The Candigato is back in Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The Candigato is back in Mexico“, published on April 3rd, 2014.

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

In 2013, Morris, the Candigato (Cat Candidate) gained notoriety in Mexico’s social networks and news outlets after launching a successful online campaign via Facebook and Twitter, in a mock run for the position of Mayor of the city of Xalapa, Veracruz. The Candigato’s comedic slogans, such as “Tired of voting for rats? Vote for a Cat,” became popular among the online community and almost instantly his account on Facebook gained close to 250,000 followers. Morris, the Candigato, is a perfect reflection of Mexico’s idiosyncrasy: Many Mexicans will laugh at their tragedies.

The online campaign lasted for two months and only cost as much as the registry for the web domain. Yet after the votes were counted, CNN reported that Morris had bested at least 3 of the 8 actual candidates running for office. The creators the Candigato were recognized by the Victory Awards, winning the “Best Political Innovator” during the 2014 Marketing Político en la Red (Political Online Marketing) Conference—an unusual selection for an award usually won by political consultants.

Unfortunately, while the Candigato’s online success may be amusing, it is also points to Mexican society’s apathy and callousness for its political leaders. Now Morris is back with a different mission.

In a similar strategy to Bill Maher’s #flipadistrict, the creators of the Candigato are once again using humor to raise awareness. This week, Morris announced that he would be organizing an awards ceremony to recognize the worst politicians in Mexico under three categories: worst governor, worst political career, and finally, honorary sandbox, for retired or deceased politicians.

While this online campaign obviously follows no official protocols or processes to denounce ineffective public officials, it is quickly and easily providing an open channel for frustrated constituencies in different parts of the country. Replies from the Candigato’s followers on Facebook and Twitter mention too many politicians to list, but Nuevo Leon’s governor Rodrigo Medina and Estado de México’s governor Eruviel Ávila have gained repeated mentions. One Facebook user sarcastically commented “I’m worried Morris will have a tough task ahead finding a winner. Maybe he should just declare a 32-way tie,” referring to the governors of all 31 states and the Head of Government in Mexico City.

The Candigato may be just another joke about Mexico’s corrupt and ineffective politicians, but it is notable that a social media campaign with no funding is able to obtainhalf of the write-in votes for a cat running for mayor of Xalapa. The effectiveness of theCandigato’s campaigns show the level of disapproval Mexican constituents have for the candidates proposed by formal political parties in Mexico.

With the Candigato Awards showcasing some of Mexico’s allegedly “worst” elected officials, we will see if this affects their future careers or if it just serves as comedic distraction. And as long as the political class in Mexico continues to have low credibility among many constituents, Mexicans will keep tragically laughing.

Hacking for Freedom in Mexico: The Anonymous Movement #OpCartel

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Hacking for freedom in Mexico: The Anonymous Movement” , published on Nov 4th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

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

PS. I posted an earlier version of this article on this blog yesterday. This is the up to date version given the fact that the story has evolved since I first wrote  it.

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On November 5, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that although #OpCartel has been cancelled, a former member of the network and independent journalist will divulge information of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country.

Anonymous officially backed down from unleashing #OpCartel allegedly due to the fact that their kidnapped member was released by the Zetas, but also due to threats from this group of a tenfold retaliation against the families of members in the hacker organization. Barrett Brown’s (@BarrettBrownLOL) decision to reveal information on the drug cartel on his own volition might just be a way to protect the Mexican Anonymous members while continuing to carry out the hacker’s intended agenda. If the campaign is successful, the actions initiated by Anonymous and supposedly continued solely by Brown, could lead to a nationwide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.

In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by the actions of a rogue hacker group who could open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.

It would be myopic and pessimistic to say that Mexico’s democracy has not progressed in the last 80 years but in some ways, the country has also taken steps back. Elections have become more free and fair and transparency is advancing to a certain point, but law enforcement has not been able to follow through accordingly. Civil liberties have been strengthened officially but given the state of violence and insecurity in many regions of the country, society would likely tell you that today they feel less free.

Freedom of speech and of the press might be the clearest example of this duality between progress and retreat. During the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Institucional) monopoly of power, press was controlled by limiting or allowing newspapers access to a basic raw material: paper. If the government didn’t like what you wrote, they would simply not sell you the paper to print it. While those days are over, there are now new tactics to attempt to constrict free press: violence against journalists.

According to a recent assessment by the UN and the OAS Mexico is the fifth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Other organizations and institutions have ranked it as the most dangerous globally. In 2011, 13 journalists have been killed in the country and while investigations have not yet concluded, there is a clear link between these killings and drug cartels/organized crime. Today, newspapers are officially free to publish just about anything, but it is also evident that there are powerful forces at play which put forth new tactics to silence the media. For this reason, cyber activism and the use of new media to overcome violent censorship thru blogs and social networks have recently flourished in the country. Though not unscathed by criminal intent to silence them as well, these informal media allow culprits to enjoy protection through a certain level on anonymity.

Operation Cartel was reportedly born as a means to pressure a drug cartel in Veracruz to release a member of the Anonymous network who had been abducted. But it quickly evolved and grew into something much bigger than the fate of one of its members. On November 2, a message was broadcast across the network saying that they would cancel Operation Cartel as a way to protect the individual whose life was being threatened by the cartel.

But according to a Brown, a former spokesperson, “shortly thereafter, the assembled people held a vote and decided nonetheless to go ahead with the operation.” This is why, even after the release of the victim, Brown plans to move forward on the canceled operation. Both a flaw and virtue, the fact that Anonymous does not have a clear power structure allows for individuals and smaller cells in the network to act independently whilst maintaining that their efforts are coordinated.

In this regard, cyberactivism becomes a strange new force to be reckoned with and as both Egypt and Libya have shown. It is a catalyst for widespread outcry; however, it is a weak means to organize a movement that can actually follow through after reaching its objective. Thus, the fallout of Operation Cartel could potentially be immensely disruptive and lead to political crisis, but I am unsure that it could lead to a clear effort to fix the system. Members from Anonymous in Mexico have even stated that they are non-political, though they do say they want to create a social conscience. Does Anonymous have the moral and role legitimacy to do this? Are they the new voice of the global people? Does it matter if they are or not?

A bigger question to pose would be if Anonymous’ Operations will always strive for social justice (defined by whom?) and with the loose level of allegiance that a network can create as opposed to a formal organization, what would stop cyber activists from straying away of the group and chasing a different agenda?

For now, Mexico anxiously waits to see what Barret Brown will do. Many champion this effort as a new and creative means to tackle a problem that for too long has been a tragedy of the commons in Mexico. As the tagline from the movie that inspired Anonymous goes, we are about to see if Mexico will remember the 5th of November.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. 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.

History occurs faster than publishing… #OpCartel

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I was going to get a story on Anonymous’ #OpCartel published at AQBlog, most likely tomorrow, but I just learned that the hacker group’s operation has been cancelled due to the fact that the drug cartel released the kidnapped hacker. An independent journalist abroad has stated that he will carry out the operation but independently from Anonymous, as the group has been threatened by the cartel with dire repercussions and retaliation if they follow through on their threats to publish the names of government officials linked to organized crime…

Anyways, I will probably end up editing the story in order to update it before it goes online at the Americas Quarterly blog but I wanted to share with you the original story, as it was written and intended. I’ll let you know when the updated story also goes online.

I hope you like it:
Hacking for freedom in Mexico

 On November 5th, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that on said date they will unleash “Operation Cartel” informing the world of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country. If Anonymous is successful, their actions could lead to a nation-wide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.

 In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by a rogue hacker group who threatens to open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.

 It would be myopic and pessimistic to say that Mexico’s democracy has not progressed in the last 80 years but in some ways, the country has also taken steps back. Elections have become more free and fair and transparency is advancing to a certain point, but law enforcement has not been able to follow through accordingly. Civil liberties have been strengthened officially but given the state of violence and insecurity in many regions of the country, society would likely tell you that today they feel less free. 

 Freedom of speech and of the press might be the clearest example of this duality between progress and retreat. During the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Institucional) monopoly of power, press was controlled by limiting or allowing newspapers access to a basic raw material: paper. If the government didn’t like what you wrote, they would simply not sell you the paper to print it on. While those days are over, there are now new tactics to attempt to constrict free press: violence against journalists.

 According to a recent assessment by the UN and the OAS Mexico is the fifth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Other organizations and institutions have ranked it as the most dangerous world-wide. In 2011, 13 journalists have been killed in the country and while investigations have not yet concluded, there is a clear link between these killings and drug cartels/organized crime. Today, newspapers are officially free to publish just about anything, but it is also evident that there are powerful forces at play which put forth new tactics to silence the media. For this reason, cyber activism and the use of new media to overcome violent censorship thru blogs and social networks have recently flourished in the country. Though not unscathed by criminal intent to silence them as well, these informal media allow culprits to enjoy protection through a certain level on anonymity.   

 Operation Cartel was reportedly born as a means to pressure a drug cartel in Veracruz to release a member of the Anonymous network which had been abducted, but quickly evolved and grew into something much bigger than the fate of one of its members. On November 2nd, a message was broadcast across the network saying that they would cancel Operation Cartel as a way to protect the individual whose life was being threatened by the cartel but according to a former spokesperson, “shortly thereafter, the assembled people held a vote and decided nonethless to go ahead with the operation.” Both a flaw and virtue, the fact that Anonymous does not have a clear power structure allows for individuals and smaller cells in the network to act independently whilst maintaining that their efforts are coordinated.

 In this regard, cyberactivism becomes a strange new force to be reckoned with and as both Egypt and Libya have shown, a catalyst for widespread outcry though a weak means to organize a movement which can follow through after reaching their objective. Thus, Operation Cartel could potentially be immensely disruptive and lead to political crisis but I am unsure that it could lead to a clear effort to fix the system.  Members from Anonymous in Mexico have even stated that they are non-political, though they do say they want to create a social conscience.  The question is, does Anonymous have the role legitimacy to do this? Are they the new voice of the global people? Does it matter if they are or not?

 A bigger question to pose would be if Anonymous’ Operations will always strive for social justice (defined by whom?) and with the loose level of allegiance that a network can create as opposed to a formal organization, what would stop cyber activists from straying away of the group and chasing a different agenda?

 For now, Mexico anxiously waits to see the development of Operation Cartel. Many champion this effort as a new and creative means to tackle a problem that for too long has been a tragedy of the commons in Mexico. As the tagline from the movie that inspired Anonymous goes, we are about to see if Mexico will remember, remember the 5th of November.

Countdown to meltdown

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“Remember, remember the 5th of November. The gunpowder, treason and plot. I know of no reason for which the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.” -V

In four days the hacker network known as Anonymous, will make headlines with either successful or failed attempts at attacking various sites, governments and institutions.

It is yet unclear if they will deliver on an unverified threat to take down Facebook and on publishing the names of government officials linked to the drug cartel Zetas in Veracruz. The reason being, that since they are an anonymous group, there is no way of telling whether or not the threats actually come from them or from fans/copycats who want to get their two minutes of fame.

What is certain is that we can expect some sort of activity at a large scale on Nov. 5th, as it is the key date in the Guy Fawkes story, later portrayed in the movie “V from Vendetta” and from which the group takes its visual identity and inspiration.

The question is, how large will the attack(s) be? Is this a countdown to meltdown? Only time will tell.

These are interesting times we are living in.

“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.
The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.” -V