DRUG TRAFFICKING

For the drug kings of kitsch, fallout continues after Instagram betrayal

Photos published by an anonymous account have shone a light on the tacky lifestyle of narcotics traffickers in southern Spain

Viral photo of a girl wearing a shirt with a narco boat (l) and a police chase tattoo.
Viral photo of a girl wearing a shirt with a narco boat (l) and a police chase tattoo.INSTAGRAM

Tattoos of boats carrying drugs, videos of narcotics being dropped off in broad daylight and images of children’s cakes decorated with police chases... These were just a few of the scenes exposed by an anonymous Instagram account this month that have shed light on the excesses of drug gangs in the southern Spanish area of Campo de Gibraltar.

They are at the bottom rungs of the social and cultural ladder, so their only way to boast is with money La Línea police officer

Up until now, drug traffickers in the region have enjoyed their extravagant lifestyle with relative impunity. But this was shattered when the Instagram account @cotilleolalinea (or, gossip from La Linea, a city in the area) posted pictures of some of the best-known local traffickers, presumably, police say, motivated by revenge.

The account first appeared on September 5, and remained active until the early hours of the following Friday morning. In that time, it published more than 20 photos and “stories” – temporary publications that are popular on Instagram – all of which revealed details of the comings and goings of the drug bosses, as well as their partners and alleged lovers.The user behind the account received all kinds of threats after the posts appeared, and it was eventually deleted.

One of the targets was Zaraida López, the wife of Antonio Tejón, one of the area’s biggest drug traffickers. When Tejón, also known as “El Castaña,” was arrested three months ago, his wife started a campaign on the online petition site Change.org to demand justice for him. For the 1,621 people who signed the protest, it didn’t matter that he was caught while spending the night with his lover, with whom he has two children. Now López has gone from accuser to accused, after being vilified and insulted via the Instagram account.

Sexism in drug gangs

The anonymous Instagram account has also exposed the sexism of the drug underworld. "The patriarch and his women! He leaves his wife and children at home and goes off with his lover who is pregnant, then takes advantage of the pregnancy to go and celebrate it with the third in this combo in Ibiza [sic]," reads one of the captions under the photo of an alleged drug dealer. "Younger women, you are old" reads another. Public prosecutor Macarena Arroyo is used to seeing the wives and lovers of narcos caught up in court cases. "Antonio Tejón was found with his lover and was defended by his wife. Let's say they are peculiar families."

The excesses of the drug clans have not come as a surprise to the locals of the La Atunara neighborhood in La Línea, a hotspot for drug drop-offs, or police in the area. Spain’s narcos “have always been ostentatious. They boast about it and see it with impunity,” explains Macarena Arroyo, the public prosecutor in charge of drugs cases in Campo de Gibraltar.

Long before Instagram, members of drug gangs would share photos of their extravagances via cellphone, capturing images of the Castaña brothers on board a narco boat, the seafood feasts of Abdellah El Haj, known as the “Messi of hashish,” and parties on the Balearic island of Ibiza. Some of the content went viral, such as the image of a girl wearing a shirt with a narco boat and the message “Proud to be from La Línea,” and the video filmed in August showing off two drug shipments.

“The ostentation has always been there but social networks didn’t exist before. The new guys are younger and now they use these channels to show off their life of luxury,” says Francisco Mena, from the Nexos provincial anti-drug foundation.

Another important factor, according to a police officer in La Línea, is that narcos “are at the bottom rungs of the social and cultural ladder, so their only way to boast is with money.”

The ostentation has always been there but social networks didn’t exist before Francisco Mena, Anti-Drug Foundation

Police say the photos not only capture the narco’s kitsch lifestyle, but can also provide clues into the criminal network. “Any information helps. Many circumstances can help the police, including social media,” explains one officer. This is particularly true if the photos are accompanied by threats and insults, as was the case with the @cotilleolalinea account. “Spite gives you a lot of ground,” the officer adds.

The publication of the images has caused great concern among the criminals themselves. According to Arroyo, “they have become much more reclusive.” In the brief time the account was active, anyone could use the photos to draw up a family tree of the main players in the hashish drug trade, including their wives and lovers. While Arroyo says the “credibility of the leak is limited,” she says the photos serve as “a thread to link people” together.

Meanwhile, drug gangs continue to look for the traitor. “They are scared, now they know that they are more than identified,” says a Civil Guard officer. The officer believes more than one person could be behind the Instagram account and suggests the group contracted an IT specialist for the job. No one however has yet reported the traitor. “The score will be settled between them, but without bloodshed, because the leak has not damaged business, which is what’s most important for them,” the officer explains.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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