By Clarissa Alvarez
Clarissa Alvarez is a sophomore at The George Washington University studying political science and economics.
For years, Mexican drug ballads known as narcocorridos that depict the now powerful and lavish lives, as well as the humble beginnings, of cartel leaders have taken the U.S.-Mexico Borderland region by storm. For many young Mexicans living in the Northern States of Mexico and Mexican-Americans living along the southern border states, narcocorridos have unexpectedly become a trendy theme. However, many also believe that these ballads only show how Mexican youth have lost their values and now idolize the nefarious and criminal drug lords. The origin of the narcocorrido stems from the corrido, which often depicts the political themes of immigration, struggle, and the U.S.-Mexico border. There has been a dramatic shift in popularity from the corrido to the polemical narcocorrido since Felipe Calderón announced the infamous “war on drugs” in December 2006.
Calderon’s “war on drugs” exacerbated violence and corruption by fracturing large and stable cartels into smaller, more violent groups. During Calderon’s presidency, the “war on drugs” claimed over 60,000 lives and 25,000 disappearances, though the latter numbers are often regarded as extreme underestimations. A recent Mexican National Survey on Victimization and Perception of Public Security shows, “93.7% of crimes were not reported by victims, due mainly to a lack of faith in police and the judicial system.  For many Mexicans, narcocorridos are ballads that give voice to the grievances of their nation’s dire situation. In other words, the narcocorrido is an esteemed part of “narco culture” that has overwhelmingly become a way of life for many Mexican and Mexican-American youth.
Narcocorridos have gained widespread popularity in the U.S.-Mexico Borderland States; however, they have also received general backlash. The governor of the state of Sinaloa—”El Chapo’s” home state—introduced a ban on public performances of narcocorridos in May 2011.  The ban was introduced as a reform of the original Mexican Reglamento de Alcoholes, article 16, section VI. Any violation by a music hall or bar would result in the loss of their liquor license. The Sinaloan government’s goal was to get rid of the bad message and influence that narcocorridos inflicted on the younger Mexican population. Many in the Northern Mexican region applauded the move by the Sinaloan governor; however, Mexico’s Supreme Court later overturned the ban. According to the Mexican Supreme Court, Sinaloan Governor Mario Lopez Valdez “exceeded his powers” in creating the legislation and seriously constricted right to freedom of expression.  Nonetheless, on February 24, 2016, the same Sinaloan Governor suspended all public concerts featuring narcocorridos just days after a fight at a local concert, which featured narcocorridos, left five civilians dead . Coahuila and Chihuahua, like Sinaloa, have all applied similar restrictions on narcocorridos, though most have either been lifted or are yet to be fully-implemented due to legal implications. The Northern Mexican state of Chihuahua implemented a similar ban, but with graver consequences. The Chihuahua state-wide ban was fully implemented in early March 2015 following a shooting at a local concert. Anyone performing or distributing narcocorridos would be fined $20,000 dollars and undergo up to 36 hours in jail.  The general consensus is that by restricting the performance and distribution of narcocorridos, crime and violence would become less prevalent. Meanwhile, it would also deter young men and women from joining drug-trafficking organization.
México’s neighboring proximity with the U.S. remains a core part of the drug-trafficking problem. America keeps demanding illicit drugs, and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations keep providing them. Such an intricate and deeply entrenched relationship has led to a shared narco cultura along the U.S.-Mexico Borderland area. In turn, narcocorrido artists have gained widespread popularity in California, Texas, Arizona, and even some Northern American States. Some of the most famous include Gerardo Ortiz, “El Komander,” “Los Bukanas,” and “Movimiento Alterado,” although such artists have also experienced harsh but understandable criticism. In a contentious 2016 music video, Gerardo Ortiz impersonates a drug lord who finds his girlfriend in bed with another man. Ortiz proceeds by killing his girlfriend’s lover and sexually abusing his girlfriend. To top it all, Ortiz, with a smile, throws his girlfriend in a car trunk and lights it on fire. Ortiz was later arrested by the Mexican Federal Police at an airport and charged with “criminal exaltation,” with possible investigation into money laundering and corruption.  The music video has since been removed from YouTube, and Ortiz has been bailed out of jail for a fine of 50,000 pesos.
Do narcocorridos influence young men and women to act more violently? More importantly, would such restrictions effectively reduce crime and violence?
Even if there was to be a successful ban that all Mexican municipalities would fully implement, it would not change the fact that drug-trafficking organizations was not a result of narcocorridos but vice-versa. Narcocorridos did not create organized crime with all their barbaric and terror-inflicting tactics, but rather was a social and cultural response to organized crime. It is baseless to think that banning narcocorridos from playing at concerts or radio stations would successfully reduce crime and violence in Mexico. Organized crime and corruption had long been in Mexico before the creation of the narcocorrido. Saying that it influences young men and women to involve themselves with criminal groups is senseless. The rise in young men and women joining drug-trafficking organizations is a direct result of economic and social inequality. Joining an organized criminal group is a quick way for the impoverished from both sides of the border--who many times lack access to quality education--to gain respect, money, and power. The narcocorrido does not produce or increase crime and violence, nor does it influence young adults to join drug-trafficking organizations. It is merely a product of the “war on drugs” with its many ramifications.
 Alonso, Luis F. “New Government Data Shows Mexican Citizens Feel Unsafe.” InSight Crime: Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime, 2016. http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/new-government-data-shows-mexican-citizens-feel-unsafe
 Wells, Miriam. “Mexican Supreme Court lifts Sinaloa ‘Narco-Music’ Ban.” InSight Crime: Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime, 2013. http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/narcocorrido-ban-sinaloa-state-lifted
 “Mexico: Two more states aban narcocorridos.” Freemuse, 2015. http://freemuse.org/archives/11902
 Daugherty, Arron. “City in Mexico Bans Narco Songs.” InSight Crime: Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime, 2015. http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/city-in-mexico-bans-narco-songs
 Cobo, Leila. “Mexican Star Gerardo Ortiz Arrested on Charges Stemming From Violent Video.” Billboard, 2016. http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/7439092/gerardo-ortiz-arrested-charges-fuiste-mia-video
The opinions and views expressed through this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.