May 13, 2011 / 4:06 PM / in 8 years

Rappers risk lives to protest Mexico's drug war

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Young Mexican rappers are using Internet radio to condemn killings sparked by President Felipe Calderon’s drug war, drawing praise from Buenos Aires to Barcelona but also death threats from gunmen.

Rappers, including Siniestra (C), perform live in a home in Ciudad Juarez April 15, 2011. REUTERS/Gael Gonzalez

Broadcasting from living rooms on the same poor, unpaved streets in Ciudad Juarez where hitmen fight soldiers and police on a daily basis, dozens of musicians gather around microphones to rap live on the radio. Listeners send in requests and comments via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Under pseudonyms such as Pok 37 and Siniestra, the rappers decry the army’s cat-and-mouse game with the henchmen of powerful drug traffickers and the criminal anarchy it has spawned.

A manufacturing center, Ciudad Juarez is now one of the world’s deadliest cities, where thousands of Mexican soldiers and federal police take on gunmen as young as 14 in a war zone just yards (meters) from the prosperity of El Paso, Texas.

“This militarization is just pure abuse, the army has lost the sense of what it is to be human, it’s just barbaric,” said Mr. Hukla, a 33-year-old whose real name is Alberto Ramirez.

More than 9,000 people have died in drug violence in Ciudad Juarez since early 2008, making it the worst drug war hotspot since Calderon sent the army across Mexico to fight drug cartels after his narrow election victory in December 2006.

Hukla broadcasts his program “Voices of the Underground” live on Friday nights on www.radioexceso.com from his tiny house in a neighborhood where many people have already fled.

“This is our protest. Our message is about peace, about reaching young folk, so they can have a better life,” he said.

Fans from Los Angeles to Mexico City tune in to his program on Friday nights, Hukla says. Some as far away as Barcelona listen in despite the time difference, or catch repeats later.

One collective, Barrio Nomada, has a website www.barrionomada.net that plays rap and blogs about the drug war. A poster of Uncle Sam on the site reads: “So drugs don’t reach our children, we are killing yours in Ciudad Juarez.”

SEVERED HEADS IN THE STREET

On the forlorn avenues of the desert city, what began as a three-way battle between the army and rival drug cartels has spiraled into an orgy of bloodshed. Gunmen kill teenagers at parties, dump heads on street corners and recruit jobless youngsters to kidnap, extort businesses and instill fear.

“I’ve come to tell you, my people, of the unhappiness. I turn, I sense the smell of death of the wind,” run the lyrics of one popular Ciudad Juarez rap called “Cruda Realidad” (Crude Reality), by Oveja Negra (Black Sheep) and MASH.

Many of the rappers say they were spurred to broadcast after thousands of troops and federal police arrived in the city from 2008 onward and violence started to surge, effectively shutting them inside their homes.

The massacre of teenagers at a birthday party in a working class area of the city in February 2010 — despite a large army presence nearby — only served to fan their frustration.

They witness the city’s lawlessness on a daily basis and have faced threats from unknown gunmen for speaking out.

At least six rappers have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez since May last year, according to other musicians. Three rappers who performed with Christian texts were shot dead last August after being threatened on social networks.

“The first ones have fallen, now we are going after the rest,” read a text message sent to rappers after the attack.

Last month, 24-year-old rapper Sonia Esmeralda Mata, alias Siniestra, was looking after her three children and niece at home when assailants sprayed the car outside with bullets.

Hitmen have also dumped heads in her neighborhood.

Despite having little money, many have also taken to the road to play at music festivals and clubs across the country, eager to tell people of the horrors of the drug war.

Jorge Eduardo Ramirez, or Pok 37, compiling raps for peace in his makeshift recording studio, said his project could bring fresh hope. “Words are weapons,” Pok 37 said. “But just as they can sow death, they can also sow life.”

Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Paul Simao

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