Jesus Malverde, Folk hero or Narco Saint

As more of these likenesses turn up in the U.S., law enforcement wonder about its origins

What did Jesus do? Jesus Malverde that is. His image has been labeled as being the "Narco Saint" or the patron saint of the drug running, and is believed to protect those involved in the drug underworld that ask for his protection. Shrines built to him are being found all over by police today.

Malverde, which means bad green, is also not just a fetish for drug dealers, but more of a folk hero respected by many of Mexico's poor; especially around the state of Sinaloa in central Mexico.

Police said Malverde is a common object of reverence for the drug trafficking culture from Sinaloa because of the area's history, but for the past decade they have been seeing more of Malverde's image.

Police have begun referring to increased narco-traffickers from Mexico as Sinaloan Cowboys ­ wearing white Stetson cowboy hats with flashy cowboy boots and buckles, but in a place like Arizona and with a cowboy culture being common in Mexico, this is not enough to indicate gang activity. There are many immigrants who appear in this attire and they are not involved in the drug trade.

"This is of great concern for several reasons. First, it would appear we are encouraging the stereotyping and potential racial discrimination against a specific ethnic group. We are also projecting the responsibility of criminal behavior to an organization of people that do not exist," said Sgt. PJ Ferrero, of the Organized Crime Bureau and Gang Enforcement Unit of the Phoenix Police Department.

All that is really known is that some of those from the drug trade come into the United States from Sinaloa. There are no legitimate criteria to identify a "Sinaloa Cowboy" because that term is too vague. Drug dealers can change their attire if necessary and the real organizations they're tied-to have a well hidden their structure.

Mexico's cartels supply up to 95 percent of all cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine in the Phoenix Valley, according to Phoenix authorities.

In the city of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico's biggest drug lords have established their empires. Beginning in this area during the '40s, the United States paid Mexico to grow opium for its morphine supply since Japan had control over Asia at that point. After the war, the U.S. withdrew its order, but the business took-on a life of its own, eventually getting into cocaine and now methamphetamine.

In a glass building in Culiacan, amidst the prayers and offerings from the masses, Mexican drug lords also pay homage to Malverde, leaving behind offerings of gratitude for a bountiful drug harvest or a safe and profitable shipment into the U.S. Mariachi bands play all day in front of the shrine, singing songs that glorify the Mexican drug traffickers and their patron saint Malverde.

Malverde with his slick black hair and thick mustache, wears a black and white uniform that resembles the those forces by which drug dealers wish seek to protect themselves from.

Malverde or the source of this legend whether fact or fiction, would not have worn a police uniform and was certainly not involved in any drug trade.

Under the reign of Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz (1877 ­ 1911), was a time when foreign-owned big business rolled over millions of Mexicans living in poverty and these injustices called for heroes to inspire the Mexican Revolution. Malverde is one of these legends, but some researches believe his story is a combination of different people. To some, he was a Robin Hood who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. He wore green to hide better ­ hence his namesake and was said to roam the hills around the town of Culiacan before the Mexican government caught and hung him from a tree where it is said he was left to rot on May 3, 1909.

Other say after his parents died of hunger, he began a life of crime. Some versions say he was finally betrayed by a friend, who cut off his feet and dragged him through the hills to the police to collect a 10,000 peso reward. Others have him betrayed and shot to death. His betrayer dies three days later, and the governor who wanted him dead, Francisco Canedo, dies 33 days later, from a cold contracted after going out at night without slippers.

Malverde's first miracle, according to one version, was returning a woman's lost cow. Eligio Gonzalez, "the Apostle of Malverde," tells another story popular to local Sinaloans.

"The rural police shot him in the leg with a bow and arrow. He was dying of gangrene," the story goes. Malverde then told his Gonzalez, "Before I die, compadre, take me in to get the reward." His friend brought him in dead and got the reward. They hung Malverde from a mesquite tree as a warning to the people.

His first miracle, according to Gonzalez, was for a friend who lost some mules packing gold and silver. He asked the bones of Malverde, which were still hanging from the tree, to find his mules again. After finding the mules, he put Malverde's bones in the box and went to the cemetery where the governor is buried and bribed the guard to let him bury Malverde there, in a hidden location. A chapel to Malverde was built in the area where he is supposedly buried and today it stands across the street from a Mexican federal building. Thousands of people, rich, poor, drug dealers or innocent mothers, they all come to the chapel to pay tribute to Malverde and his miracles.

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