Los Sangre are coming for you

mind-on-fearJust in time for Halloween. Last Thursday I didn’t get my fix of morning radio, so this note in cofradia.org came as something of a surprise. “Beware. Los Sangre are coming for you”. The baloney detection device went off immediately, and a quick visit to snopes.com confirmed this as a well-documented urban legend. That didn’t stop the media from spreading the word -the rumour was legitimized by an official press release, after all- and further questioning to other officials in the federal and state level confirmed the presence of the gang in the country. “We are taking it seriously” sounds good enough. After all, what government spokesperson is willing to admit that he doesn’t have a clue about whatever the hell you’re asking him about?. It doesn’t hurt to say that “the (National Police Force) is on alert” and that “(the Federal Government) is informed about the situtation”, does it?
It’s not the first time that the general insecurity in Mexico contributes to give some plausability to an incredible story, and it certainly won’t be the last. Here lawlessness defies imagination and impunity is taked for granted. Take into account that criminals can break into a government facility and take back the smuggled merchandise that’s been impounded from them, and then the rumour of a macabre gang initiation game may start to seem plausible. In a country where crime statistics makeup and official coverups are routine, if some random government official tells me to be on the lookout for a specific gang ritual, he may have a good reason for it. We forget that the work of the government agencies -what *we* actually pay them for- is to give us security, not to blow out of proportion whatever chain mail “alert” falls into their inbox. I guess that’s criminal investigation in the third world amounts to. What’s next? A press release advising the population to be on the lookout for AIDS pin pricks in movie theaters?. “Hey, it may or may not be true, but we are alert just in case. You have been warned.”. I guess that this way nobody can blame them if quantum probabilities reverse unexpectedly and the rumour just happens to be true. Heck, even a false sense of security is better than having The Government issuing bogus alerts that send the population into panic. Understandably, the population is totally psyched out. Since the story has been all over the radio and TV, everyone from laymen to well-studied intelligent people is behaving in a totally unrational way. This is your primal mind on fear. That’s what panic does for you.
Now some media outlets are waking up to the fact that this is an urban legend that’s been repeating for some time in different countries and there have been mentions of Snopes in a couple of articles. However, the undertone in some of them is unnerving: “American site dismisses a very real threat”, is my lecture of some of them. Hey, these guys should know better. Next time someone refuses to compare bloggers with journalists I might be tempted to take it as a compliment.
Now why would a government official issue a press release without further research? Because the alert came from the Interpol office in a nighbourging country, that’s why (by the way, Guatemala officials show a healty skepticism) and because the head of the state government “got the alert in his computer”. I’d really like to know *who* jumped the gun, because so far I haven’t been able to find a copy of the press release that started it all, the initial vector for this particular outbreak, although some stories point to some “DGA-PII/1548/2005” document. We better find it quickly, because once the situation comes out as it is nobody is going to take the blame. Never mind the racial undertones. The fact that officials in other countries have fell for this urban legend before doesn’t excuse ours from crying wolf over a lie, and whoever is responsible should be removed from office at once (*Ha!*).
Now for the final outcome I can only imagine what the justification will be for falling for an obviously bogus chain mail. Already, some officials have justified the heihgtened security alert by saying that they’re trying to stop copycat killers or outright pranksters. Some will say that this was an obvious cartel-backed maneuver masterminded to distract the police, or some form of guerilla warfare. Some will even talk about cyberterrorism. Or blame the media. Or Interpol. Or Guatemala. Or play semantics. I bet that others will say that this might be a conspiracy to destabilize the country — as if we needed further help with that. I’ll just stick to a corollary of Ockham’s razor in this: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.