In Mexico, the illegal drug trade has taken control. We are in the middle of a violent civil drug war. On a daily basis we hear of violence, kidnappings, and executions. In a deeply religious country, one wonders how could such hate, bloodbath, and evil exist. The answer may surprise you. Not only our nation’s drug traffickers and cartels, but rich and poor common citizens alike are beginning to have faith, seek intervention, and take refuge behind the drug smuggler’s own patron saint Jesus Malverde.
The Mexican drug smuggling and narcoculture began in the western state of Sinaloa. Jesus Malverde is the religious side of this culture. His most devout followers tend to be from the poor and highland residents, the classes in which drug traffickers emerged.
Although historians have found no proof of his existence, Jesus Malverde is known as the Mexican Robin Hood. He stole from the rich to give to the poor. According to the “Apostle of Malverde”, in 1909 Malverde knew he was dying. He developed gangrene in his leg which had been shot by Rural Police. Malverde, knowing he had a bounty over his head, told his friend, before he died to take him in and collect the reward. His friend took Malverde’s dead body and collected the reward. His body was then hung from a mesquite tree as a lesson to the people.
His first “miracle” was for a friend who had lost his mules loaded with gold and silver. His friend went Malverde’s bones, still hanging from the tree, and asked that he return his lost mules. The mules where returned, treasures intact. The friend then took Malverde’s bones and bribed a cemetery undertaker to bury them like contraband, nobody knows where.
The Jesus Malverde Shrine was constructed and is maintained by heavy drug trafficker “donations”. It stands along side the legislature building in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa. The shrine holds parties for the entire town, with live musicians playing narcocorridos-songs glorifying drug traffickers, free grocery and appliance giveaways. The shrine also pays for the funerals, weddings, and births of those lacking money. They help build homes, set up businesses, provide education and transportation for those in need. Narco donations, much like Robin Hood and Jesus Malverde, underwrite almost everything in Sinaloa.
Smaller shrines have now been erected in Mexico City and many other cities and states across the nation. It is common, as in any shrine, to see photos and notes both requesting and thanking the unofficial saint’s interventions. Wealthy people have been known to place permanent plaques for favors received and financial success. Statues of “St. Jesus Malverde” are ofton joined by St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, in the back of pickups, driven around towns to allow those in need the chance to pray to them without leaving their homes.
Although Jesus Malverde will not be recognized by the Catholic Church, he has made life a bit better for many. In many eyes, he has made it possible for the poor and the rich to live on life’s margins.