There’s an Instagram selfie that’s been going viral on Mexican social media in the last few days. It’s a bleached-blonde woman in a skimpy costume, dressed as a sexy Knight Templar. And if you live in the state of Michoacan, that’s no joke.
The woman in the picture is aspiring banda music singer Melissa Plancarte, reportedly the daughter of Enrique Plancarte Solís, a leader of the Michoacan based-Knights Templar cartel. And now, Melissa Plancarte finds herself at the center of a battle being fought on land with guns, but also on social media with memes, statements and viral video.
The central Mexican state of Michoacan has erupted in violence in recent months, with various paramilitary groups taking arms against the Knights Templar. The situation had been escalating for months, but boiled over in the last few weeks, with hundreds of Mexican troops deployed to restore order to the region.Security forces have arrested many cartel members, including Jesus Vasquez Macias, who officials claim is a leader of the Templars. But many militias are saying its too little, too late and are refusing to obey the government's order to disarm.
And in a country where media is always eyed with often well-founded suspicion by locals, the militias are taking their message straight to the people — through social media, where the groups announce their positions, and denounce members and activities of the Knights Templar. One of the militia groups’ Facebook pages, Valor Por Michoacan (“Courage for Michoacan”), boasts more than 100,000 likes.
On these Facebook pages you’ll find an array of videos of gun battles, mixed with jokes and memes such as “a machine gun in the hand is better than a policeman on the phone.” A popular meme featuring Batman slapping Robin shows the masked one’s side kick naively exclaiming, “The military is here to save Michoacan!”
Batman’s response in the meme chastises him: “Quiet you idiot, these fools came to support the Templars and La Tuta!” The latter is another drug lord associated with the Templars, who was indicted in New York for conspiring to import and distribute cocaine and methamphetamines from Mexico to the United States.
These vigilante social media pages also provide a play-by-play of the militias’ confrontations and gun battles. One of the most recent posts on the Facebook page from the Policia Comunitaria Tepalcatepec paramilitary group reports live from the scene of a skirmish. “Moments ago federal forces arrived at the scene of an armed confrontation and are guarding the place,” members of the group wrote in the post. “We beg for more support from the federal government to reassure the calm and tranquility of nearby towns, and ask the citizens of these places to denounce any Templar movement.”
And then there’s the social media back-and-forth between the militia and singer Melissa Plancarte, a beef worthy of hip-hop stars. Plancarte is no modest figure, recently giving an interview to an entertainment magazine in which she discussed her love of exotic animals, and boasted about owning three tigers.
It’s not rare for the children of narcos to be active on social media and flaunt their wealth on Instagram. It’s also not at all unusual in Mexico for musicians in the wildly popular banda genre to associate themselves with different cartels, and sing about the feats and battles of various drug traffickers.
These songs are so popular, in fact, that live performances of these drug ballads, known as corridos alterados or narcocorridos, were banned in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. The nearby states of Chihuahua and Baja California have also prohibited radio and television stations from playing the songs. But hop in a cab on any given night in Mexico City, and you are likely to be treated to an array of drug ballads.
But what is unusual is for narcocorrido performers to find themselves loudly denounced on Facebook. One of the social media groups for the militia has accused Melissa Plancarte and her brother of financing their music careers with their father’s drug money, an accusation she’s coyly rejected on her own accounts. The accusations soon went viral.
The pages also denounce the opulence with which she constantly surrounds herself in photographs and music videos, which stands in stark contrast to the growing poverty across the country. Plancarte responded with an Instagram video saying, “Thank you to my real friends! One must give importance to things depending on who they come from, those who I don’t know, please, keep giving me publicity.”
Histrionic social media retorts aside, the militia groups’ strong social media presence says something about the failure of Mexican media — and how it’s viewed by Mexicans. There’s a tangible distrust of media in Mexico, and it’s understandable. Many of the journalists in the country often seem to act as government mouthpieces, while others seem to serve as just talking heads for the opposition. It’s very hard to tell what is actually happening in Mexico, and decoding the truth requires either reading various newspapers and piecing together information like a jigsaw puzzle.
In the case of the militia groups, the Mexican government has asked them to disarm, and various media outlets have condemned them. There’s even speculation that the militias are in some way funded by other competing drug cartels, which the groups themselves warned that self-defense militias present the danger of devolving into a “Frankenstein” and cited examples in Colombia, a country the group says has suffered the “cancer” of paramilitary groups gone wrong.
If the Mexican government is going to be successful in its bid to disarm the paramilitary, officials will have to remember why these groups formed in the first place. Those reasons can be seen not just in their posts on Facebook, but also in the comments underneath them. “Mexicano, I am so tired of surviving,” writes one commenter, who says in her profile she is from Mexico City. “I want to live. I want to enjoy my Mexico…. It is time to take back our our country, so beaten down and tortured.”