Organized crime, especially narco gangs, appear to have all the trappings of organized religion; pyramidal hierarchy, absolute but benevolent, charismatic leaders, fascist organization, rituals, ceremony, symbols, pomp-and-circumstance. Many mob leaders are revered as Saints by their followers, gang members and soldiers. Christopher Michael Coke, alias Dudu, a second generation Jamaican drug lord and the head of the Shower Posse gang, in the fortified neighborhood of Tivoli, earned the title and prestige of "President of Jamaica," directly in competition with Jamaica's Head of State, the Queen of England. “Alternative religious practices, from Santa Muerte devotions to Santeria ceremonies, have penetrated the culture of drug trafficking in Latin America,” noted R. Andrew Chesnut, chairman of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of the book "Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint." Chesnut argues that the figure's appeal as a religious icon goes beyond the threat of drug violence, describing her as a "powerful healer of illness and agent of prosperity."
Often Drug Lords pontificate, like High Priests, at the bloody altars of their crimes, with defiled dead bodies of enemies, sometimes grotesquely crucified, or swinging from branches of high trees, in formation. Note: The gangsters/ devotees of ISIS show very similar attributes. In the narco world, symbolic ornaments, complicated and unique icons tattooed all over the bodies of soldiers form gang related secret symbolism.
The ruthless atrocities of the Spanish Conquistadores became the signature of the early Church Inquisition in South America in the 17th-19th century. After that, sects eagerly stole wandering sheep of satanic jungle priests from the Mother Church and fed them into a maze of Evangelical sects, often in remote areas of the Amazon and Colombia, far removed from civilization. Who can ever forget the Suicide Cult of Jones, "The Peoples Temple Sect" and the "Massacre in Guyana?" Afro-Caribbean religions, like Santaria, Zombism, and Rastafarianism on the islands, and more than a thousand similar clones in Brazil, adopted all the trappings of the old Mother Church, including vicious crimes and sacrifices. That network became the social infrastructure for South America’ and Caribbean’s narco industry.
Religions and sects closely interact with the drug trade. Recently, it became apparent in Puerto Rico, where arrested leaders of drug trafficking rings, were all passionate practitioners of Santeria, a mixture of West African and Roman Catholic beliefs and practices, most strongly associated with Cuba.
The narco industry seeks and finds organizational structure in the religious sects for its gangs, and comfort for its members. "The narco is fundamentally a client, not a devotee," one Santeria priest explained. “They may not adhere to our morals, but rather buy instant comfort.” Spiritual support and blessings are purchased with thick swaths of cash.
A new approach towards fighting crime could be the same way once the Reformation challenged the Catholic Church. Protestantism came with literacy for the layman, self-study and education; it ruined the fascist structure of the Church. Education may also be effective to break the power of the drug lords and their quasi-religious organizations.
By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle