El Centro Field Note No. 1: Ciudad Juárez Prison Interview - Sicario Human Sacrifice to Santa Muerte
Teun Voeten and Maaike Engels
Quite a bit if controversy now exists related to the narco variant of Santa Muerte veneration and worship which is very dark in its spirituality and amoral in nature. This is in contrast to more mainstream forms of Santa Muerte spirituality that are folk religion based within the broader Catholicism paradigm. As a result criticisms have now been made that narco variant perceptions are contrived, biased against the religious conventions of Santa Muerte adherents, or even part of some sort of conspiratorial agenda. Transcripts of a prison interview conducted by two Dutch documentary filmmakers—one of whom is a cultural anthropologist who recently completed his PhD focusing on the Mexican drug war—at VISITA CERESO CD with a Juárez Cartel sicario provides another example of the dark spirituality that the narco variant of Santa Muerte spirituality now represents. – The El Centro Senior Fellows
This interview of “Edgar” was conducted by Voeten and Engels, CeReSo, Ciudad Juárez, October 2016. It is an excerpt from the PhD thesis from Teun Voeten, titled: The Mexican Drug Violence: Hybrid Warfare, Predatory Capitalism and the Logic of Cruelty. 274-276. See also: Maaike Engels and Teun Voeten, Sacrifice. Belgian Canvas TV, 2017.
Image 1: “Edgar” Interview at CeReSo, Ciudad Juárez
Image 2: “Edgar” Interview at CeReSo, Ciudad Juárez
Edgar is a young man of twenty-six years, and he is doing a ten-year sentence for illegal possession of firearms and kidnapping. He says he has killed nearly sixty people working as a sicario for the Juárez Cartel, but since there is no proof—he is not sharing the details—he cannot be convicted for these murders.
Edgar was born in Juárez, but his mother separated early from his father and when Edgar was two, they moved to Kansas City. His mother was involved in dealing large quantities of cocaine, which the young Edgar discovers. When she runs into trouble, she has to flee back to Juárez. Edgar, at that age around eleven, is shocked by the poverty and filth of Juárez. His mother starts to work as a hairdresser but they cannot afford the rather comfortable lifestyle they had before. Edgar is a good student at school, but he starts to hang out with ‘bad people’ and gang members. He starts to deal weed and is caught when he is thirteen years old. A juvenile offender, he was still convicted to six months, but managed to pay his way out. At age fourteen, he hangs out with friends and gets into a fight. He hits one of his attackers with a big stone and the boy actually bleeds to death. This is Edgar’s first kill. He says he did not mean to kill the person and runs away from the scene of the fight, feeling afraid, guilty, and nervous at the same time. This unintentional murder will haunt him for half a year. His second murder is a drive by shooting he carries out with a gang. He does not know if his bullets actually killed someone during that drive-by, but there were deaths.
Being in a gang selling drugs, he goes down a slippery slope. He learns shooting from his stepfather, who is a private detective. At one point, he starts to work for the Juárez Cartel as a sicario. He is not too specific as to how he started to work for a cartel. But he says the cartel seeks people out, and it is not people who seek the cartels out. He sees killing strictly as work. He receives orders and he carries them out. Saying no is simply not possible. Still, he does not shift moral responsibility onto the boss, it is still him who carried out the orders, who pulled the trigger. Edgar manages to separate work from private business. ‘I love persons, I kill persons.’ ‘No tiene que estar mezclado. el amor a mi familia es muy diferente a lo que hago’, Don’t mix things. The love for my family is very different from my work.’ He realizes he kills people who have a mother or a wife, even more since he has children himself. Still, he does what he has to do, ‘it is either them or you’.
He talks with professional pride about his work. ‘I do it quickly.’ He does not like to waste many bullets. A few in the body and a final shot in the head. Sometimes they work with teams of two or three people. Edgar says he once stopped an ambulance to finish his victim that had not died. He mentions bystanders and witnesses, in that they are too shocked to absorb what they see or they are too scared to testify. Still, he has an honor code; he never kills women and children. He says other cartels do this, like Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel.
Edgar believes God exists, but says it is not his god. Satan is his God, and he prays to Santa Muerte. Ever since Santa Muerte appeared to him in a dream and gave lifesaving advice, he worships her. Edgar also has a bruja, or a witch, that functions as his personal spiritual adviser. Before a hit, he prays to Santa Muerte that all goes well. ‘I actually sacrifice people for my Santa Muerte. The thing is that I kill for ordering, but I talk to her and say, hey, I go to a job. Just make me hit, I am gonna give you that life, it is for you.’
Santa Muerte actually whispers to him to carry out killings. Edgar is honest and admits he actually enjoys killing. ‘I feel powerful. My god always tell me to do it. I don’t know why, but I could hear, “hey, hey, do it, do it.” I am not crazy, ‘cause I know I ain’t crazy. I still could count I still could eat. I still could sleep’. Edgar admits he has developed an addiction to killing. ‘It gives me a feeling of power. But that moment last only for the moment. There were days that he felt ‘I need to kill somebody. I feel that I need it.’ At the prison, there is an Adictos Anonymous group that handles all sorts of addictions, including addiction to killing.
He compares himself with a soldier. ‘There is a war going on. And if I have to kill to survive, I will kill.’ But he confesses he doesn’t even know himself exactly why he is fighting: ‘I come to the conclusion I don’t know why I am doing this. What I gonna benefit of this. It ain’t my streets, I don’t know why I am fighting this. Is it because of the money? Is it because of the fame? Or is it for me? When I was outside, I asked it too. But I said, well, no worries, you are already in it. No more way out. Keep working and try to survive.’ According to Edgar, he cannot retire. Only if the war finishes you can retire. Whether he will resume working as a sicario once he is out, he cannot say.
The cartels sometimes take care of the community and especially children, he says. ‘They donate money and clothes to children and hand out other benefits.’ He talks with respect and pride about the organization to which he belonged. ‘We are not narcos. We have doctors, we have licenciados, we have police, we have all kind of people working on this. We are not simply gang bangers, we also have judges and computer specialists’.
In 2016, Engels and Voeten made the documentary “Calais: Welcome to the Jungle”, a multilayered documentary on a squalid refugee camp in Northern France. For Canvas TV in Belgium they made ‘Sacrifice’ in 2017 as a short documentary on rituals in the Mexican Drug Violence for which they interviewed sicarios in Ciudad Juárez and Culiacán.