Mexican Mass Graves: Arrests remove narco-minstrels' best material

AN UNEXPECTED boom in drug busts this year has left humble narco- minstrels singing the blues. Balladeers in cantinas across northern Mexico are on tenterhooks after anti-narcotics agents pounced on their patrons.

Police continue to capture members of Mexico's notorious Juarez Cartel, which has managed to elbow out the Colombian drug lords from Medellin and Cali to corner most of the cocaine and cannabis distribution in the United States - an estimated 180 tons annually.

Scores of guitar-strumming musicians, whose melancholy songs are inspired by outlaws' exploits and reversals of fortune, must now puzzle over their own economic future while law enforcers on both sides of the border gloat over their string of high-profile collars. If all the drug runners with clout end up behind bars, lucrative bids to commission ballads that extol the bravery of rival Mexican drug traffickers may soon dry up completely.

Groups with names such as "Los Tiranos", "Huracanes del Norte", and the upstart "Cartel de Nuevo Leon" are now reduced to living off the proceeds of their cassettes, which are hawked at street markets and cantinas, rather than composing new tributes to perform at extravagant narco-parties. But drug runners have far fewer opportunities to show off once they go underground.

At the tomb of Jesus Malverde, patron saint of the drug lords in Sinaloa state, some worried musicians are already making supplications. They lop off a long hank of hair, plait it, and pin it to the stucco walls of a shrine dedicated to a bandit king who was slain in 1909 near the railway tracks of Culiacan.

Usually, it is the drug lords themselves who come to ask this Robin Hood figure for bumper marijuana and opium harvests, or else for protection from turf wars or police raids. But lately, it seems that few have bothered to worry enough about zealous customs agents and cops. The usual strategic bribery did not eliminate all their obstacles this autumn.

In quick succession, the cartel has been hit by critical arrests. First came Operation Impunity, when US and Mexican officials dismantled the Juarez cartel's stateside distribution network and seized nearly 13 tons of cocaine, each block stamped with a cheeky Roadrunner cartoon.

Next came Operation Millennium, a swoop in the US, Mexico and Colombia that led to hundreds of arrests. Then police announced the capture of Juan Jose Quintero Payan, also known as El Juanjo, who is the mentor for a Juarez cartel kingpin on the run.

The cartel's Mario Silva, known as El Animal, who had previously infiltrated the police, was trapped yesterday. Hopes are that he will point the way to the ex-Governor of Quintana Roo, Mario Villanueva. His Caribbean playground mutated into "a narco-state where the Juarez cartel owned everyone, from the local cop up to the Governor", a senior US official complained.

Most musicians keep tight-lipped about their rich backers, and only watch and wait. It won't take long before second-string traffickers dare to surface, cash in hand, eager to pay minstrels to immortalise their names. After all, they cannot run adverts to plug clandestine products, but the fame of Acapulco Gold first became widespread through song, not smoke rings.

These corridos or running ballads reach an audience that spans generations, making them a publicist's dream Narco-minstrels still can tap into smugglers' fears and bravado, even if new patronage is not forthcoming.

The latest ballad mocks Mexico's elite anti-drug squad. Three of their finest switched white flour for six kilograms of cocaine just before it was set to blaze in Juarez, the nefarious border town where agents today are digging for the bones of snitches that the cartel executed years ago. Yesterday they have found the partial remains of two, and an informant claims up to 100 may be buried there.

Not all narco-minstrels are hirelings for drug traffickers, even if they do sing about them. Los Tigres del Norte, who will often include a wry moral twist in a cautionary smugglers' song, have found a patron of another calibre: they have been tapped to croon a ballad on Pope John Paul II's Millennial Jubilee CD.

Suggested Topics
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
peopleSwimmer also charged with crossing double land lines and excessive speeding
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style