Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld (Part 1 of 2)

In a strange way, the iconography ties together much of the evil perpetrated by the gangs that are trafficking in drugs and human beings and their violent inhuman behavior. There is a spiritual dimension to their madness and recognition of the signs and symbols of their belief system can help you identify them.

Valdemar 1 Headshot

"Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from His mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with evil spirits in the heavens." — Ephesians 6:10-12

Recently it has been my privilege to travel and teach with the Border Sheriff's Posse in El Paso, San Diego, and Ontario, Calif. This organization supports the National Border Sheriff's Coalition and puts on a conference called Border School. The conference is intended to provide local law enforcement, public servants, and community leaders with information about the border issues that are not being presented by the national media. 

The highly effective instructors include Sheriff Arvin West of Hudspeth County, Texas, and Sheriff Sigi Gonzales of Zapata County, Texas, but the coalition is made up of sheriffs from Texas, Arizona, California, and New Mexico. These sheriffs represent law enforcement in the counties along our border with Mexico. They are honorable, frank, plain-talking men who speak with one voice, unlike our politicians. 

In the El Paso Border School, I met Diana Washington Valdez, a journalist for the El Paso Times, who is also the author of "The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women." Her presentation dealt with the hundreds of unsolved murders of Mexican women in the Juarez border area. She is considered an expert in the Juarez women's femicides. I highly recommend this book.

Finally, I met retired Deputy Chief Robert Almonte of the El Paso Police Department. He served three terms as president of the Texas Narcotics Officers Association and was also the vice president of the National Narcotics Officers Association. After 25 years with El Paso PD, he became a consultant with General Dynamics and started a law enforcement training company. Robert Almonte has recently been appointed as a U.S. Marshal for Texas.

I was most fascinated with his training video, "Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld." I have had some experience in this dark spiritual world during some of my own investigations in Los Angeles involving the Cuban Marielitos and Mexican cartels.

In a strange way, it ties together much of the evil perpetrated by the gangs that are trafficking in drugs and human beings and their violent inhuman behavior. There is a spiritual dimension to their madness and recognition of the signs and symbols of their belief system can help you identify them. As Almonte says: "This is presented for the officers' safety and to help the law enforcement officer identify traffickers and make larger seizures."    

When the Spanish explorers first visited Meso-America, they found the great culture of the Aztecs and other indigenous natives flourishing. But there was also much tribal warfare and even human sacrifice to the female god of death, Mictecacihuatl, near what is now Mexico City. The Spanish conquistadors were determined to convert the pagan natives to Christianity. However, this was not always done in a Christian way.

Orthodox Catholicism involves a multitude of legitimate saints invoked by pious Catholics to intercede for them. Some of these saints have specific attributes that make them patron saints for specific requests. For instance the Archangel Michael, who defeated Satan, is the patron saint of the police, the airborne, and the protector of the state of Israel and the Church. For this reason a believing soldier or law enforcement officer might legitimately petition Saint Michael for intercession and protection or wear a medal of his likeness.

Some requests and the invoking of the saints might have less than noble intentions. We see this often in Mexico among the poor, undereducated, and superstitious. The Mexican criminal elements often invoke both the recognized and even non-recognized or folk legend "saints" to protect the drug smuggler, bandit, or human trafficker. [PAGEBREAK]

The Lady of Guadalupe

In December 1531 on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City, the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Guadalupe almost overnight converted millions of Mexico's indigenous natives to Catholicism. This was partly due to the fact that she is said to have appeared as a native in native dress and first appeared to a simple indigenous man named Juan Diego. This appearance is said to have occurred near the spot where human sacrifices had once been made to the pagan god Mictecacihuatl. The Lady of Guadalupe became the patron saint of Mexico and of the entire American continent. Her image is found throughout Mexico and in both Central America and South America.

Both pious orthodox Catholics and superstitious criminals often utilize statues and images of the Lady of Guadalupe. She is invoked by criminals who are believers in magic for protection and to identify with Mexico. She can often be found in their cars and homes along with unorthodox folk saints and good luck charms. 

Scarface and Tweety

For some reason two common "good luck" images among Narco traffickers are the movie character from "Scarface" and the cartoon character "Tweety Bird." Al Pacino's Scarface is admired and invoked because the movie depicts him as a highly successful narcotics kingpin.

I have seen posters from the movie in countless gang members' homes and even a "Scarface" doll owned by a Mexican Mafia member arrested in Orange County, Calif. Tweety can be thought of as a pollo (baby chick), which is Mexican slang for an illegal border crosser and a pollero is slang for a smuggler or coyote. The Tweety decal on an automobile is another hint about its owner's occupation.

Orthodox Catholic Saints

Saint Jude is a recognized Catholic saint. He is considered the patron of hopeless or desperate causes. Comedian Danny Thomas built a hospital in his name for people with terminal diseases. In the criminal underworld, Saint Jude is invoked to protect smugglers and bandits because of their desperate situation.

Saint Toribio Romo was a Catholic priest who was martyred in 1928 during the persecution of Catholics by the Mexican government in the Christero War that followed the Mexican Revolution.

In the 1990s, illegal immigrants crossing the Sonora desert into the U.S. began reporting that they were given food and water by a stranger who resembled the image of Saint Toribio. Subsequently, he became the patron of immigrants or illegal immigrants. He is invoked by both coyotes and border crossers who must cross the dangerous border area.

Santo Nino de Atocha (Holy Child of Atocha) came to Mexico from 13th Century Spain. During this time, the city of Atocha fell under the control of Muslim invaders. The males of the town were imprisoned and denied food and water. Only very small children were allowed to visit these men. The women pleaded and prayed for divine intervention to a statue of the Virgin Mary who held in her arms the Christ child. A small child appeared in the prison carrying a pilgrim's staff with a gourd of water and a basket of food. This was assumed to be the Christ child. Santo Nino became the patron of prisoners and travelers. Because of this, his image is often used by prisoners and by human smugglers.  

San Ramon was a saint who was born by Caesarian operation. He is known for exchanging himself to free Christians warriors held hostage by the Muslims in Algiers. He was tortured for preaching to convert his captors. A hot iron rod was used to pierce his lips and a lock was used to seal his mouth. He is invoked as the patron saint of midwives and of silence. Drug dealers especially invoke San Ramon to prevent the telling of secrets. It is common to see his image with a coin or tape placed across his lips to ensure silence.

Read the second part of this blog here.

About the Author
Valdemar 1 Headshot
Sergeant (Ret.)
View Bio
Page 1 of 20
Next Page