Elijah Wald – Corrido Censorship: A Brief History
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There have been calls for censorship of corridos associated with drug trafficking or the crime world ever since Los Tigres del Norte hit with “Contrabando y Traición” and “La Banda del Carro Rojo” in the 1970s, but these calls have intensified in recent years. While both drugs and crime cause real problems for society at large, and for many individuals, I am extremely dubious about the purposes of such censorship. It seems to me to be a attempt by politicians to get publicity as defenders of public morals and safety without doing any of the difficult things that would be necessary to genuinely deal with the problems, such as providing poor people with other ways to improve their economic situation. I explored this subject a few years ago, in a talk for Freemuse, the international organization against music censorship, and more recently on a plenary organized by Freemuse at the biannual meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. This page has a rough outline of recent attempts to control the difusion of narcocorridos. It is worth noting that many of the bans are of short duration, instituted with great fanfare every few years, then allowed to lapse. (If you quote from this page, please supply proper citations.....)

Chihuahua. The state’s human rights representative calls for a ban on radio play of narcocorridos, but without any success.

Michoacan: Arturo Herrera, president of the Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry (CIRT, for Cámara de la Industria de Radio y Televisión) of Michoacan, proposes an agreement “like those in Sinaloa and Baja California,” in which radio broadcasters would voluntarily cease playing narco songs. He says, “We are enemies of censorship. This is about getting the media themselves to stop broadcasting this music.”


Sinaloa, 3/2. The state’s CIRT announces a “voluntary” ban on broadcast of narcocorridos. Governor Juan S. Millán shortly told the press that "There has been a lack of open participation in public safety on the part of the broadcast media,” and that this ban would help to contribute to a culture of legality “and to remove the stigma from Sinaloa of being the cradle of the drug traffic.”

Sinaloa, 3/11. Citing the successful censorship of narcocorridos, the State Prosecutor announces plans to prohibit the performance of such songs at live concerts.

Tijuana, BC, 3/14. State representative Catalino Zavala, of the PRD, proposes regulations controlling the broadcast of narcocorridos on radio and television.

Tijuana, 3/15. Representatives of the radio programmers agree that it might be good to censor this music if it is genuinely harming young people. They note, however, that songs like Los Tucanes’ “Mis Tres Animales” talk about drugs only in coded language, and thus can only affect people who already are familiar enough with the drug scene to understand this code.

National, 3/22. Senator Yolanda Gonzalez Hernandez of the PRI argues that by telling stories of youths escaping a hard life in the mountains and becoming rich, narcocorridos promote the criminal life. She points out that the state governments of Sinaloa and Baja California have already made arrangements to keep these songs off the radio, and argues that the same should be done on a national level. She says, “Though we are absolutely convinced of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the sixth and seventh articles of our constitution, we also firmly believe that this freedom of ideas has certain limits in the case of attacks on morals, the rights of third parties, and provocations to crime or distress to the public. . .” Citing existing laws against encouraging criminal acts, she calls for “restrictions on reproduction of certain works, though not impeding their creation.” (Hence, she argues that this is not censorship, since people are welcome to write the songs or make the records. She just does not want them to be allowed on the airwaves.)
Coahuila and Tamaulipas, May. In Saltillo, Coahuila, the deputies of the Local Congress unanimously approved a statement to eliminate narcocorridos from the radio in Coahuila. Deputy Elida Bautista Castañón said, “It is known that man tends to imitate what he sees and hears, so it is logical that a person will act violently if all day long he is seeing scenes of crimes and listening to the adventures of a drug trafficker whose aim is to illegally enrich himself.” Meanwhile, in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, members of the city’s Cultural Commision asked the City Hall to take the relevant action to prohibit narcocorridos in the radio and television stations.

Coahuila, 6/20. The state congress calls for measures like those in force in Sinaloa and Baja California.

National, 11/7. Roque Chávez López, president of the Consulting Council of the CIRT declares that "The radio broadcasters of the country want to say no to everything that speaks of violence. That is why we are promoting this initiative [to ban narcocorridos] in the whole country, and there is a great consensus to apply it.” An article in Radio World adds that all the recent developments have followed the creation of the Council on Autoregulacion of the CIRT, and while the government and federal legislators are holding consultations with defferent sectors of society to update the existing legal framework which, for many analists, has been overtaken by current conditions.

National, 12/5. Senator Javier Corral, Senator from Chihuahua and head of the Commission of Comunication and Transport, calls for national restrictions on narcocorridos.


Baja California, 1/17. State representative Catalino Zavala calls once again for a statewide ban, citing the comments of Senator Yolanda Gonzalez.

Chihuahua, 1/31. The state congress passes a bill sponsored by Oscar Gonzalez Luna, of the PAN, “inviting” radio stations to ban narcocorridos, and promising legal enforcement if stations do not comply. The bill argues that radio, as a national resource, must act in the public interest. He told the BBC that, “from hearing over and over that the criminals are superheros, that they have their hands full of money and lack nothing, by way of records which they hear on the radio, children and young people lose interest in studying, work and family values, lured by easy money, depravity and vice.”

National, 2/08. Los Tucanes de Tijuana support the censorship of narcocorridos in Baja California, and also the stations that have chosen not to play Los Tigres del Norte’s “Crónica del cambio,” a critique of the government of Vicente Fox. Of narcocorridos, the Tucanes’ Mario Quintero says, “They have fallen into vulgar language. There are fictitious corridos, without a foundation, obscene, vulgar and invented. They sell because they are common. So it’s good that they [the authorities] are getting involved in the affair.” On the censorship of the Tigres’ song, he adds, “They prohibited that corrido because they are knocking the elected president. If I were Fox and they were knocking me and making me look bad, I would stop them.”

Baja California, 2/27. The state legislature votes to call for a national ban on narcocorridos. The voting is 18 in favor, 2 opposed, with 1 abstension.

Reynosa, no date: Beto Quintanilla, the most popular corrido singer in the Texas border region, releases a corrido titled "Libertad de expresion," which along with telling of the arrest and death of the Arellano Felix brothers, argues that he is simply a reporter like the press, television and radio, and like them is telling the world what is happening: "Yo no voy a hablar de drogas, solo de lo sucedido/Porque un sistema corupto hace crecer los bandidos/Si hay libertad de expression, no prohiban los corridos." (I am not going to speak of drugs, just of what happened/ Because a corrupt system makes bandits grow/If there is freedom of expression, don't prohibit the corridos.)

National, 3/9. Los Tigres del Norte announce that they have had to drop plans to release a single of their new corrido, “Cronica de un Cambio,” which is critical of the administration of President Fox, because the main national radio chains have said they will not play it. (Click here for lyrics to this song, in Spanish and English.) Jorge Hernandez, the group’s leader, recalls that their corrido “El Gato Felix,” which celebrated a crusading reporter who was assassinated while investigating corruption in Tijuana, had been banned in Baja California in the late 1980s.

Michoacan, 5/13. Senator Antonio Soto says that the national government has shows a “preoccupying timidity,” and calls on the Secretary of Governance to do its job and carry out the ban proposed by Yolanda Gonzalez.

Michoacan, 5/14. Arturo Herrera, president of the Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry of Michoacan, who proposed a state ban in 1998, announces that at that time “some colleagues argued that [such songs] were good business, people like them, and banning them was an assault on freedom of expression,” but that now the climate is more propitious for such action.

National, 5/28. Subsecretary Jorge Teherán of Governanance responds to calls for a national ban of narcocorridos. He says that, while the right to freedom of expression makes it impossible to prohibit narcocorridos, “reality” shows, or talk shows on the Jerry Springer model, it should be possible to rate such songs and programs, and to regulate the hours of their transmission, in order to protect young listeners and viewers.

Tijuana, Baja California, 7/18. The state government signs an agreement with the Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry, instituting a “voluntarily” ban on radio play of narcocorridos. Casio Carlos Narvaez, of the Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry, calls on stations in the United States to follow suit, saying that otherwise the competition may force Tijuana stations to start playing the songs again.

National, 8/14, Asked about the censorship of the Tigres, Julio Preciado says: “Those are "chin.....ras", what they say in some songs are truths, something that I assure you, I am not a supporter of narcocorridos, in the end music is communication, I don’t see the point in censoring a song or two or however many, in the end if you don’t play it, in the media it gives them publicity and people have more reason to go buy the disc, these situations are actually good for the groups that play that type of music, because good or bad in that way they sell more records.”

Monterrey, Nueva Leon, 10/9. The state congress votes to prohibit radio stations from playing narcocorridos. This is news, since up until now Nueva Leon did not bother with such matters, and the local radio stations play many corridos.

USA and Mexico, 11/8. Los Tigres del Norte’s “La Reina del Sur,” a narcocorrido based on the best-selling novel by the Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte, carries the album of the same name to the number one spot in the Billboard Magazine Latin chart. In Mexico, it receives the same censorship as all narcocorridos, despite its respectable literary roots, and the Tigres hurry out a second single “En que fallé,” to get radio play in the states where a ban is in effect

Guanajuato, 11/28. Luis de Alba, the new delegate of the CNIRT, the National Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry, proposes an agreement of “autoregulation,” not to broadcast narcocorridos in the state of Guanajuato. “It is not that this would be censorship, but rather that simply we don’t want to be yellow journalists or recommend an action or a character that is doing harm and not good.” He added that the idea is that “narcocorridos will not be played as an ethical action, and not by a coercive mechanism. It will be the morals of each empresario that determine if he programs these stories of criminals or not.” For his part, governor Juan Carlos Romero Hicks said that citizens should be free to choose for themselves: "We live in a country of freedoms and whoever wants to buy this music is at full liberty to do so. For my own taste, I don’t share the affinity for this kind of music, but there will be people who do want to buy it." In any case, local stations have already removed from their playlists drug corridos by Los Tucanes de Tijuana, los Tigres del Norte, los Cardenales de Nuevo León, and other popular groups.


No new developments make the news.


Chihuahua, 4/23. The president of the State Congress, Víctor Valencia (PRI), argues that Los Tigres del Norte’s new corrido, “Las Mujeres de Juárez,” about the killings of young women workers from the maquiladoras, “will contribute to creating an atmosphere of greater terror in our city,” and will also “discourage investment” in the region. “I would ask [the local legislature] how we can, together, as a Congress, do what we can to try, if not to inhibit, to make this artistic group reconsider and desist from this effort, which they are certainly making for economic reasons.” Conversely, the special commisioner of the Mexican Government for the case of the murdered women of Juárez, Guadalupe Morfin Otero, rejected the criticisms of the corrido, saying: “It seems to me that the corrido does not tell lies. This and other artistic expressions that have surfaced on this theme are valid when they are an expression of solidarity.” The local authorities of the General Directoriat of Radio, Television and Cinema of the Secretariat of Government (DGRTC), say that they will not take action against the song because it does not corrupt the language or harm the rights of third parties, nor does it mention the names of any of the victims.


Sinaloa, Feb: Educational authorities decide to withdraw the book 100 Corridos, alma de la canción mexicana, edited by Mario Arturo Ramos, which includes five narcocorridos, including “El Señor de los Cielos,” “El Avión de Colombia,” and “La Banda del Carro Rojo,” from the list of texts distributed to fifth graders, to avoid condoning narcoviolence. The state Secretary of Public Education and Culture, Javier Luna Beltrán, adds that he would ask the Comisión Nacional de Libros de Texto Gratuito (Conaliteg) to remove the corridos that make an apology for violence and narcoculture from this book. (A corrido anthology that omitted all songs that glorify violence would have to start its censorship in the middle ages, since the roots of the form are almost exclusively in epics of war and killing.)

National, Feb: Following a national uproar, the PAN and the Unión Nacional de Padres de Familia petition for 100 Corridos, alma de la canción mexicana to be removed from primary schools, and education authorities in many states (no specific list is published) move to do so. Congressman Miguel Alonso Raya responds that removing this book, “which explores a rich musical historical tradition of our country is an assault on culture and freedom of expression” and grants the narcocorrido “an influence on the development of the personality of the students which it does not have.”

No new developments make the news.


National, March and May: Two reports come out (giving slightly different figures) on sanctions leveled during the administration of Vicente Fox against television and radio broadcasters for failing to comply with the Federal Law of Radio and Television. An article in Reforma says that according to the Dirección General de Radio, Televisión y Cinematografía of the Secretaría de Gobernación there were 1,296 administrative proceedings, but they only imposed penalties on 27 broadcasters, apparently for 80 violations (the latter figure from a piece in Milenio Diario). Of those 80, 38 were for “corruption of language,” 20 for “omission of State time,” 14 for transmission of “esoteric programs,’ 4 for broadcasting “narcocorridos,” two for having unlicensed broadcasters, one for “no acatar observaciones” (?) and one for “broadcasting film without authorization and classification.”

National, 5/15: Mario Quintero, composer and leader of Los Tucanes de Tijuana, says in an interview that he has excercised a degree of self-censorship in his writing since the murder of the singer Valentín Elizalde in Reynosa in November, 2006. It was widely reported that Elizalde was killed because his songs supported the Sinaloan drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in a rivalry with Osiel Cardenas and his troops, “Los Zetas.” Responding to this, Quintero says that The lyrics of Los Tucanes, above all of the 14 songs on the [new] record El papá de los pollitos, changed substantially from the way they were originally imagined, because now we watch what we say, we remove many words that shouldn’t be there, that it would be inconvenient to have there, above all after what happened to Valentín Elizalde. He made it clear that he does not transmit messages with his songs because that is very dangerous, but on the contrary they are dedicated to everybody, without being either in favor or opposed to anybody.

 National, 5/27: The PRD faction in Mexico’s House of Deputies (Congress) calls for enforcement of broadcasting laws and the necessary political measures to prevent or at least regulate the diffusion of narcocorridos. César Flores Maldonado, the PRD’s coordinator of the Área Jurisdiccional, said that though the songs reflect a contemporary reality, “it is necessary not to allow the continued proliferation of this musical genre which with impunity and sarcasm narrates the deeds of the delinquents…. The drug traffic is not just a problem of national security, but of national health, and therefore this type of songs should be regulated….  It is not a matter of censorship, but that the federal government play a part in the business not only with the radio broadcasters, but also with the record producers and the composers themselves…. It is necessary that at least when they are going to broadcast a narcocorrido the announcer warn people that it is about the life of a delinquent, and that at least for times and programs that can be heard by minors they eliminate the broadcast.”