National Geographic : 2010 May
• the Gulf coast state of Tamaulipas. An o shoot of this group was the Zetas, a band of rogue military personnel originally trained as elite antinarcotics forces. Ordinary Mexicans had their rst inkling of how much more brutal the drug violence was going to be in September 2006, when a group of men dressed in black walked into a roadside discotheque in the state of Michoacán and dumped the contents of a plastic garbage bag on the oor. Five severed heads came rolling out. THE NEW ERA had arrived, and the foot soldiers in the escalated drug wars, facing the prospect of such a terrible death, increasingly turned to death itself for protection. It was during the rst antidrug campaigns that the myth of Jesús Malverde, the original narco-saint, spread beyond the borders of Sinaloa. According to leg- end, Malverde was a 19th-century outlaw who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, was hanged for his sins, and then worked miracles from the grave. His cult took o in the 1970s, a er a former street vendor, Eligio González, began praying to him. Sitting outside the Malverde shrine in Culiacán, González's sturdy, relaxed, and unsmiling young son, Jesús, told me the story of the miracle. Eligio had been work- ing as a driver in 1976 when he was knifed and shot in a holdup and le for dead. He prayed to Malverde, whose only monument at the time was a pile of rocks where his grave was said to be, promising to erect a proper shrine in Malverde's honor if the saintly bandit saved his life. When he survived, he kept his word. González appears to have understood that people would grasp Malverde's real importance only if there were an image of him they could worship, but unfortunately no photograph of Malverde existed---and, in fact, no evidence at all that he'd ever lived. In the 1980s González asked an artisan in the neighborhood to cre- ate a plaster bust: "Make him sort of like Pedro Infante and sort of like Carlos Mariscal," Infante The new era had arrived, and the foot soldiers in the escalated drug wars, facing the prospect of a terrible death, increasingly turned to death itself for protection.