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Online Project Provides Full Scope Of Mexico's Brutal Drug History

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A new online project is translating Mexico's brutal history with organized crime and drug cartels into visual data-driven journalism. NarcoData is taking 40 years of government records, some of it previously classified, to give a full scope of the drug war in Mexico. Dulce Ramos is editor-in-chief of the new startup Animal Politico, and she helps lead NarcoData. She's on the line with us from Mexico City. Welcome to the program.

DULCE RAMOS: Thank you for having us. Thank you for having Animal Politico and NarcoData in ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SHAPIRO: One of your first projects is to show how, over 40 years, the drug cartels in Mexico went from two groups to five to nine. What do you hope your audience learns from seeing this information presented in a visual, digestible way - slideshows, videos, photos, timelines?

RAMOS: We want them to understand in an easy way how organized crime has been growing in Mexico. Mexican State has failed in giving citizens accurate enough data, systematic information about the fight against organized crime, and we want to fill that void.

SHAPIRO: Was there something that surprised you in these 40 years of information that you got from the government?

RAMOS: Yes. We have data enough to say that there has been no president and no strategy that have shrank the drug business and the drug cartels. But they have been expanded since the Mexican State recognized that it was a national security problem.

SHAPIRO: You're saying that over 40 years, there was not one moment that the drug cartels shrank, that the problem improved.

RAMOS: On the contrary, we can see in the (unintelligible), the Gulf Cartel lead to the Zetas, one of the deadliest cartels in Mexico, and how the Zetas lead to the Familia Michoacana and how the Familia Michoacana led to the Caballeros Templarios or how the Sinaloa Cartel led to the Beltran Leyva Cartel. You see how this is like a tree, and you see the branches that grows from all these cartels.

SHAPIRO: You're naming these cartels, and as I look at what you have put on your website, NarcoData, it looks almost like a family tree. But instead of relatives, you have drug cartels.

RAMOS: We first think about these visualizations as that - as a family tree.

SHAPIRO: Many journalists focus on current events, what is happening today. Why do you think it's so important to look at what happened over the last 40 years of history with the drug cartels?

RAMOS: Mainly because drug cartels have changed from being organizations devoted to international drug trafficking. And in the past few years, Mexico has seen that these drug cartels has changed to small organizations that work in the local, terrorizing the citizens, kidnapping, extorting. And that's when drug trafficking became important to citizens in Mexico.

SHAPIRO: In Mexico, journalists have been killed with impunity. Do you feel that doing this project puts you at risk?

RAMOS: We don't think, necessarily, this project put us at risk because we are not dealing with data that is secret. Of course, we obtain some documents from the Public Information Act in Mexico, but this is not extremely sensitive data. And it is important to say that the main threats for journalists in Mexico don't came from organized crime but from authorities themselves.

SHAPIRO: How long do you think this project will continue?

RAMOS: As long as we have organized crime in Mexico.

(LAUGHTER)

RAMOS: Well, that's pretty sad to say, but we really think that as long as we have this problem in Mexico and as long as we can do a journalistic effort to gather information and to do some research into request for information with the Public Information Act, we will have the necessary data to shed some light or shed more light in this problem.

SHAPIRO: That's Dulce Ramos, editor-in-chief of the Mexican news site Animal Politico, and she's coordinator for the NarcoData project. Dulce, thank you, and good luck with this project.

RAMOS: Thank you for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.