Narcos at (Instagram) war!
Gold-plated guns, voluptuous bikini-clad women and big cats are appearing on the social media accounts of Mexican cartel members in a trend thought to be set by the children of fugitive El Chapo, In an effort to compete for the title of Narco King of Instagram, Mexico’s most powerful narcos have taken to social media to show off their lavish tastes.
Posting under the hashtags #narcos and #narcostyle, top cartel members flash their enormous wealth over Instagram and Twitter, uploading outrageous pictures which attract hundreds of both adoring and hate-filled comments.
;I want to get involved in the industry’, said one commenter from Culiacan where the El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel is based. ‘Please tell me how I can start out.’
The narcos show off their taste for exotic pets in their gaudy photographs. Big cats, prominently tigers, lions and jaguars are typical of the Mexican criminals’ likings, yet chimpanzees and snakes also feature.
Some of the most troubling images are of Mexican police and army vehicles shot to pieces following stand-offs with the cartel.
One photo uploaded by the ‘narcoofficial’ account shows a Federal Police car riddled with bullet holes following a shootout with the Sinaloa Cartel. The photo is captioned ‘Ha ha ha, nothing happened here’.
The trend of posting images of the lavish cartel lifestyle is thought to have been started by the children of El Chapo, the current boss of the Sinaloa Cartel who escaped maximum security prison two months ago through a tunnel built by his criminal organisation’s engineering department.
The cartel’s $3 billion annual profits from their U.S. narcotrafficking operations alone afford El Chapo’s offspring every luxury, and they aren’t shy when it comes to showing it off.
El Chapo’s three sons Ivan, Alfredo and Joaquin (known as ‘El Chino’) Guzman post pictures of gold-plated AK-47s in their Ferraris, lion cubs and even partying alongside Paris Hilton, who Joaquin describes as just one of ‘El Chino’s babes’.
In response, narcos from other Mexican cartels, as well as criminals in Colombia, Central America and the United States have joined the competition.
The international gangsters show off their lifestyles by uploading images of designer bags bursting with high-denomination banknotes, packages of narcotics waiting to be loaded into private planes bound for New York and bikini-clad women posing with high powered assault rifles.
The leaders of Antrax, the militarized wing of the Sinaloa Cartel that engages in combat with the Mexican military, commits high-level assassinations and fights the cartel’s territory wars, has also raised its profile among the Instagram community.
Under the hashtag #Antrax, the private army shows off fearsome weapons and battle gear, much of which suggests they are better equipped than the Mexican authorities themselves.
The Antrax pose, which has become iconic of the group’s Instagram presence, is a seated man, his head bowed, wearing a cowboy hat and holding an assault rifle in his lap. The skull signet ring denotes membership of the deadly armed faction, known for their brutality.
The Antrax faction is headed up by Joaquin ‘El Chino’ Guzman, El Chapo’s third son, who regularly posts photos of himself armed to the teeth and taunting the Mexican authorities.
One member of the Sinaloa Cartel even posted a picture of his son wearing body armour and holding an assault rifle, captioning his photograph: ‘education starts early in our family’.
Other pictures attract Mexican women looking for narco boyfriends, who leave comments inviting the individual over to their houses for the night. Others ask if the Instagram account would publish photos of them if given the chance.
Yet the trend of displaying their wealth has also caused offence to ordinary Mexican families who have suffered bereavement at the hands of organised crime in the lawless parts of the country where they live.
‘They destroy our lives without thinking,' a journalist and crime reporter from Veracruz who wished to remain anonymous told MailOnline. ‘The fact that they then boast about it on social media is sickening to many Mexicans’.
Narcos are a polemic group in Mexico, both revered and reviled by the public. Involved in a drug war that has cost more than 100,000 lives in less than a decade, the cartels bully, kidnap and extort local populations in order to make more money than the already-lucrative business of drugs provides.
Yet to other Mexicans who feel betrayed by a government they see as corrupt, the narcos are self-made folk heroes defying an unfair system.
When the narcos choose to appear in their pictures they rarely show their faces, preferring to blur out their features or cover them with bandanas and baseball caps for fear of identification by Mexican authorities.
Mexican authorities are worried by the trend, concerned that such displays of wealth glamourise criminal activities when the reality is much bleaker for 99% of the cartel’s employees.
‘Kids come up here to the border thinking they’ll be like the narcos they see on TV,' said Mexican police commander Umberto Mata, who struggles daily with the cartels around Juarez City on the Texas border.
‘But all that happens is they end up dead. The rich narcos you see on Twitter are the spoiled kids of narco bosses, no one is forcing them to commit kidnappings, extortions or sell drugs on the street.’
Speaking to MailOnline on the phone from Murder Valley, one of the most dangerous places in the world thanks to the activities of narcotraffickers where his unit patrols, he added: ‘The worry is that the cartels get these young kids to work for them with false promises of wealth and status.
‘The reality of working for the cartel is never as glamorous.'