You don't find Culiacan, the capital city of Sinaloa, in the tourist guide books for some reason. But it is a thriving city of more than a million, and it is the home of one of the stranger manifestations of the drug wars of the last few decades: The shrine to San Malverde
, (unofficial) patron saint of bandits, and now, drug traffickers.
shrine to San Malverde, patron saint of the narcos (and others), Culiacan, Sinaloa -- plaque thanking God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for keeping the roads cleans -- from "the indigenous people from Angostura to Arizona" (more pictures below the fold)
I visited the shine in the heat of the afternoon sun today. During the half hour or so I was there, a few dozen people came to light candles to the santo, pay their respects, or otherwise recognize his alleged powers of protection. A handful of musicians for hire hung around, waiting for someone to pay them to play a tune to the saint, and about a dozen vendors sold San Malverde memorabilia--candles, plaques, good luck amulets, prayer cards, and the like. (Hmmm, do I feel an idea for a StoptheDrugWar.org premium gestating?)
The vendors told me that dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people arrive each day, some to pray, some to light candles, some to make donations, some to put up plaques:
"Thanks to God and San Malverde for favors received."
"Thanks to God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for helping us move forward."
"O miraculous Malverde,
O, Malverde my Lord,
Concede me this favor,
And fill my heart with happiness."
Given the way Mexico's drug war is raging these days, I would imagine the good saint is getting a real work-out. Mexicans are so inured to the daily drug war death toll that the newspapers generally relegate it to box score-type accounts, but when you or a friend or a family member is working in the trade, you probably figure some supernatural help can't hurt.
I'll spend the next few days here in Culiacan. I had wanted to go up to the drug-producing areas in the mountains nearby, but so far, everyone is demurring--it's too dangerous, they say. Nonetheless, I'll keep working that and see what happens. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll be attending and "International Forum on Illicit Drugs: The Merida Initiative and the Experiences of Decriminalization
," organized by the brave journalists of the Culiacan news weekly Riodoce
. While the other Sinaloa papers have largely gone silent in the face of threats and killings, Riodoce keeps plugging away.
I'll be meeting with some of the Riodoce staff tomorrow, right after I meet with Mercedes Murillo, head of the local human rights organization the Sinaloa Civic Front, which just a couple of days ago filed what could be a historic court motion to have military personnel accused of crimes against civilians tried in civilian--not military--court. There have been several nasty incidents of soldiers killing civilians here since Calderon sent in the troops, and under current Mexican law, they seem to get away with it.
Stay tuned. It should be an interesting week. And then it's back to Mexico City to visit Saint Death and attend the Global Marijuana Day demonstration at the Alameda.
(more pictures below the fold)
shrine of San Malverde, more plaques
Musicians for hire -- they play for people making pilgrimages or offerings.
the cathedral in Culiacan