Death and Twitter

by ERIC BENSON / Texas monthly

wanted us to become a mouthpiece for them,” he says.

In May of last year, after the government launched a new security strategy, which included a call for citizens to report anonymous tips on cartel members and criminal activities, another contingent made itself known. Chuy noticed a preponderance of new accounts repeating the same message: “Don’t be a coward. If you don’t help, this will never end,” and concluded that many of the accounts were, in fact, “sock puppets”: bogus citizen accounts that were created by law enforcement, military, or paramilitary interests. “The way they write, the phrases they use—it isn’t the local language or the language of the people,” Chuy tells me.

Sometimes the attacks were more personal. In December, after Chuy contributed to two articles on the website Diario19 documenting the possible paramilitary affiliation of the popular online “citizen journalist” group Valor Por Tamaulipas, a new account called Mr. Fashion Cruz (a riff on Chuy’s handle) started tweeting angrily at him. The account’s avatar was a photograph of the real-life Chuy, a chilling message that someone had identified the man behind @MrCruzStar. (Valor Por Tamaulipas launched its own attack in early January, decrying Chuy as secretly working with the state attorney general’s office and accusing him of exposing Felina’s identity before her death.)

Felina’s apparent murder occurred not only against this background of distrust but also at a time when the #ReynosaFollow community was tearing itself apart. In early 2014, according to a prominent user who goes by the Twitter name Don Alejo, a rift had developed over the direction of the group. One faction believed that the hashtag should restrict itself to informing citizens about dangerous activities. The other took a tone that aligned it closely with the state. “They wanted to denounce the criminals,” Don Alejo says, “and they got very aggressive.”

Don Alejo and Chuy were in the first camp. Felina was very much in the second. Don Alejo, who says he knew Felina personally, remembers her as “very active, very happy, very full of life.” But on Twitter her persona was ferocious. “She would say, ‘Que maten a esos perros’ (‘May they kill those dogs’).” Chuy saw Felina’s activism as crossing a perilous line. “She’d say, ‘This person does this and lives here.’ Her activities were a red flag.”

It is not clear exactly what happened to Felina. The dominant theory, first reported in the Mexican magazine Zócalo and advanced by Vice News, is that Dr. María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, a 36-year-old general practitioner, was kidnapped after a child died in her care. Someone had wanted revenge—or at least answers—and had taken her as she left her hospital on the morning of October 15. While she was detained, Fuentes’s kidnappers—presumably affiliated with organized crime—sifted through the contents of her phone and discovered her Twitter activity. Then, says Don Alejo, “it was like killing two birds with one stone.”

Others have their doubts. Chuy’s collaborator on the Valor Por Tamaulipas articles, UT-Brownsville professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, says she had come to believe that Felina had paramilitary ties because of the specificity of her attacks on organized crime members and her close association with Valor Por Tamaulipas, to whose website she had contributed.

The lack of any confirmed account of Fuentes’s death has even made Correa-Cabrera wonder whether she was really murdered. No body has been found, no details of the investigation have been released, and no criminal organization has claimed responsibility. “I would not say that [Fuentes] is not dead or that the assassination and kidnapping were not committed—that would be very irresponsible on my part,” she says. “But I have big doubts. This person who was always behind a computer—all we know about her is from other anonymous social media users. This fills me with questions, not with answers.”

Outside Chuy’s house, a festival is taking place to celebrate the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. As fireworks pop around us, I ask Chuy what he makes of Correa-Cabrera’s suspicions. He says he too had noted some irregularities. For the first several years that Felina was on Twitter, Chuy regarded her activity as nothing out of the ordinary. But in late spring 2014, he observed a change. She began to post photographs of crime scenes that looked like they had been taken by someone inside the law enforcement perimeter, which led him to believe that she was now collaborating with military forces. “It was notable that she began a very active campaign of denunciations at the same time as the new security strategy for Tamaulipas was launched,” he says. But he doesn’t doubt that she was murdered. “Here in Reynosa, if you come up on a narco blockade, the first thing they do is check your phone—your photos, your contacts, your messages—so they probably found her that way,” he says.

Whatever the case, the grisly tweets of Felina’s apparent death have had the desired effect. Even Chuy says he has decreased his activity; he is now even more keenly aware of how each tweet offers a clue to anyone who wants to find him. Still, he tells me, this terrible event has had a silver lining. Some of the feuding members of #ReynosaFollow have been brought back together. “I tell two people when I’m going to meet someone at X place, and we use an app that lets someone monitor where we are,” he says. “We keep an eye on each other.”

After leaving his house, Chuy, Chapa, and I wend our way through the narrow streets and come upon rows of dancing children. They are twirling to a pulsing drumbeat while their families look on, taking pictures and drinking beer. Reynosa is still violent, but people are getting on with their lives. #ReynosaFollow, however imperfect, has helped them maintain normalcy.

Once Chapa and I hop into a cab to head back to the bridge that connects downtown Reynosa with Texas, our driver peppers us with questions about what we were doing