The besieged Mexican government has a new tool in the info war against drug cartels: animated, online propaganda comics set to electronic beats.
The 10-episode comic series, posted over the summer in two- to three-minute episodes to the blog of President Felipe Calderon, is the latest weapon in a "cultural struggle" against drug cartels. The comics are said to be "a new space for communication" that will "help us better understand the phenomenon of organized crime," said federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire. That is, government propaganda with a pop art twist.
"We cannot allow, as a government and society, impunity for criminals to invade cultural spheres to normalize their crimes, weaken our values and impede the construction of a culture of legality that we all need to achieve genuine security," Poire said. He added, "We should not be indifferent to these ‘narco-corridos.' We already were for too long."
What Poire means by narcocorridos, of course, are popular country songs that celebrate the exploits of drug lords while promoting a luxurious drug-fueled lifestyle.
Instead of accordions and tubas, however, the Mexican government has deployed a soundtrack of sleek, modern synthesizers.
The music builds to a crescendo at the conclusion of one comic countering claims drug legalization will solve the country's security crisis. In one comic, Mexico descends into chaos until an all-star team of marines, bureaucrats, federal police and a government attorney appear on the scene to reunite a father with his wife and children. The music builds to a crescendo. The message: only through strong institutions Mexico will achieve a "true and lasting security."
In other comics - each aims to challenge a different "myth" about the drug war - the government claims the public is strongly supportive of efforts to fight the cartels, that there is no room for negotiation with criminals, and that the security services show no favoritism towards the Sinaloa Cartel and drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. Another comic calls allegations Calderon acted alone in the fight against the cartels a "fallacy."
For the first episode, the government's security strategy is presented as a holistic campaign involving civil society organizations cooperating via a modern communications center - although also backed up by plenty of body armor and guns. It's part of "a comprehensive strategy in which the use of public force is only one of its ingredients." Other ingredients include improving the military's technological and operational capabilities, reforming legal institutions, preventing crime, working with partner nations and boosting coordination between Mexico's different states.
This isn't the first time Mexico's leaders have fought back against narcocultura – the criminal culture which narcocorrido tunes are but one (albeit prominent) feature. Last year, adherents to the cult of Santa Muerte, or ôHoly Deathö accused the government of religious discrimination after army troops destroyed more than 30 shrines placed along roads in the city of Nuevo Laredo. In January, a self-appointed bishop of the cult was arrested. The skeletal death saint is a common symbol for outlaws and drug traffickers.
As University of Texas at El Paso sociology professor Howard Campbell detailed in his 2009 book Drug War Zone, narco culture now includes everything from narcocastillos (castles) to narcocerveza (beer). In Mexico's cemeteries, dead gangsters are buried in elaborate ivory-decorated tombs, mirroring the tendency toward excess analyst Elyssa Pachico said corresponded with the cartels' taste for massive armored trucks. In response to the trend, some media organizations opted in March to discontinue using "narco" terms, and Mexicans have been urged by officials to downplay crime and disorder to international audiences.
But propaganda comics? That could reach a whole new audience. However, it's unlikely narcomenonitas, or the drug smuggling Mennonite farmers of northern Chihuahua state, will be swayed so easily.