Mexican police ask spirits to guard them in drug war

TIJUANA, Mexico Fri Mar 19, 2010 3:34pm EDT

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TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Police running scared from drug gangs in one of Mexico's deadliest cities are using bizarre rituals involving animal sacrifice and spirit tattoos to seek protection from raging violence on the U.S. border.

In secret meetings that draw on elements of Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria and Mexican witchcraft, priests are slaughtering chickens on full moon nights on beaches, smearing police with the blood and using prayers to evoke spirits to guard them as drug cartels battle over smuggling routes into California.

Other police in the city of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, tattoo their bodies with Voodoo symbols, believing they can repel bullets.

"Sometimes a man needs another type of faith," said former Tijuana policeman Marcos, who left the city force a year ago after surviving a drug gang attack. "I was saved when they killed two of my mates. I know why I didn't die."

Violence has exploded along the U.S. border since President Felipe Calderon set the army on drug cartels in late 2006. Turf wars have killed 19,000 people across Mexico over three years.

Badly-paid Mexican police have long prayed to Christian saints before going out on patrol in Mexico, the world's second-most populous Roman Catholic country after Brazil.

Cops are part of a messy war between rival trafficking gangs and the army as cartels infiltrate police forces, offering officers cash to work and even murder for them or a bullet if they say no. More than 150 police are among those killed in Tijuana and the surrounding Baja California state since 2007.

Army raids on homes of police working for cartels have found ornately adorned Santeria-type altars covered with statues and skulls stuffed with money paying homage to gods and spirits.

"We all know that guns and body armor are useless against the cartels because they are well-armed and can attack any time. But this is something we can believe in, that really works," said a Tijuana-based policeman called Daniel.

BLACK MAGIC

A battle between top drug lord fugitive Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman and the local Arellano Felix drug clan has wrecked tourism in Tijuana and shuttered manufacturing businesses.

Small groups of police in the city started turning to strange rituals about 18 months ago, a practice spotted when municipal cleaners found a trail of dead chickens on beaches.

Priests and police say the animal sacrifices release life to rejuvenate spirits that will shield officers against hitmen. They believe the effects are intensified on full moon nights.

Many police see a need to shield themselves from witchcraft used by drug gangs who mix Caribbean black magic and occultism from southern Mexico using things like human bones, dead bats and snake fangs to curse enemies and unleash evil spirits.

Others worship the Mexican cult of "Saint Death", a skeletal grim reaper draped in white and carrying a scythe.

The rituals are carried out by sometimes shadowy Mexicans who have menial day jobs and are priests by night. They claim to be trained in Voodoo, Santeria and other religions from time spent in the Caribbean and in Mexican towns like Catemaco, a center for witchcraft on the Gulf of Mexico.

Police have the quiet support of their superiors.

"We know some agents use charms, saints and other methods for their protection," said Baja California federal police chief Elias Alvarez. "They look for something to believe in."

Mexico's often poorly armed police are intimidated by hitmen with automatic rifles, grenades and rocket launchers and despite low wages of around $300 a month some pay up to $160 for a tattoo of a Voodoo spirit like the three-horned Bosou Koblamin who protects his followers when they travel at night.

(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Kieran Murray)

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Comments (5)
jway wrote:
This just sums up the whole drug war – NOTHING about it is rooted in reality!

Instead of asking imaginary entities to guard them, the police should demand that the US end the marijuana prohibition and decimate the cartels. That is the *only* course of action based on logic and common sense. Everything else is well-intentioned ideology at best.

Mar 19, 2010 5:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
hungrylens wrote:
“Saint Death” is a bad translation, it should be “Holy Death” or “The Venerated Death”.

Mar 19, 2010 6:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
malcolmkyle wrote:
I completely agree with the first poster on this: “This just sums up the whole drug war – NOTHING about it is rooted in reality!”

Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation. By its very nature prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model – the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

Many of us have now finally wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation, which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco –two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society. There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection, then maybe you’re using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody ‘halfway bright’ and who’s not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding, that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem; it is our refusal to allow legal businesses meet that demand. No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer; only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

If you still support prohibition then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, terrorism, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

The only thing prohibition successfully does is prohibit regulation & taxation!

Mar 20, 2010 10:08am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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