11/17/11 – Last Thursday, November 10, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies’ Justice Commission (Comisión de la Cámara de Diputados) unanimously approved a proposal to criminalize the incitement (apología) of crime through music, banners, video, live shows, or the media, reports El Universal. Such incitement would become illegal only in cases where a person or entity publically instigates a criminal action with the purpose of causing its fulfillment, according to legislative reports.
The new law could punish singers of Mexico’s beloved drug ballads (narcocorridos) with years in prison for promoting a criminal activity through song, even if the encouraged crime is never actually carried out. The initial proposal submitted to the Justice Commision would have provided stiffer sanctions for the use of mass media, such as television or radio, to broadcast such messages, but the Commission struck down this provision at the last minute, reports El Universal.
Initiatives to ban narcocorridos in recent years, at the state and municipal level, have drawn significant criticism. According to reports, one academic expert who studies narcocorridos attributes their popularity to, on one hand, many Mexicans’ longing to identify with an “anti-hero,” given the problems many citizens face in society today, and, on the other hand, an outlet for celebration and happiness. As such, the expert predicted that a ban on the music would only strengthen the public’s attachment to it. Young people interviewed by El Universal journalists in 2009 reported loyalty to the music because its lyrics about driving around in luxury vehicles and attracting the attention of beautiful women made them feel “powerful” and gave them an “ego boost” while listening. For these youth, bans on this music seemed “ridiculous,” and one asked if legislators didn’t have something better to do with their time.
The backer of this new proposal, however, National Action Party’s (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) Federal Deputy Oscar Arce Paniagua, reports that this new law aims to address the uploading of violent videos onto websites like Youtube, messages left on cadavers, banners threatening or praising violence (narcomantas)—such as the one threatening U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency members with dismemberment in Juárez last July—, and the promotion of drug cartel activity through concerts and the mass media. All of these forms of communication, Arce Paniagua notes, are increasingly used by criminal organizations to communicate amongst themselves, or with society at large, and allow for the intensification of drug-related violence. Disturbingly, the criminal organizations who produce these communications have been upgrading their technology savvy, moving from the cardboard signs to digitally-printed, jumbo wall-hangings. The use of the public discourse as a tool of power for criminal actors, reports Arce Paniagua, is something that Mexico’s legislators want to put a stop to now.
The legislator sees the communications covered under this legislation as falling outside of Mexican constitutional protections, given that Article 7 limits freedom of the press protections to those communications which do not disturb the public peace (la paz pública). Likewise, the infringement of free speech rights appears not to worry Mexican lawmakers, given that Article 6 of the Mexican Constitution only protects freedom of expression in as far as it does not induce crime or cause a breach of the peace (el órden public).
The proposal would amend Article 208 of the Federal Penal Code and Article 194 of the Federal Code of Criminal Procedure.