing to be out on the town after hours. They are afraid of being caught in the middle of a fight between rivaling cartels or criminals and authorities.

However, due to the proliferation of new social media (specifically Twitter) people are now better equipped to cope with their fears. Local anonymous heroes have emerged and created accounts such as @TrackMty, @SPSeguro and @MAGS_SP that are used to warn people about risk zones and specific attacks in real time. Each citizen who follows these users becomes a non-official reporter. And with the widespread popular response to these new accounts, the result is eyes and ears everywhere of people willing to invest a couple of minutes to warn others of danger and lessen the possibilities of innocent people being caught in the crossfire.

Here’s how it works. The person witnessing an attack tweets it to one of these accounts, which is then re-published to a massive audience.  Thanks to this non-paid service we have been able to avoid a number of risky situations by rerouting our course while going from point A to point B. For example, in a matter of seconds, a warning shared by @TrackMty reaches a 40,000-person audience.

The local newspaper EL NORTE, spearheaded a similar strategy for securing highway travel during holiday seasons by promoting the use of a series of hashtags (keywords) on Twitter such as #carreteralaredo and #carreterareynosa (the highways to Laredo and to Reynosa) for reporting incidents on these main roads going to major border towns.

I have witnessed this Twitter warning system firsthand. In traveling through Laredo with my family recently I felt a bit more protected every time a notification came in from a traveler a few miles in front of me noting that there was no danger ahead. With no hidden agenda and nothing to earn from it, users I have never met such as @Gabsinelli, @labellayellibro and @lacandanosa kept me and my family safe during the trip. All I can do is publicly thank them for it. Following suit, I repaid the favor and used the appropriate hashtags to provide similar information for the benefit of those traveling behind me.

The social media boom has sparked revolutions in some countries. In Mexico, it brings us together and provides an opportunity to show solidarity in our common challenge facing urban violence. When credibility in state and municipal law enforcement is as tarnished as it is in Mexico, civil society finds new ways to try to secure itself.  

To all of those who selflessly participate in this chain of collaboration and communication for the better good, thank you.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Happy Birthday, Natalie

Standard

Today we celebrate my ex-girlfriend Natalie Portman’s 30th birthday. Congratulations, Natalie.

Even though our break-up could have been less messy, I’m glad each of us found their way to happiness with their respective others. In the end, we are both in a better place then when we were together, especially after our relationship took a dive and got a bit conflictive. I’m also happy we were able to make our peace and can now be great friends.

Anyways, dear readers, please join us in celebrating Natalie’s big three-o. There are many ways in which you can be a part of this special day.

Here are some ideas:

1. You can dress up as Madonna and sing “Like a Virgin”, like Natalie did in “Leon: The Professional.”

2. You can shave your head bald, like she did in “V for Vendetta.”

3. You can have sex with Darth Vader and then give birth to the Last Jedi, like she did in the Star Wars Saga.

4. You can have a lesbian encounter with Mila Kunis, dress up like a funky chicken and win an Oscar for acting like a crazy dancer, like she did in “The Black Swan.”

Or my personal favorite:

5. You can dress up like an elephant and kick it old-school with Elmo, like she did in Sesame Street. Whatever your choice, don’t miss out on the opportunity to celebrate Natalie today.

You don’t know Jack

Standard

More famously known as Dr. Death, Jack Kevorkian passed away on June 3rd, 2011, one week after his 83rd birthday and as a result of a long-term fight against kidney cancer.  He was best known for publicly championing a terminal patient’s right to die via physician-assisted suicide; he said he assisted at least 130 patients to that end. He famously said “dying is not a crime”.

Whether readers agreed with his methods or not, his death does hit hard for both sides of the euthanasia debate. I personally found the ethics and moral debates related to this topic fascinating, so I must say I did follow his career to a certain extent.

If you would like to learn more about Kevorkian, I can recommend a great movie starring Al Pacino as Dr. Death himself. The title is “You don’t know Jack.”  And if YOU don’t know Jack, you NEED to see this movie.

Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2560 , published on May 31st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

__________________

Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.

The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”

Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.

Such a qualification would also send a clear message to the State Department and the U.S.  Agency for International Development on where to focus assistance funding and contract projects. Equally important, it would show that the U.S. is as serious about eliminating this threat as they were when they decided to add Colombia’s FARC to their terrorist list. It also would set the record straight that providing weapons to these organized crime groups is punishable in the same way that it  is to establish business transactions with terrorists.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management—who introduced legislation to Congress on March 30 calling for the government to label six Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations—stated that the decision to keep the cartels off the list is a sign of shortsightedness. His response: “The drug cartels are here. The Department of Homeland Security reports that they operate in 276 cities inside the U.S. Only after the murder of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agent Jaime Zapata were 450 cartel members arrested in this country.” The cartel’s transactions are simple: they sell the drugs to U.S. users and buy the weapons to bring back into Mexico and service their bloody exchanges with Mexican federal and state police/military forces.

A reliable source from the intelligence community in Mexico, who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons, volunteered that even after Calderón’s attempts to strengthen military presence at the border, more than 10,000 artillery pieces (automatic weapons and grenades mostly) make their way into Mexico from the U.S. every day. The result? Our forces keep trading bullets with the cartels but the U.S. consumers continue to provide them cash flow and the gun sellers operating in the United States continue to arm them.

Nearly a year ago, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed President Calderón, who then said we needed joint, committed efforts to deal with the drug trafficking issue. Mexico has shown it is ready today but with elections coming in 2012, the resolve shown by Calderón might not remain after the dust has settled.

The window of opportunity could be closing and it’s time for our partner to the north to act, for both our sakes.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.