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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld (Part 2 of 2)

Both Mexican and Mexican-American criminals use the iconography and heroes of the church and Mexican culture as symbols of power and loyalty.

June 02, 2010  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Bandits and drug smugglers soon began visiting his shrine and invoking his intervention to protect their illegal cargo and other criminal enterprises. They bring gifts of tequila and flowers and hire expensive mariachi bands to serenade his image.

Some drug dealers even observe the "Sabbath of Jesus Malverde" by doing no trafficking on Thursday because they believe this is the day Malverde was killed. Malverde is by far the most common folk "saint" that I have encountered among the Mexican drug traffickers in Los Angeles.

A caution here, Jesus Malverde has become so popular that he has been accepted as a saint by many Mexicans who are not necessarily drug dealers. He is depicted as a mustached young man with black hair wearing a white shirt. He is also sometimes depicted with a noose around his neck. Sometimes he is shown wearing a white cowboy hat.

Afro-Caribbean and Mexican Brujeria Influences

The Afro-Caribbean influences of Haitian Vodou, Santeria, and Palo Mayombe have many devoted followers in Mexico. In these systems, Catholic saints are substituted for the African deities. These belief systems are often mixed with local folk magic and brujeria (witchcraft).

And not all believers are poor, uneducated, superstitious peons.

In the 1940s, the "Evangelist of Satan" Aleister Crowley and his associates studied the dark arts, including brujeria, in Mexico. One of his associates was rocket scientist Jack Parsons who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Crowley would pick Parsons to lead his occult church, the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), in Pasadena, Calif. Parsons was also an associate of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.

Santa Muerte

In Mexico's District Federal, the cathedral was filled with smoke and the smell of burning marijuana. The large icon was surrounded by burning candles, flowers, and offerings of money and tequila. A well-dressed middle-aged man knelt before the shrine. He was followed into the cathedral by a band of mariachis. "Play for her" he ordered, and the mariachis began to play one of Mexico's popular narcocorridos (ballads) by Chalino Sanchez.

A larger than life figure stood before them, a smirking skeleton dressed to look like what Americans would recognize as the grim reaper, complete with the soul-harvesting scythe. The figure was similar in dress to the grim reaper, except this figure was female. Her long tufts of hair hung from her gruesome skull. She was Santa Muerte, the "Holy Angel of Death."

Santa (or Santisima) Muerte is worshiped in Mexico like the evil sister of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and today she has converted thousands of souls to her dark world. Some say she had her beginnings in a Mexican prison in the 1960s. She is sometimes affectionately called "La Nina Blanca" (The White Child) and dressed almost bride like. Her colors have significance—white for good luck, red for love, and black for protection.

Santa Muerte is invoked by smugglers, bandits and drug dealers for health, happiness and successful "business transactions." She is also said to protect the drug load in its journey across the frontera and the smuggler from the police. There are small shrines, churches and cathedrals dedicated to Santa Muerte all over Mexico and a few in the U.S.

Mexican Sinaloan Drug cartel boss Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman as well as Armando "Chato" Garcia, the murderer of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David March in 2002, are both worshipers of Santa Muerte. 

What is far more disturbing is the growing acceptance of this perverse idol worship among the general Mexican population. Thousands attend processions and celebrations to honor Santa Muerte and the traditional Catholic saints are ignored.

Some human sacrifices to Santa Muerte have been claimed in Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo in 2006. In 2008, 11 headless bodies were found in the Yucatan and the heads were said to have been burned in honor of Santa Muerte. Perhaps Mexico is returning to the practice of human sacrifice to a new Mictecacihuatl, the female Aztec god of the dead.

Hopefully, along with other trafficking indicators, this information will assist you in identifying the use of these saints by people involved in the narcotics trade. Remember everyone who might have worn or carried images of these patron saints is not necessarily a criminal. This information is offered as another tool for you to use and to keep you safe.

Read the first part of this blog here.

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Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

SAM551974D @ 6/4/2010 10:52 PM

The part of this article part II about Santa Muerte is especially disturbing for very obvious reasons as stated and has become more prevalent in some locations along with population shifts...Well done and researched!

walkin' trails @ 6/6/2010 7:07 AM

This article was very informative. I've interviewed a couple of Santa Muerte practictioners and neither agreed on the significance of the colors of the robes. Both did say that a black robe indicated evil was afoot, but that was about it. One told me that red also indicated evil practices, i.e. drug trafficking, murder, gun running, etc. That one also said that a gold robe was a petition for fortune. I suspected that he was probably transporting currency, but was unable to gain consent to look in his vehicle. I got a copy of a Santa Muerte "bible," and though I haven't sat down to translate much of it as of yet, read in the opening pages that the Santa Muerte religion was also gaining followers from other walks of life, including law enforcement and was no longer just "smugglers, thieves, and prostitutes." I've noticed a trend in the midwest of "ad hoc" LE intelligence organizations popping up to fill the information void, and am glad to see that the idea has caught on in the border region. I'm also glad to see Sgt. Valdimar taking part.

Jim @ 10/19/2011 11:35 PM

Mexicans indeed believe in witchcraft. A friend of mine was married to a guy from a family of "brujos" or witches. She believed that she could make people fall in love with her or curse people through witchcraft. Interestingly she was a practicing Christian, but still believed in the power of evil.

Jim @ 10/19/2011 11:38 PM

I knew a girl who would 11 times smuggled cocaine from Panama to Tijuana. She also smuggled cash from Chicago back to Tijuana.

Shw would constantly take Holy Water from the Cathedral in TJ and bless herself. With such a high risk situation, people look for an edge.

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