Friday, February 08, 2008

The 'patron saint' of drug pushers, coming to a neighborhood near you

From Mexican Robin Hood figure gains a kind of notoriety abroad by Kate Murphy (International Herald Tribune, February 8, 2008):

HOUSTON: Jesús Malverde has been revered for almost a century in northwestern Mexico. According to folklore, he was a Mexican Robin Hood who took from the rich and gave to the poor until he was killed by the police in 1909.

Now, immigrants have brought his legend to the United States. His image, which is thought to offer protection from the law, can be found on items that include T-shirts and household cleaners.

Malverde is widely considered the patron saint of drug dealers, say law enforcement officials and experts on Mexican culture. A shrine has been erected atop his grave in the remote city of Culiacán in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, which has long been associated with opium and marijuana trafficking.

"The drug guys go to the shrine and ask for assistance and come back in big cars and with stacks of money to give thanks," said James Creechan, a Canadian sociologist and adjunct professor at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa in Culiacán.

But Creechan, who presented a paper on Malverde to the American Society of Criminology in 2005, added that the poor also pray to Malverde for money and safe passage across the border into the United States.

An influx of immigrants from the Sinaloan region in recent years has made Malverde's image increasingly visible on this side of the border, particularly in the Southwest and in California. His legend has spread among Hispanics, Creechan said, inspiring many to build altars to Malverde in their homes, as well as to wear Malverde cologne.

His image, which looks suspiciously like that of Pedro Infante, the Mexican matinee idol of the 1940s, appears on T-shirts and patches sewn on jackets and backpacks. Busts of Malverde can be seen next to cash registers at restaurants, bars and discos.

Read the rest. Please note that in the next to last paragraph it states Malverde is not recognized as a saint by the Catholic church. Please also note that it's a pretty safe bet that the Catholic church frowns on asking saints to protect immoral behavior.

From the same article:

Indeed, drug enforcement authorities in Mexico and the United States said Malverde statues, tattoos and amulets can be tip-offs to illegal activity.

"We send squads out to local hotel and motel parking lots looking for cars with Malverde symbols on the windshield or hanging from the rearview mirror," said Sergeant Rico Garcia with the narcotics division of the Houston Police Department. "It gives us a clue that something is probably going on."

Courts in California, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas have ruled that Malverde trinkets and talismans are admissible evidence in drug and money-laundering cases.

"It's not a direct indication of guilt, but it would definitely be used in combination with other things" like piles of cash, baggies and scales, said José Martinez, a special agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Ah, yes, nothing like having crooks who advertise...

As a side note, I have come to believe that the popular rendition of Robin Hood being someone who took from the rich (simply because they were rich) to give to the poor isn't adhering to the best of the legends. I prefer the 'Robin of Locksley fighting evil Prince John until King Richard can return and save his loyal Saxon subjects from slaughter and starvation at the hands of cruel and heartless Normans' theme. In those versions, he does indeed steal from the rich, but he's generally stealing back what was taken from honest folk. The people he's helping are, on the whole, in danger of starving to death if they don't get help. This isn't a rich man versus poor man battle, in other words. It's refusing to let your neighbors be wiped off the face of the Earth by people who are abusing their positions of power. It's providing for the needy, not simply redistributing goods. It's fighting injustice because it is injustice. It's loyalty and bravery personified. Admittedly, I switched to this view of Robin Hood after watching Richard Greene's portrayal of him... (Richard Greene has my vote for best onscreen Robin Hood. Who has yours?)

And, for the record, I'm pretty sure I have both Norman and Saxon blood in my veins, amongst other ethnic groups. That many of my ancestors were mortal enemies, at least off and on through the ages, doesn't bother me any. This is America, the land of burying the hatchet. (Or, at least, that's the ideal.)

Wikipedia has several articles on Robin Hood, including this one that tracks the legend through the centuries. Robin Hood has been the best of the best of men, and the worst of the worst, as well as all sorts of in between, it looks like. In glancing through that article, I came across a footnote for this short BBC article from October 2006, about a Master's program for students of the legend. The university promoting such a degree? Nottingham University. Are we surprised?

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