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Photo of Matt M. McClenahen

Santa Muerte Fails to Protect Mexican Drug Dealers in Pennsylvania

On Behalf of | Aug 5, 2013 | Drugs

Six people have been charged in York County, Pennsylvania with charges related to a cocaine distribution ring, which allegedly distributed the stimulant throughout South Central Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. Following the conclusion of “Operation Special Delivery,” the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office alleged that the organization was moving three to four kilos of cocaine a month, or the equivalent of 857 to 1,143 eight-balls, a standard unit in which the drug is often sold to users.

The organization was either brazen enough, or perhaps stupid enough, to ship cocaine from Mexico to York County via FedEx. They may have been emboldened by a superstitious belief that they would be protected by “Santa Muerte,” or “Death Saint,” a saint/ goddess worshipped by several million Mexicans and other Central Americans. Agents of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office uncovered numerous shrines and statues to Santa Muerte when conducting raids on the defendants’ residences.

The Santa Muerte cult involves the worship of a divine being, which is usually portrayed as a female Grim Reaper, but can also be depicted as a beautiful, undead woman, not unlike Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. She is often depicted in the form of a statue, on glass candle holders and in velvet paintings, just like kitschy paintings of Elvis, Jesus, John Wayne, wolves, eagles, Native American shamans, etc. Mexican criminals will often get tattoos of Santa Muerte.

The cult grew out of a blending of pre-Spanish conquest Aztec religion and Catholicism. The Catholic Church does not recognize Santa Muerte as a real saint, and actively discourages her worship. Worship of Santa Muerte is most heavily concentrated among poor, uneducated Mexicans and those who live outside of mainstream society. Drug traffickers are one group of Mexicans operating outside of Mexican societal norms, which has embraced the Santa Muerte cult.

Some Mexican drug traffickers believe that by making offerings of drugs and money at alters to Santa Muerte, that they will receive her protection against law enforcement and rival drug cartels. Perhaps Santa Muerte is like the Bronze Age gods and goddesses, whose powers were limited to certain geographical regions, because she did not do anything to protect the six drug traffickers brought down by Operation Special Delivery.

Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. He has extensive experience in defending drug cases.


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