One of the most wanted drug cartel kingpins in the world was captured last night. Joaquin Guzman, also known as “El Chapo,” heads up the Sinaloa drug cartel. He was apprehended in a raid carried out by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement personnel. Unlike raids seeking to capture cartel kingpins in the past, the arrest of Guzman happened without a single shot being fired. When police sought Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar in 1993, a spectacular gunfight erupted and he was killed instead of captured.
According to the breaking story by Associated Press (AP), an unnamed U.S. law enforcement officer with a high ranking informed AP of the incident. The story was confirmed by National Public Radio’s Washington-based Justice Correspondent, Carrie Johnson.
Although officials in the U.S. claim Guzman is responsible for a significant amount of the violence and deaths in the decades-long drug war that has made many parts of Mexico and other Latin America countries dangerous, the drug balladeers who sing about El Chapo say otherwise.
Known as “narcocorrido,” the drug ballads are hugely popular in Mexico. Corridos are ballads, and narcocorridos are ballads about the drug trade. It is not merely a subgenre to corrodes but an entire lifestyle that has apparently wed the better-known bands with the bigger cartels. Although the songs style is replete with tubas, harmonicas and accordions, the bands tend to use stage props such as assault rifles and even bazookas. When the songs are popular, cartel kingpins occasionally give it their blessing.
For the Sinaola Cartel, the band of choice appears to be the border-breaking Los Tigres del Norte, a band that hails from the city in Mexico after which the cartel is named. The group has performed numerous times in Los Angeles, CA and has been advertised in the city on billboards when they are to perform. They are also frequently featured on MTV.
The capture of the drug cartel kingpin is sure to launch a volley of new songs singing about how he will remain legendary no matter, and may even predict another escape from jail.
Guzman was first captured in June, 1993 but managed to escape on January 19, 2001 prior to facing trial.
A book titled “Narcocorrido appears to have made the music style well-known in the English-speaking world when it was released in November, 2001. There are English and Spanish editions of the book by Elijah Wald. It was published by Rayo which is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishing. It was the 2002 Latino Book Award winner of the “Best Arts Book.”
In late 2013, a documentary called Narco Cultura was released and continues to gain popularity. Directed by Shaul Schwarz, it documents the bands an dthe business. Cartel leaders seeking popularity will commission songs even as established cartel kingpins are sought to gain permission to sing about them.
While there is the usual glory of being a popular musician, there are related problems. A number of narcocorrido musicians have been tortured, beaten and murdered for the apparent allegiances they hold to their respective cartels. According to The Daily Beast, Chalino Sanchez was killed in 1992 apparently for his close relationship to a drug lord. A death toll among the drug balladeers seems to have spiked in 2002 and has remained high.
Although the cartels often have their respective kingpins captured or even killed, those captured tend to remain in charge while behind bars and those killed tend to have a replacement immediately.
By Randall Fleming
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