Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Latin American High Weirdness: 49 Headless Bodies Along a Highway

Just when you think the so-called 'War on Drugs' couldn't get much more out of hand reports out of Mexico brings us yet another outrage. It comes in the form of 49 headless corpses found along a federal highway near the industrial mecca that is Monterrey. This is truly grizzly even for a country that's suffered over 50,000 deaths since President Felipe Calderon set out to eradicate the notorious cartels that have plagued the country for decades. Calderon totally militarized Mexico's battle against the cartels, much to the delight of the United States. The 49 headless bodies recently discovered near Monterrey is as fine a testament to the effectiveness of Calderon's efforts, and the overall War on Drugs, as one is likely to find. MSNBC reports:
"Suspected drug gang killers dumped 49 headless bodies on a highway near Mexico's northern city of Monterrey in one of the country's worst atrocities in recent years. 
"The mutilated corpses of 43 men and 6 women, whose hands and feet had also been cut off, were found in a pile on a highway in the municipality of Cadereyta Jimenez in the early hours of Sunday, officials from the state of Nuevo Leon said... 
"Domene said the brutal Zetas drug gang claimed responsibility for the murders in a message found at the scene. 
"The massacre was the latest in a string of mass slayings that have convulsed Mexico in recent months, many of them in the north of the country, where the Zetas have waged a war against rival groups for control of smuggling routes." 
I've already covered the notorious Los Zetas outfit a bit before here, so I shall be brief. This 'gang' or cartel was founded by an elite Mexican military unit that was likely trained at Fort Bragg, home of the US Army's Psychological Warfare Center, by US Special Forces. Al Jazeera reports:
"Some of the cartel's initial members were elite Mexican troops, trained in the early 1990s by America's 7th Special Forces Group or 'snake eaters' at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, a former US special operations commander has told Al Jazeera...
Their US training was designed to prepare them for counter-insurgency and, ironically, counter-narcotics operations, although Deare says they were not taught the most advanced commando techniques available at Ft. Bragg. 
"Military forces from around the world train at Ft. Bragg, so there is nothing unique about Mexican operatives learning counter-insurgency tactics at the facility. However, critics say the specific skills learned by the Zetas primed them for careers as contract killers and drug dealers."

In this case the decapitations were likely done to hinder the process of identification (the hands of most victims were also removed) but the trend of decapitating victims has become more and more regular among Mexican drug cartels of late. Regular readers of this blog know that I've written of the occult significance of decapitation on numerous occasions, most notably here. In brief, skull cults comprise the oldest religions as yet discovered --they even predate human beings, as the Neanderthals even displaying elements of skull worship. The act of decapitation is closely related to the traditions of these skull cults, and a tradition that continued to thrive as late as Roman times.
"In various primitive religions, decapitation derived from ritual and belief. Since the head as the home of the spirit, it needed to be preserved or destroyed, according to whether it belonged to a friend or to an enemy.  
"The Celts in the British Isles as well as on the continent used to cut off the heads of the enemies whom they had killed in single combat. This custom had a religious basis for, if the god of medicine, Dian Cecht, were to be believed, restoration to life or cure were possible so long as the essential organs --brain, spinal marrow and cerebral membrane --were intact. The heads thus cut off were kept as battle trophies and, whole or in part, treated for this purpose. One Irish literary source mentions tongues and another brains mixed with clay and rolled into balls for games. Livy records that after the Cisalpine Gauls defeated the consul Postumius, his skull was carried with high ceremony to their chief temple, mounted in precious metal and used as a ritual chalice.  
"Similar customs are recorded all over the world, from the celebrated shrunken skulls of the Jivaro Indians of Ecuador to the skull-sculptures of the Pacific. The Bamum of Cameroon, it may be observed, cut off the heads of enemies killed in battle, but only preserved the lower jaws of these trophies. Among various uses to which they were put was to decorate the rims of the Calabashes used ceremonially to serve palm-wine at the court of Fumban."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 281)
Decapitation was also used heavily by the Aztecs in various fashions. Decapitation also plays a major role in the Sirius tradition. In occult circles Sirius is sometimes referred to as the 'Headless One.' For more on Sirius' links to decapitation, check here.

Another curious aspect of the headless bodies recently discovered near Monterrey are the tattoos some of the corpses displayed. MSNBC notes:
"Domene said some had tattoos of Santa Muerte, or 'Holy Death' a female skeletal grim reaper venerated by both gangs and some broader, non-criminal sections of Mexican society. The corpses were taken to Monterrey and authorities said they would perform DNA tests. Thousands of Mexico's drug war victims have never been identified."

Santa Muerte is in fact one of the fastest growing cults in Mexico. The Times states:
"The personage is Mexico's idolatrous form of the Grim Reaper: a skeleton — sometimes male, sometimes female — covered in a white, black or red cape, carrying a scythe, or a globe. For decades, thousands in some of Mexico's poorest neighborhoods have prayed to Santa Muerte for life-saving miracles. Or death to enemies. Mexican authorities have linked Santa Muerte's devotees to prostitution, drugs, kidnappings and homicides. The country's Catholic church has deemed Santa Muerte's followers devil-worshiping cultists. Now Santa Muerte has followed the thousands of Mexicans who've come to the U.S., where it is presenting a new challenge for American Catholic officials struggling with an increasingly multicultural population. 

"Santa Muerte's precise origins are a matter of debate. Some experts say its roots lie with Aztec spiritual rituals that mixed with Catholicism during Spanish colonial rule. What is clear, however, is that Santa Muerte developed a large following only in the last quarter century among Mexicans who had become disillusioned with the dominant Church and, in particular, the ability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty. Residents of crime-tossed neighborhoods like Mexico City's Tepito began revering Santa Muerte more than Jesus Christ, experts say. Some of its devotees eventually split from the Catholic church and began vying for control of Catholic buildings. That's when Mexico's Catholic church declared it a cult."
Naturally Santa Muerte has a saint's day. Unsurprisingly, it falls on November first, the date of the Mexican Day of the Dead. In fact, numerous cultures the world over have traditions of a day of the dead on November first. In Christian Europe it is currently celebrated as All Souls on November second, but the date was likely changed by the Catholic Church.
"Perhaps we may go a step further and explain in like manner the origin of the feast of All Saints on the first of November. For the analogy of similar customs elsewhere would lead us to suppose that the old Celtic festival of the dead was held on the Celtic New Year's Day, that is, on the first, not the second, of November. May not then the institution of the feast of All Saints on that day have been the first attempt of the Church to give a colour of Christianity to the ancient heathen rite by substituting the saints for the souls of the dead as the true objects of worship?"
(The Golden Bough, James Frazer, pg. 385)
the modern Day of the Dead
Eventually the Church gave in and instituted All Souls Day for the worship of the dead, but placed it on the second of November to distance it from the ancient pagan customs upon which it was based. And yet the ancient tradition of the Day of the Dead on the first of November still prevails. In fact, it's seemingly stronger than ever.

The figure of Santa Muerte is clearly influenced by the European Grim Reaper figure. In some traditions, such as in Poland, death is even portrayed as a skeletal female figure. The association of a skeletal figure with the afterlife likely stretches back to antiquity.
"In Classical antiquity, if we are to believe Apuleius, impressions or statues of skeletons were commonly used in magical practices. These skeletons were regarded as images of Mercury (Hermes), the god who was the conductor of souls and enjoyed the privilege of being able to go down to and return from the Underworld. This use may be seen as an attempt symbolically to identify the god with death, so that the practitioner might share the same privilege of escaping from the Underworld as did the god; or, in an opposite sense, of dooming a given individual to death and leading him or her to the Underworld."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 887)
This association of Mercury, who was also the god of magic, with a skeletal figure seems to have been merged with the figure of Death from the Book of Revelation and the Jewish tradition of the Angel of Death, Samael, in the Middle Ages. Samael, which literally means 'blind idiot,' was also the name of the Demiurge in some Gnostic traditions.

But back to the 49 headless bodies. Of course one can't consider occult overtones in Mexican murders without coming back to legendary cult leader, drug dealer, and serial killer Adolfo Constanzo, of whom I've written much more herehere, and here. Constanzo, whose birthday was November first, operated out of Matamoros, located in the state of Tamaulipas. Tamaulipas is right next to the state of Nuevo Leon, where the 49 headless bodies were recently discovered.

By the late 1980s Constanzo had built up a fiercely devoted cult spread across Mexico that frequently overlapped with his drug trafficking activities. Upon Constanzo's death in 1989 and the capture and/or death of many key members of Constasnzo's cult, Mexican authorities believed that the following built around Constanzo had been eliminated. Constanzo's followers seemed far less certain of this claim.
"The first hint that the cult might not have died with Constanzo came from Martin Quintana's sister, Teresa, as she babbled to the Mexican police three weeks before the shootout. 
"She told them that Mara, Constanzo's first madrina, was not dead after all, but had moved to Guadalajara. Martin had said Mara ran boutiques for Constanzo there, but Mara confided to Teresa that she really was a witch, in the same religion as Constanzo. 
"According to Teresa Quintana, Mara originally came from Veracruz, Mexico's center for witchcraft, with magical roots as deep as those in Salem, Massachusetts. Every year, a witch convention is held in Veracruz, where spells are traded and magic is compared in dark and private ceremonies... 
"Mara is not accused of any crimes, but police wanted to question her. They could not find her. Nor could police locate Damian the transvestite or Francisco the real estate speculator. 
"Weeks later, when Omar was arrested, he too would speak of others who practiced black magic and sacrifice --sister groups of Constanzo's. He knew no details, though. Then Sara said something very similar at one of the big press conferences. 'I don't think that the religion will end with us, because it has a lot of people in it,' she said. 'They have found a temple in Monterrey that isn't even related to us. It will continue.'"
(Buried Secrets, Edward Humes, pgs. 403-404)
Thus, evidence of occult activity was already present around Monterrey in Constanzo's era. What's more, the former employers (and now rivals) of Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, have been the primary criminal syndicate in the Matamoros area since the late 1970s. In an earlier blog I speculated that the Gulf Cartel and Constanzo had to have at least been aware of each other. Now I'm relatively certain that Constanzo was an employee of this outfit.

Constanzo would break into the Matamoros drug scene with the aid of a corrupt law enforcement officer, one Salvador Garcia, who was a member of Constanzo's cult. Garcia would put Constanzo in contact with the Hernandez family, a vassal of the Gulf Cartel, which at the time was led by Juan Nepomuceno Guerra and his nephew Juan Garcia Abrego.
"Salvador worked for the corrupt comandante of the federal police in Matamoros, Guillermo Perez --who, in 1989, would become a fugitive, with five million dollars of dirty money left behind in his desk. In 1988, however, Perez was still making a fortune on drugs, with no one to challenge him. 
"Perez, in turn, was a hireling of the notorious Juan Garcia Abrego Mexican drug-trafficking organization, the largest criminal gang in the Rio Grande Valley, the de facto government of Matamoros. Perez had grown rich stealing millions of dollars' worth of drugs seized from small-time traffickers, locking them up, then reselling the dope for the gang. Only members of the mob organization and those who paid protection money to it were safe from Perez. This same ruthless crime organization Perez worked for --and by extension, Salvador worked for --also had employed Elio's murdered brother Saul Hernandez..."
(ibid, pg. 171)

Saul, the head of the Hernandez family before Constanzo had signed up, was gunned down outside of a Matamoros nightclub called Piedras Negras, which was owned by Juan N. Guerra, the actual godfather of Matamoros (a title that would later be applied to Constanzo) and founder of the Gulf Cartel. The individual Saul Hernadez was with when he was murdered, Tomas Morlet, is an interesting figure as well.
"Saul's companion on the evening of January 7, Tomas Morlet, had been a comandante in the Federal Security Directorate, a Mexican police agency so corrupt the government eliminated it in 1985 for routinely giving police badges to drug traffickers, among other illegalities. It had been created with the assistance of the CIA. As part of that organization, Morlet had been a powerful figure in Mexican law enforcement, once assigned to maintain security for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and, later, the exiled Shah of Iran. Morlet's official downfall came in 1986, when Mexican prosecutors accused him of murdering Kiki Camarena, the DEA agent tortured and killed in Guadalajara in 1985. Morlet was released a few days after his arrest 'fr lack of evidence,' and began a new career as a drug trafficker, feared and hated by many, yet still largely untouchable."
(ibid, pgs. 172-173)
With these kinds of credentials, it's likely Morlet had rubbed shoulders with the CIA or another branch of the US Intelligence community at some point in his career. His death would be consistent with how CIA asset are 'retired.' The 'Kiki' Camarena killing likely sealed his fate. This is but once instance where the CIA has popped in the Constanzo killings. More on the CIA connections can be found here. But I digress.


Anyway, the Gulf Cartel was quite excited by the addition of Constanzo to the Hernandez family, as leadership skills had been badly lacking since Saul went down in a hail of bullets.
"At the same time, the Matamoros mob had its own use for Constanzo. It had lost a valuable and reliable trafficker in Saul Hernandez and a vacuum had been created, an enticing avenue for rival smugglers with none of Saul's loyalty. Constanzo was ready to fill the void, too. He let it be known via Salvador that he would provide the brains the Hernandez gang sorely lacked, while at the same time pushing out the rival traffickers who had settled like carrion birds around Saul Hernandez's corpse."
(ibid, pg. 174)
Now that I've established Constanzo's links to the Gulf Cartel, the question becomes did the gang adopt Constanzo's religious practices to some extent or other? Could the veneration that Los Zetas, former employees of the Gulf Cartel, has for the Santa Muerte be evidence of this? Did they possibly pick it up from the Gulf Cartel, who the after-mentioned MSNBC article implies also venerate that Santa Muerte? And if so, does the worship of Santa Muerte go back to Constanzo?

In my books on ole Adolfo I have no mention of Santa Muerte among the deities his cult worshiped, but the books were written at a time when Santeria and Palo Mayombe were just beginning to gain mainstream exposure. Very little was known about the Santa Muerte cult, which has only rose to prominence in the past decade or so. However, amongst the pictures appearing in Edward Humes' Buried Secrets book, there is are images of occult paraphernalia seized from the homes of Constanzo's followers after the arrests. One object is clearly a statue of the Santa Muerte, indicating it was used in the rituals of Constanzo's cult. How important the Santa Muerte was to Constanzo's religion is impossible to say, however. The Santa Muerte could have been adopted by Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel from a different branch of Mexican occult circles.

religious paraphernalia found among Constanzo's followers

What then are we to make of the seeming reemergence of a death/skull cult in twenty-first century Mexico? If anything, it seems as those the barbaric US War on Drugs, which has spurred over 50,000 deaths in Mexico since authorities embraced the drug war mantle, is gradually reducing human beings to their most primitive instincts. Mexico, as well as several other Latin American countries, is now being destabilized by paramilitary-like crime syndicate made rich by misguided (some would say barbaric) US drug laws. That the US likely gave military training to some of these outfits is just another end result of militarizing the national drug policy.

I can't help but be reminded of the film Apocalypse Now, which I've chronicled before here. In the film the character of Willard, a US. soldier, travels up river to assassinate an AWOL colonel named Kurtz during the backdrop of the Vietnam War. As Willard travels further and further up river he seems to also be traveling back in time. By the time he reaches Kurtz's compound in Cambodia he has seemingly reached the dawn of civilization itself, with Kurtz in the role of the priest-king offering human sacrifices to replenish the land. For years I took the devolution of Now's final chapter as a metaphor for the effects US imperialism has had on the Third World, yet here we see such events actually playing out in modern Mexico, including Kurtz's obsession with decapitation.

This is truly chilling.

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