Decoding the Murder Rituals of the Mexican Drug Trafficker

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The killing of a Juarez policeman who was burned alive on a city street could signify a new escalation of “narco-horror,” with criminals committing ever more grotesque acts in order to intimidate their rivals — and for fun.

In the last two and a half months I made a journey that covered more than 1,200 km sq. The route included the cities of Culiacan and Mazatlan in Sinaloa, Gomez-Palacio in Durango, and Juarez in Chihuahua. The intention of this journey was, in sum, to understand the changes in the murder rituals of the Mexican narco-trafficker. To put my conclusions concisely: their ways of killing say a lot about the strength or weakness of the person or group that carries out the violence.

This article was inspired by a concrete act: the burning alive of a police officer in Ciudad Juarez in December. Why was this done? Why commit such a grotesque act? What kind of sense does this killing make, and what can it tell us? According to the current logic of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, the spiral of violence that is hitting Mexico (by the end of 2011 46,000 had died as a result of the militarization of the battle against drug trafficking organizations) are desperate actions of people who are losing the war.

The truth is quite the reverse; after speaking with forensic scientists and journalists in local canteens, where “narco culture” has a strong presence, I believe the situation in Mexico is evolving. Narco-horror is transforming into a type of narco-snuff, because criminals enjoy the act of killing. A brief history of Mexican drug violence can help us understand this situation.

During the period of peace between the big drug families (before the imprisonment of the old bosses: Felix Gallardos, Juan N. Guerra, Caro Quintero) the forms of killing in the drug trafficking world were very clear; death was the way to keep order in a world that normalizes violence and pathology. New phrases emerged, like “Rafageados o bautizados en plomo,” “entambados” (the dead would be placed in an oil drum, which was then filled with cement), or the famous “encajuelados” (the dead were stuffed into the trunk of a car). And, in cases of extreme hatred, once the victim was dead, the killers would continue the torture by disinterring their dead relatives (preferably parents or grandparents) in order to hurt their families as well. They call this “segunda muerte,” or second death. This is peculiar to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, and was also practiced by the Sicilian mafia.

But today, with a narco-society that is increasingly urbanized, the new forms of killing are atrocious: cooking a victim until their meat and bones become soup, cutting them in pieces and burning them to ashes, decapitating them with saws or wooden knives, or crushing them under the hooves of cattle. Women are increasingly targeted, like in the case of political aide Adriana Ruiz, in Tijuana. She was kidnapped and tortured, a broomstick inserted into her anus and then, in response to her own pleas, killed. She was decapitated. Her crime was to be the girlfriend of an undercover soldier.

The increasingly violent nature of these messages sent by drug traffickers tells us something.

We place emphasis on the militarization of the national armed forces and little on the militarization of the drug cartels. If a soldier dies, he is replaced by another. If a narco dies, he is replaced by many. Both sides live in a state of paranoia; they make mistakes and harm the civilian population. The case of the policeman burnt alive in Juarez could be an isolated incident or it could be a new trend in killing. In the streets people say, in lowered voices, that the war in between the Juarez Cartel — via the gang La Linea — and the Sinaloa Cartel is reducing in intensity. The neighborhoods are being split between the groups, and it is necessary to keep in line police who interfere. Burning this man instead of using an AK-47 is only an aesthetic tweak of the form of murder.

This story fits with the history of humanity. The crucifixion, called supplicium servile by Seneca, is characterized by control of the body at the moment of death. This control carries with it the humiliation of the slow destruction of the body and the lack of dignity at the moment of death. Under this logic the scenes in the narco territory are telling: the dead (men or women) often appear with mouths open, with pants and underpants down, buttocks in the air, humiliated. In other cases, as well as the exposure of the private parts and the coup de grace (and many hundreds of shots more); the skulls are shattered, faces mutilated, penises and clitorises cut off and the body burnt.

The story of the policeman burnt alive in Juarez, then, could be an isolated case, or could mark a new trend in murder rituals. Still, it is clear that this violence always has a point, and generates pleasure. Narco-horror is becoming a type of narco-snuff, because the criminals enjoy killing and putting the results on display in public places where the other war is fought — the media war.

*David Martinez-Amador is University Professor of the course of blood rituals in secret societies, cults, sects, fraternities and mafia.

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