From The Times Online:
She was yet another desolate victim of the endless drug wars ravaging the northern Mexican borderlands, one of more than 2,600 people murdered in Ciudad Juarez last year. When police found her body in a residential area close to the Rio Grande river, there were two distinctive signs that she had been caught up in the bloodsoaked feuding between the rival Juarez and Sinaloa cartels.
First, her head had been crudely hacked off — a trademark cartel warning to rivals. Second, her torso bore a distinctive tattoo of a cackling skeleton dressed in suggestive female clothing.
Police recognised it at once as Santa Muerte — best translated as Saint Death, a macabre feminine icon who has replaced the Virgin Mary as an improbable source of unholy comfort to Mexico’s legions of gangsters and hitmen.
“If you revere her and are faithful to her, she might look after you. But she’s a mean saint and beware her vengeance,” said Nacho Puente, a Juarez market vendor. In the past he sold statuettes of Santa Muerte mainly to tourists seeking souvenirs of the Day of the Dead, Mexico’s perversely cheerful funeral festival.
To the dismay of the Catholic church and the disgust of the Mexican government, a bogus saint from popular folklore has become a crucial accessory for junkies, gang members and cartel kingpins alike.
The government has dubbed the skeleton a “narco-saint” and sent troops to destroy the garishly decorated roadside shrines erected in her honour. In drug-related trials or in raids on supposed cartel strongholds, Santa Muerte is repeatedly invoked as an indication of depravity and guilt.
At the trial of Gabriel Cardona, accused of kidnapping and murder on behalf of the Gulf cartel, investigators alleged that he collected his victims’ blood in a glass and drank a toast to Santa Muerte. When police smashed into a house allegedly occupied by a leader of the Sinaloa cartel, they found an entire room turned into a Santa Muerte chapel.
[Read more at The Times Online]