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
News
University Edible Garden, Leeds – a sustainable garden in the centre of the university, passers-by can help themselves to the home-grown produce
newsFrom a former custard factory to a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz