Narcocorridos Drum up Support for the Knights Templar in Michoacán

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Narcocorridos Drum up Support for the Knights Templar in Michoacán“, published on February 6th, 2014. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

Narcocorridos—songs that celebrate drug dealers as folk heroes—have been a part of Mexican culture for as long as the illicit activity has existed in the country.  Attempts to censor them from reaching radio airwaves have triggered debates over freedom of speech, as well as outcries from the more liberal media.

But as a recent concert in Morelia, the capital city of Michoacán, shows, there is a fine line between painting a pretty picture of criminality and actually engaging in direct support for organized crime groups that have brought parts of Mexico to unmanageable levels of violence.

The state of Michoacán has been in the spotlight for almost a year now, due to a complete degradation of the rule of law. A clashing arena for a number of criminal organizations including the Familia Michoacana, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, the Zetas and the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar), Michoacán is a case study where criminality has grown larger than the state itself.

Given the dire situation, self-defense groups have taken up arms in rural areas throughout the state, claiming they are ready to do the job the government won’t in order to protect their families and communities.  José Manuel Mireles, one of the leaders of the Consejo Ciudadano de Autodefensa (Citizen Council of Self Defense Groups), famously said that the self-defense movement “[…] started when the narcos started abusing our women and daughters.”

However, organized crime is so embedded in Michoacán life that on February 2, one of the capital city’s main entertainment venues hosted a Narcocorrido lineup whose outright and explicit support for the Knights Templar would chill any law-abiding citizen. The concert was approved by the state authorities and state police officials were on hand to ensure that the event ran smoothly.

The headliner group, “Los de la A,” started their concert by yelling out to an audience of nearly six thousand: “If they chop off my head, I won’t care. Knights Templar all the way!” receiving cheers and jeers from the riled-up crowd.

“Los de la A” originate from Apatzingán, Michoacán, one of the towns currently controlled by the self-defense groups.  After a couple of songs, the lead singer known as “El Komander” addressed the crowd, encouraging them to support the Knights Templar in reclaiming control of that town: “We’re recruiting people to go to Apatzingán and kick some a** over there!”

Half-way into the show, envelopes filled with cocaine started making their way through the crowd. Concert-goers snorted the drug right in front of police officers, who did nothing to stop them, even after the lead singer of the band cheered, “Bring out all the drugs! Let’s all get crazy tonight!”

Granted, the violence and drug problem in Michoacán and the country will not disappear by censoring narcocorridos, in the same way that inner-city violence has not disappeared since they stamped those “Warning: Explicit Lyrics” stickers on gangsta rap CDs in the U.S., but when a person is allowed to take the stage in a state-owned forum and motivate his fans to take up arms and shoot civilian groups to support a drug trafficking organization, the issue is larger than freedom of speech.

Mireles says that self-defense groups will “put their weapons away once rule of law is re-established in Michoacán.” The essential ingredient for this to happen is the generalized adoption of—or at least, sympathy for—a culture of lawfulness in the communities.

As long as there are people who are convinced that the narco way is best, there will be no peace in Michoacán. Unfortunately, those who would support the re-establishment of order and harmony in the state don’t have folk musicians to hold concerts at their beck and call.

Mexican Drug Cartels use Christmas to Expand their Fan Base

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Here is a link to an article I published in January for AQBlog, titled “Mexican Drug Cartels use Christmas to Expand their Fan Base” I had forgotten to re-post it in my personal blog so here it is in case you missed it. I’m posting a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it here, but I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

They might be taking their cues from legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was famous for helping out numerous communities in Colombia and donating parks and recreation centers to unprivileged communities. Or maybe they’re inspired by the legend of Jesús Malverde, the so-called narco-saint folk hero from Sinaloa, sometimes seen as a Mexican version of Robin Hood. On the other hand, they may feel threatened  by  the “self-defense” groups spawning in Michoacán and Colima—civil vigilante groups  that have taken up arms against the cartels after declaring that local authorities are unable or unwilling to tackle organized crime battles head-on.

For whatever reason, drug cartels in different parts of Mexico took to the streets this holiday season in order to “give back,” and—ironic as it may sound— spread holiday cheer.

In the southern state of Oaxaca the impoverished communities of Viguera, Bugambilia and Calicanto were surprised on Three Kings Day (January 6) withbundles of toys, which mysteriously appeared in different points of the city, some with signs explaining that they were left there “so that people can see that the Zetas support humble people. ” Not surprisingly, these images did not make it into mainstream national media but were shared via Twitter.

The eerie irony behind these charitable acts is that the Zetas are known for being one of the most cold-blooded criminal groups of the country, often resorting to torture and public displays of their victims.

On the other side of the country, in Tampico in the northern state of Tamaulipas, theCártel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel—CDG) took to the streets on Christmas Eve and handed out gifts, food and money. The CDG had the gall to parade in pickup trucks and set up different distribution points throughout the city, never fearing an attack from the authorities. In what would seem like a well-thought-out, below the line marketing strategy, they recorded, edited and uploaded videos that later went viral on YouTube.

One of the videos shows pickup trucks outside of hospitals, the main bus station and other parts of the city, distributing food bags and giftwrapped boxes. The crowds gather around and some of the cartel members try to organize the distribution as if they are conducting an aid campaign. The clip then transitions to another part of the city, outside of a public clinic, where members of the CDG deliver dozens of pizza boxes to people who not only thank them for the gift, but even organize to yell out a “hip, hip, hooray”-style cheer: “A la bio, a la  bao, a la bim bom ba, ¡el Cártel del Golfo, ra, ra, ra!”

The video shows how children run to these criminals with smiles on their faces and exchange a thank you for a plastic toy trinket. Unbeknownst to them, the toy was bought with blood and drug money. The fact that parents would let their kids get close to the cartel members is the perfect illustration of how engrained organized crime has become in underprivileged communities in parts of Mexico.

The larger problem is not that the cartels have the audacity to do these charity runs. The real and critical situation is that, given their lack of opportunities to survive otherwise, abandoned communities have embraced the cartels and come to regard them as semi-gods and role models. Mexico has become a place where, inside a posh shopping mall in Mexico City, a soccer mom can tell her kids to take a picture with Santa Claus, while a less privileged mother might invite her own children to ask the nice drug dealer for a handout.

What an unfair situation to put a kid in. What a terrible way to sentence our children’s futures.