Mexican 'narco culture' glamorizes drug lifestyle

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by ANGELA KOCHERGA

WFAA

Posted on February 20, 2011 at 10:58 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 21 at 9:09 PM

As warring drug cartels fight for turf in Mexico — especially along the border — they seem to be winning another battle for the hearts and minds of many young people.

From songs that glorify drug lords to "folk saints" and YouTube videos, narco culture spreads a seductive view of a violent lifestyle that blurs the lines between entertainment, religion and crime.

State and local governments in Mexico have tried to ban radio stations from playing narco folk songs, but that has not stopped fans from listening online.

Narco cinema offers an action-packed view of the fictional world of drug lords. And now, traffickers post their own videos of real crime scenes on YouTube.

It all adds up to "a counterculture of criminality," according to author and anthropoligist Howard Campbell of the University of Texas at El Paso.

"If organized crime is in control, that means everyone in that region has to play by their rules," Campbell said. "That means young people growing up learn who has the power, and they join the people with power."

As portrayed in the film "El Infierno," narco culture has roots in lawless regions of Mexico and thrives in places where there are few educational or economic opportunities.

"The mainstream provides very few options and opportunities for young people," Campbell said. "And so they look and they see this alternative society of people making a lot of money quickly through crime, and they see it's also stylish because of the music and the clothing and the fancy trucks people drive."

Beyond the criminal lifestyle, there's also a spirtual aspect.

Consider the growing devotion to folk saints like Santa Muerte — "Holy Death." Followers at a shrine in a rough neighborhood of Mexico City pray for protection for themselves or loved ones invovled in the drug trade.

Their faith is a mix of a pre-Colombian cult of death and Catholic beliefs.

Drug smugglers have also adopted "Jesus Malverde," a Robin Hood-like figure, as their patron saint.

They pay homage to him at a shrine in Sinaloa. The Pacific Coast state is the birthplace of Mexico's drug trafficking families.

And just as those early families have grown into large international drug cartels, narco culture has also spread — often along key smuggling routes that lead to the U.S. border.

"As a pastor of the Catholic Church, for me it's a big challenge," said Father Antonio Urrutia, who works on both sides of the border in El Paso and Juarez.

The Catholic priest sees youngsters in ultra-violent Juarez who now aspire to be drug traffickers or hit men because of the money and power.

Their lavish lifestyle is portrayed in music videos that have fans on both sides of the border.

And there are also faithful followers of narco saints in both Mexico and the U.S. News 8 found some figurines at several shops in Laredo. None of the merchants wanted us to identify their stores.

But whether in secret in the U.S. or openly celebrated in Mexico, no one can deny the growing influence of narco culture.

E-mail akocherga@belo.com

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