There’s no denying the connection between cartels and Santa Muerte and Jesús Malverde, but there’s more to the folk saints than just that. Santa Muerte is seen as a patron saint for the LGBTQ community, Latinx sex workers, immigrants, and others who have been marginalized. Similarly, Malverde, whose origins do trace back to cartels, appeals to those on the fringes. He’s followed and admired by the poor, immigrants, and more. Already looked down on by the Catholic Church because they’re not official saints, Santa Muerte and Malverde are largely seen through a narrow lens. A recent tone deaf article goes further by also disparaging the folk saints’ followers as well.
On Tuesday, Atlanta’s WSB-TV published an article entitled, “Drug cartels worship ‘narco saints’ making them more dangerous, DEA says.” The now deleted social copy suggests that the ubiquity of candles and statues in the likeness of Santa Muerte and Malverde might be “making our streets more dangerous.”
Speaking with a DEA agent, a district attorney, and a former US marshal, the outlet paints a picture of followers who are emboldened to commit crime because of the figures. “Cartels misuse these folk saints to further their criminal activity,” reporter Mark Winne said in a video segment, which accompanied the article. And in speaking with Robert Almonte, Winne learned that “cartels misuse real saints as well.” However, this investigative piece isn’t talking about how saints recognized by the Catholic church are bringing in more crime. Instead, the piece makes assumptions of followers of Mexican folk saints.
The video story is mostly one-sided, but the publication does speak to a botánica owner Ingrid Avilez who explains that many people who don’t have ties to cartels buy Santa Muerte and Malverde figures. “I know a lot of people that come here to protect theirself [sic],” she said. “I can’t tell which one is from the cartel and which one is not.”
The story lacks an understanding of this community, and it presents those who buy these candles as overwhelmingly nefarious. In turn, this drives fear into others who do not understand this group.
The story has angered many, who have taken to social media to slam WSB-TV’s coverage. Check out a few reactions below.