The New York Times has described the new cooperation between the Unites States and Mexico in combating the drug trade. What the Times (perhaps wisely) did not mention is that the narcotraficantes are popular in Mexico, at least in some areas. 

Popular Catholicism, as Arturo Vasquez reminds us in his blog Reditus, has some unusual saints. I earlier blogged about Santa Muerte, and he has a selection from Time about the veneration of Ismealito, a “holy” thug. Like many Latin countries, Venezuela suffers from violence.

Many Venezuelans have responded by entrusting themselves to a group of dead “saints” who had lived delinquent lives. Ismaelito and other santos malandros such as Petroleo Crudo (Crude Oil), El Raton (The Mouse), La Malandra Isabelita, Machera and countless others were petty criminals in the 1960s and ’70s. Most, if not all, are said to have died brutally at the hands of the police. But, like sinful ghosts trying to escape purgatory if not hell, they are all believed to have gained some form of redemption through favors and deeds attributed to them by their believers.


There is no doubt in his devotees’ minds, for example, that Ismaelito, the king of the holy thugs, was a thief and one of the most wanted crooks of his time. Still, among many who knew him when he lived, he’s considered more of a Robin Hood than a criminal. In El Guarataro, a shantytown in southeastern Caracas, those who knew him remember the time he raided a meat delivery truck and shared the bounty among his neighbors

La Familia in Mexico, according to La Prensa (Buenos Aires) is following in his footsteps.

Reparte Biblias a los pobres al pie de los cerros del estado de Michoacán, prohíbe el consumo de drogas, construye escuelas y cloacas y se declara protector de mujeres y niños. Pero no es un grupo religioso: es La Familia Michoacana, la más reciente de las bandas de narcotraficantes mexicanos que ahora reina sobre el comercio de metanfetaminas del país. Lo que empezó como un grupo de autodeclarados vigilantes que hacían “la obra de Dios”, es ahora el grupo delictivo más violento de la nación.

It gives out Bibles to the poor at the foot of the hills of the state of Michoacán, It prohibits the use of drugs, it builds schools and sewers and declares itself the protector of women and children. But it is not a religious group: it is La Familia Michoacana, the most recet of the bands of Mexican drug dealers who now reign over the traffic in methamphetamines of the country. It began as a group of self-declared vigilantes who did “the work of God,” it is now the most violent criminal group of the nation


No son el cártel más poderoso de México pero posiblemente sean el más brutal. El grupo se hizo famoso en septiembre de 2006 cuando arrojó cinco cabezas de humanos en una pista de baile en Uruapan con un mensaje que decía: “La Familia no mata por dinero, sólo mata a los que merecen morir”.

It is not the most powerful cartel in Mexico but it is possibly the most brutal. The group made itself famous in September 2006 when it threw five human heads on to a dance floor in Uruapan with a message that said: “La Familia does not kill for money, it only kills those who deserve to die.”

Pandilleros de día, los miembros de La Familia deben seguir un estricto código moral cuando vuelven a sus casas. Se dice que obedecen a una biblia escrita por su líder, Nazario Moreno, apodado El Loco. Suelen reclutar jóvenes en los centros de rehabilitación para alcohólicos y drogadictos, y los ayudan a vencer las adicciones y convertirse en “buenos hombres de familia”. 

Gangsters by day, the members of La Familia have to follow a strict moral code when they return home. It is said that they obey a bible written by their leader, Nazario Moreno, nicknames The Crazy. They usually recruit young men in the rehabilitation centers for alcoholics and drug addicts, and  help them overcome addictions and change themselves into “good family men.”

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