The stuttering firearms

The stuttering firearms

José Manuel Valenzuela, Special correspondent, BBC Mundo

The drug world permeates many different spaces, and gradually it becomes a force which influences the definition of everyday culture.

A Mural on a wall

The symbols of the narco lifestyle filter into Mexican everyday culture, from language to art

Narco Mexico

Narco is in the language. References to narcoculture have made their way into colloquial speech and influenced popular parlance to such an extent that the ups and downs of narco activity have become familiar images in our society.

If we consider that culture is a set of processes and elements which participate in the definition of the senses and meanings in life, the presence of drug trafficking plays a big part in the expectations of a large number of people. People who, in the absence of a viable life plan, are looking to make a quick buck in the drugs business.

And the illegal business also helps to achieve that which the consumer society demands, and allows the enjoyment of the benefits associated with the framework of corruption and impunity which the drug trafficker generates.

The stereotypes stamp onto the social conscience images which supposedly define the drug traffickers.

So the image of the "capo" is that of a character in a Texan hat, jeans and cowboy boots.

The narco figure has his place in the narco world, where his activities include the distribution of drugs, but also spans a mixture of daring, destructive or cowardly deeds.

These actions are chronicled everywhere, from the sensational mass media stories, police reports, the reconstruction of events in the local neighbourhoods, lyrics of the corridos, to recreations in film and literature.


Burning the devil's feet

Vocabulary related to the world of the narco has been gradually integrated into the everyday language of Mexicans.

An example is the various ways of referring to the drugs themselves (the medicine). Some of the most common ones are the names for cocaine (scorpion, white stuff, white snow, flour, snow, parakeet), for heroin (goat, rubber, black, black stone) and for marijuana (cockerel, grass, dope, weed).

And terms regarding the consumption of drugs and their characteristics have also found their way into the language such as doped up, muleteer (in charge of transporting drugs), nail (stash), make lines (cut cocaine), doctor on the corner (local dealer), make mud (prepare heroin), green notebook (a pound of marijuana), the pass (fix (of cocaine), put it in (be a user), burn the devil's feet (smoke marijuana) ...

The narco world is defined from codes of power which establish hierarchies and set the rules of the game: clear guidelines to define power and obedience, with inviolable taxonomy because transgression means punishment or death.

At the top you find the bosses, the top dogs, the heavies ... but at the very top there's only room for the boss of bosses.

As part of the codes which define these relationships, there is a series of characters who transgress from the loyalties and obedience demanded by the narco world: these are the narks, the police informers who, if discovered, pay with their lives.

Violence in words

The whole of the media and everyday conversations are gradually becoming saturated with vocabulary directly linked to the violence spread by the narco world.

For example, words for weapons used by the drug traffickers, like goat horns (AK-47s), which stutter day and night, and anyone listening can imagine what it's about.

The terminology relating to narco crime is also making its way into everyday speech: the levantones are the people nabbed by the drug traffickers to try and get hold of information, while the encajuelados are those people secreted in car boots in order to kidnap or execute them. (Cajuela: boot or trunk of vehicle)

Many of these later turn up quilted or blanketed (wrapped in a blanket), taped up (the blanket is secured with sticky tape, as are the hands, feet and mouth).

For some ten years or so, people have become accustomed to seeing the "decapitated". These are individuals who have been murdered by drug traffickers and whose heads and bodies are afterwards thrown somewhere public, thus making their message clear to all.

So the narco world brings together a series of images which have gone beyond the scenarios of drug production, distribution and consumption. They have become the centre of attention for the media and public alike through the so-called war against organised crime - an undeclared war and about which the public were not consulted. They are paying for it dearly in terms of security and encroachment on the vulnerability of human rights.

The images of fear grow side-by-side with violence, executions, kidnappings, police and military forces, house searches, police checkpoints, corruption.

The "narcoglossary" expands daily with the growing social presence of drug trafficking - a presence which has its roots in the very logic of prohibition and the institutional measures supposedly designed to combat it.

End of Section

José Manuel Valenzuela is a Doctor of Sociology at the College of Mexico, Research Professor and Director of the Department of Cultural Studies at Frontera Norte College. Publications include: "Boss of Bosses: Corridos and Narcoculture in Mexico" and "Along the Northern Borders".