Initially, the purview of Mexican drug cartels, songs that soothe the egos of powerful criminals or cast them as defenders of the common man are swiftly becoming a region-wide phenomenon.
Most recently, a Haitian gang leader published a musical attack on what he frames as government failures to provide for the people of Haiti.
Controversies such as these are common in Mexico, which has a long tradition of what are colloquially dubbed "narcocorridos." In other parts of Latin America, songs celebrating drug traffickers have historically been less common. That is beginning to change as examples emerge across the region.
Here, InSight Crime looks at four noteworthy productions:
Haiti Gangster Raps State on the Knuckles
In late October, Haitian gangster, alias "Izo 5 Segond," released a rap song criticizing the state authorities, with the chorus, "If you see we don't have good hospitals, it's their fault/ If schools can't function, it's their fault."
The leader of the 5 Segond gang is based in the Village de Dieu (Village of God) neighborhood in Haiti, where four police officers were killed earlier this year. Their bodies were never recovered.
The song's evocative lyrics reflect the growing politicization of Haiti's criminal landscape following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, with Jimmy Chérizier, alias 'Barbecue,' declaring war on public officials and calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
It neglects to say that the current shortage of fuel forcing the closure of hospitals is largely happening because gangs are preventing fuel deliveries. The 5 Segond gang is one of the most dangerous criminal groups in Haiti, according to analysts, and has been involved in kidnapping, extortion and homicides.
El Koki Mocks FAES
In March 2020, the infamous Venezuelan gang leader, Carlos Luis Revete, alias "El Koki," published a rap song and accompanying music video on social media, in which he mocks the Special Action Forces (Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales – FAES) of the Venezuelan police.
El Koki's musical tirade against Venezuelan law enforcement commemorates a confrontation between his gang and the FAES along a highway, following the attempted kidnapping of a high-profile businessman who was being monitored by the police. Four members of El Koki's gang died, and at least six civilians were injured.
"FAES on the highway, FAES detonated," El Koki jeered, referencing the attempted use of a grenade in the attack.
FAES may have had the last laugh in this standoff, as state operations in the Cota 905 and La Vega in July) cleared the neighborhoods of the once-untouchable gang leader's presence. Revete appears to have fled with his top lieutenants and much of his fortune to Colombia.
Birthday Present for the Songbird
On November 26, 2020, the Argentinian duo, La Realeza, released “Que en paz descanses, Pájaro Cantero,” (Rest in Peace, Pájaro Cantero), a song commemorating the 2013 death of former Los Monos leader Claudio Cantero, alias “El Pájaro.” His alias is a pun on the Spanish for a songbird. It was published a day after what would have been his 37th birthday.
Cantero was the former leader of Los Monos, the most significant criminal group in Argentina, which operates primarily in the city of Rosario. He was shot to death as he left a nightclub in 2013 and was swiftly replaced by his brother, the now-imprisoned Ariel Máximo Cantero, alias "Guille."
Commissioned by living members of his family and the current leaders of Los Monos, it glorifies Pájaro with the lines "you took care of us here, on earth. Now you take care of us from above."
With many leaders behind bars, cultivating a personality cult for the fallen, "El Pájaro" may be an attempt to sustain Los Monos' influence.
The Ecuadorian Captain and the Narcocorrido
The tradition of narcocorridos expanded from Mexico alongside the Sinaloa Cartel's drug trafficking interests. In one of the earliest examples of the form beyond Mexico's borders, the eponymous ballad "Telmo Castro" tells the story of an Ecuadorian captain who moved cocaine for the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo."
The song brags about how Telmo Castro, alias "El Capi," took advantage of his military experience and access to uniforms and army vehicles to move cocaine from Colombia to Ecuador. Boldly, it claims "they won't manage to lock up the wild beast for long."
A year later, "El Capi" died in prison when he was attacked and received 15 stab wounds.