At first glance, it’s a typical photo of a woman getting ready to go out. She wears a skimpy dress and lots of makeup while striking a seductive pose. The only problem: She’s the daughter of a notorious drug lord, and her sexy dress happens to carry the insignia of her father’s criminal organization.
A major scandal hit the Mexican Internet in recent weeks after aspiring pop singer Melissa Plancarte posted the selfie on Instagram. Her father, Enrique Plancarte, is one of Mexico’s most wanted men and a leader of the Knights Templar drug cartel, which is currently embroiled in a low-intensity civil war with the army, federal police and citizen vigilante groups in the central Mexican state of Michoacán.
While the authorities say they are fighting the Knights Templar and searching frantically for its leadership, two of Enrique Plancarte’s children are working on musical careers, openly building on their father’s reputation as a drug lord. And apparently they have even received some help from the state authorities. The controversy is a major embarrassment to the federal government, which has vowed to arrest Melissa’s father and placed a bounty of almost $1 million on his head.
Melissa sings banda, a popular genre of Mexican folk music. Known as “The Princess of Banda,” she has released a number of music videos and has gained some fame as a regional performer. Her brother, Enrique Plancarte Jr. (The “Prince of Banda”), is also an aspiring singer. Both siblings are fervent users of social networks like Facebook and Instagram.
Melissa and Enrique Jr. have alluded to their father and his criminal affiliation in their music. Enrique Jr. dedicated the song “Pa’ Mi Viejo” (“For My Old Man”) to his father, while one of Melissa’s songs contains these lyrics: “Those who are looking for me / I’ll give you a hint / My soldiers are warriors that would give their lives for me / I am not a drug dealer / I am a family man / My territory is sacred / I was chosen from above.”
Mexican media reported in January that the Plancarte siblings participated in a music festival in 2012 that was sponsored by the state government of Michoacán. Further state ties emerged when a music video surfaced of a duet between Melissa and Cuban singer Julio Camejo that was shot in the Palace of Justice in Michoacán’s capital, Morelia. The video could have been filmed there only with permission from the state government. But according to the president of Michoacán’s Supreme Court, no records of such an authorization exist.
Then came Melissa’s selfie. The dress she’s wearing in the photo shows a large red cross against a white background, a symbol commonly associated with the Knights Templar. The cartel named itself after the renowned medieval crusaders and emulates some of their symbols. To display it so publicly was taken as an act of defiance.
More controversy followed. On Sunday, Feb. 2, a music festival was held in Morelia headlined by Alfredo Ríos. Known as “El Komander,” Ríos is both popular and controversial as a performer of narcocorridos, tradional northern Mexican music that mythologizes the drug trade. El Komander’s songs romanticize the lives of drug lords and often contain lyrics that graphically depict violence. He has written several songs for Melissa and Enrique Jr., and he’s a frequent performer in Michoacán, often in events sponsored by the state government. On the same day as the festival, a photo surfaced on Facebook of a Michoacán-based federal senator dancing at a party alongside Melissa.
The photos and videos of the Plancarte siblings spread on social media pages attributed to the Grupos de Autodefensa (Self-Defence Groups). As Vocativ previously reported, these autodefensas are groups of citizen vigilantes that took up arms almost a year ago in the Tierra Caliente region to combat the Knights Templar, who have terrorized the state for years. Last month, thousands of soldiers and federal police went to the state to quell the escalating violence. After reaching an agreement with the autodefensas, the government offered to incorporate them in the army as “Rural Defence Forces.”
The authorities have vowed to hunt down the leaders of the Knights Templar, with Enrique Plancarte as one of the principal targets. The perfect media storm surrounding the Plancarte siblings, however, has generated skepticism amongst the Mexican public. Every new disclosure suggests stronger links between local politicians and the Plancarte family, while reducing faith that the authorities will act to reign in the drug cartel.
Meanwhile, Melissa Plancarte released a statement on Jan. 23 on Facebook distancing herself from her father’s work and bemoaning the attention to her family ties. “With regard to my father, of course I love him, but just as I am not one to judge him I am also not responsible for his actions and I am not guilty of anything,” she writes.
On Friday she performed on the U.S. Spanish-language television channel Estrella TV. During an interview, she again distanced herself from her father and even said she had left Michoacán because of threats. She also denied that the infamous dress shown on her selfie had anything to do with the Knights Templar, saying that she was going to a party dressed as a nun.
The claim seems to be something of a stretch. The dress bears little resemblance to a nun’s habit, and the red cross is clearly a Knights Templar symbol. The state, meanwhile, is powerless against the young Plancartes’ open flaunting of the drug cartel iconography, and with state authorities in Michoacán apparently taking little effort to distance themselves from the family, their credibility is taking a beating.
“Strictly speaking, no government can exercise censorship over these kinds of music or messages,” says Azucena Lemus Aguirra, a communications professor at the Michoacán-based UMNSH university, “but in this current context, all of this appears to be a contradiction of official discourse.”