Mexicans celebrate patron saint of drug traffickers

Culiacán (Mexico) (AFP) –


After pouring whisky over the statuette, the revelers perch a wide-brimmed hat atop its head and parade it up the street as a band plays a rowdy tune.

This is the festival of Jesus Malverde, considered the patron saint of drug traffickers, held every year in the Mexican city of Culiacan.

Culiacan is the capital of Sinaloa state, home base to one of the country's most powerful drug cartels.

It is also home to a chapel devoted to Malverde, a folk hero who legend has it stole from the rich to give to the poor in early 20th century Sinaloa.

This Mexican Robin Hood is not an actual Catholic saint -- and may not have really existed -- but that does not stop his followers from packing this chapel every year to mark the supposed anniversary of his death: May 3, 1909.

Bearing offerings, his followers file through the three-room chapel, whose walls are covered with dollar bills and messages of prayer and thanks.

One man wore a t-shirt with Malverde's pencil-mustached face stamped next to that of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the kingpin of the Sinaloa cartel, now in jail in the United States.

Organizers then removed the statuette of the bandit hero from the chapel and paraded it through the streets atop the hood of a late-model pick-up truck, as a stream of revelers followed bearing a plethora of Malverde paraphernalia.

The parade passed right in front of the state capitol building.

At one point, a man stopped in front of the statue and lit a marijuana joint in its honor.

The cult of Malverde is part of Mexico's "narco-culture," a movement that celebrates drug traffickers and other outlaws with songs, religious festivals such as this one and objects ranging from gun-shaped jewels to candles bearing the faces of the country's most famous druglords.