From classic movies like Scarface to new series like Narcos, drug traffickers have always been a source of fascination for the public.
Their exploits have long been glamorized, whether in American gangsta rap or in Mexican narcocorridos (drug ballads), but in recent weeks authorities in western Mexico have begun clamping down on those they accuse of blurring the lines between romanticizing the narco lifestyle and actively living it.
Police arrest drug ballad singer
On Saturday, police in Jalisco state announced the arrest of Cristian Iván Miranda Sandoval, a 21-year-old actor and narcocorrido singer, for possession of illegal firearms.
— Fiscalía de Jalisco (@FiscaliaJal) October 18, 2015
Agents confiscated a gold-plated .45-caliber handgun, another .380 pistol, seven cell phones, and an unspecified amount of cash and jewelry upon detaining Miranda in an exclusive gated community on the outskirts of Guadalajara, the state capital.
Like many popular narcocorrido artists, some of whom are even known to bring fake bazookas onstage, Miranda had appeared in numerous films and music videos posing with guns and playing with masked band members.
“In this occasion it appears that he was not just a singer and an actor but that in real life he was breaking the law and putting citizens’ lives at risk,” said Jalisco’s attorney general, Eduardo Almaguer.
Often commissioned to write ballads about fame-hungry young drug traffickers, narcocorrido singers can earn huge fees from playing at their private parties. Yet they also run the risk of being killed by rival gangs, an all-too-common industry hazard.
Narco impersonator faces charges
Earlier this month, state police officers arrested Martín Juárez Campos, 24, for using his Facebook page to send intimidating messages and encourage acts of violence in Guadalajara.
Juárez, who had over 2,000 Facebook friends, claimed on his profile to belong to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations.
In one post he threatened to make Guadalajara “go up in flames,” while in another he posted a video of a gold-plated pistol encrusted with diamonds, a supposed gift from the head of the cartel.
Following an investigation by Jalisco’s cyber police force, he was charged with inciting and condoning criminal activity.
Juárez, who was briefly held in a maximum-security prison before being released on bail, claimed he did not know anyone from the cartel and only ran the account for his own entertainment because he was fascinated by organized crime.
Investigators later determined that he was in fact a forklift operator with no links to any criminal gang. Juárez had taken the snapshots of armed men and luxury vehicles that he posted on his Facebook page from other websites and then stamped them with his own watermark, officials said.
Nonetheless, he could still face one to six months in jail if convicted of the charges against him.
Despite the violence that has plagued the country in recent years, there is no shortage of apologists for narco culture in Mexico, just as there is no lack of young recruits for violent criminal gangs.
Halloween costumes of the nation’s most notorious kingpin, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán are flying off the shelves, while dolls have even been made up of his former-associate-turned-rival, Edgar Villarreal.
— Danniela Geomar Neri (@DannielaGeomar) October 1, 2015
But in a country beset by corruption, poverty, extreme wealth inequality and a deeply flawed public education system, there will always be people who are drawn by the allure of a life of crime.
Clamping down on those who are the product of this culture may help the authorities to make headlines in the short term, but it may prove more productive in the long term to tackle its root causes.