Hacking for Freedom in Mexico: The Anonymous Movement
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 hackers' 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.
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