Drug Gangsters Immortalized in Song

The Associated Press reported Saturday on Colombia's "narco-ballads," songs that "pay lyrical homage to the lifestyles of the rich and dangerous: drug-lords, assassins, leftist rebels and far-right warlords," according to the story. Among the thugs being rhapsodized in song are two of the most murderous, Carlos Castano, who founded the infamous right-wing paramilitary movement that has massacred tens of thousands, and Pablo Escobar, who murdered hundreds of Colombia government officials and once had an airplane blown up in order to take out two people who were on it.
"These songs are about what's happening in our country, we sing about the paramilitaries, the rebels and the drug-traffickers and they all love it," said Uriel Hennao, the king of the genre, responsible for such anthems as "Child of the Coca," "I Prefer a Tomb in Colombia (to a jail cell in the US)" and "The Mafia Keeps Going."
One of the more pernicious consequences of drug prohibition is the glorification that ends up accruing to violent criminals. I don't know enough about the culture in Colombia and among the people who like this music to know whether they are listening in admiration of drug lords like Escobar and terrorists like Castano or simply because, as Hennao said, it's about what's going on in their country, so I'm not going to pass judgment on either artist or audience. But I don't think it's good for any country to be in that kind of a place. I wrote about this phenomenon here in the US (a situation not involving music, but the same cultural corruption idea) in February 2005 in Boston, before moving to Washington, the case of a gangster named Darryl Whiting who by the account of the prosecutor who put him away was someone who lured young people into lives of crime. The prosecutor, Wayne Budd, was the same guy who had brought federal civil rights charges against the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating. But getting Whiting off the streets, he said, was one of the things he was most proud of. I saw Budd speak on a panel at Harvard -- he predictably did not express agreement with my contention that legalization would have been the way to keep Darryl Whiting and people like him from ever getting into that position. But legalization is what is needed for that purpose. Alcohol prohibition turned Al Capone into a pop hero, and drug prohibition is doing the same thing to top-level gangsters now, even if they don't become as well known to mainstream, majority society as Capone did.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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