Latin America: Mexico Proposes Banning Narcocorridos (Drug Ballads)

Los Tucanes de Tijuana performing "The People's Doctor." The good doctor who has the medicine to cure his patients' ills sends his "Greetings to all my patients in Texas and Colorado, and also Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Chicago, and California and Arizona, and Nevada, my biggest market."

Under a bill presented to Mexico's congress last week by the ruling National Action Party (PAN), musicians could be sent to prison for playing songs that glorify the drug trade. People who produce or perform songs or films that glamorize criminality could be imprisoned for up to three years, according to the proposed legislation.

The bill is aimed squarely at narcocorridos, the norteño musical form typically featuring men in cowboy hats playing guitars, accordions, and drums, and singing about the exploits, trials, and tribulations of people in the drug trade. Corridos have been a border musical form for more than a century, but in the past, their themes tended to romance, revolution, and banditry.

These days, narcocorridos are popular on both sides of the border, with groups like Los Tigres del Norte or Los Tucanes de Tijuana pulling in crowds of tens of thousands in Tucson and Torreon, Austin and Aguascalientes. But as with gangsta rap in the US, politicians, law enforcement officials, and moral entrepreneurs have denounced the form for glorifying Mexico's wealthy, violent drug trade.

Traffickers have been known to pipe taunting or threatening messages accompanied by narcocorridos into police radio networks after some killings. And while narcocorridos often lament personal disasters in the drug trade, they also extol successes, lionize leading traffickers, and ridicule security forces.

And now the government of President Felipe Calderon, who has presided over an explosion of prohibition-related violence since taking office in December 2006 and calling out the army to take on the traffickers, is going after the singers. "Society sees drug ballads as nice, pleasant, inconsequential and harmless -- but they are the opposite," Oscar Martin Arce, a PAN MP, told the Associated Press.

The bill was also aimed at low-budget films glorifying traffickers, Martin said. "We cannot accept it as normal. We cannot exalt these people because they themselves are distributing these materials among youths to lead them into a lifestyle where the bad guy wins," Martin said. The intent was not to limit free speech, but to prevent the incitement to crime, he said.

That didn't sit well with Elijah Wald, author of "Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas." Wald told the AP politicians were trying to censor artists instead of addressing Mexico's real problems. "It is very hard to stop the drug trafficking," he added. "It is very easy to get your name in the papers by attacking famous musicians."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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