HomeNewsAnalysisMexico Drug Lords Live On in Narco-Graveyard
ANALYSIS

Mexico Drug Lords Live On in Narco-Graveyard

BELTRAN LEYVA ORG / 13 JUN 2011 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

An elaborate cemetery in northwest Mexico, subject of a new documentary film, points to the ways drug lords continue to display their power and influence, even after death.

The Jardines del Humaya cemetery is the resting place for some of the once-powerful members of the Sinaloa Cartel, in state capital Culiacan. The site is known for its elaborate mausoleums, decorated with ivory and gold, some equipped with electricity, telephone lines and stereo systems.

A new documentary, titled "El Velador" (The Watchman), recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May, observed the comings and goings at the cemetery for nearly a year. The film is among three Mexican movies shown at Cannes this year which address issues of drug violence and trafficking in the country.

Clips from "El Velador" show graves draped with pictures of the deceased, where family members come to leave flowers or mop the cement gravestones. In one clip, snippets from a news broadcast are overheard, describing the grisly murders that took place that day in Sinaloa, adding that a popular "narcocorrido," or drug ballad, band had to cancel a performance due to the bloodshed. (See trailer below.)

Many of Sinaloa's once-powerful drug traffickers now have mausoleums in Jardines del Humaya. Arturo Beltran Leyva, who led a former faction of the Sinaloa Cartel now known as the Beltran Leyva Organization, was buried here after dying in a shoot-out with Mexican marines in 2009. A few months after his funeral, rivals dumped a decapitated head near the grave, with a flower tucked behind the victim's ear.

In an ironic twist, Beltran's former rival Ignacio Coronel Villareal, alias "Nacho Coronel," a head of the Sinaloa Cartel killed by the army in mid-2010, lies nearby in the cemetery, alongside Villareal's nephew.

The older generation of Sinaloan drug traffickers have also built shrines in the graveyard.·Here are the remains of Lamberto Quintero Payan, a marijuana trafficker killed in 1976, who allegedly inspired one of the first-ever narcocorridos. Also buried in the cemetery are the wife and two children of Hector Palma Salazar, alias "El Guero," one of the original leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel alongside Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo." Palma's family were kidnapped and killed in Venezuela in 1989. On the Mexican holiday the Day of the Dead, surviving members of the Palma family decorate the children's graves with toys.

Film director Natalia Almador said in an interview that the film is intended to call attention to the ostentatious graves, in contrast to the sites of "utter anonymity and oblivion" where other victims of the drug war are buried. An estimated 5,400 people are thought to have disappeared in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon was elected, a vivid symptom of the country's declining security. The discovery of mass graves in Mexico containing hundreds of unidentified bodies supports Almador's argument that the·memorials to Beltran Leyva and Nacho Coronel remain visible symbols of the socioeconomic inequality which, in some ways, is the driving force behind the conflict. In marked contrast to Jardines del Humaya, in other municipal cemeteries in Mexico bodies are sometimes buried three to a grave.

The ornate tombs in Jardines del Humaya appear to fall in the same category as other luxury items used by some factions of the Mexican cartels, which have long fascinated the public. Diamond-plated guns, zoos full of exotic animals, purebred racehorses and designer cars: these are all goods used by cartel leaders to express wealth, power and authority. The mausoleums take it one step further, continuing to flaunt the economic power of the drug lords even after their passing.

To some degree, this tendency towards excess -- visible in the large and gaudy tombs -- can also be seen in the "narco-tanks" and the frequent, brutal massacres now registered across Mexico. As the Mexican cartels split into rival factions, incidents of extreme violence began to rise, as the cartels appear to try to outdo each other in the savagery of their killings. It is no longer enough to face rivals with armored cars; homemade tanks are needed. Rivals are not just killed, but decapitated, quartered, dumped in acid or hung off bridges.

This extreme use of force not only suggests that social restraints on violence are long gone: it indicates that language of excess is the cartels' preferred mode of communication. How else to make themselves heard, when there are so many opponents fighting for a piece of the profits? In a way, the ornate stylings of the "narco tombs" are an expression of this same excess, which the cartels have adopted -- in terms of violence, weapons and materialism -- to survive in a crowded marketplace.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CANADA / 12 SEP 2014

After a spate of killings targeting Canadian drug traffickers in Mexico, there have been several indications that some of Canada's…

MEXICO / 16 AUG 2011

Why is no one talking about a "drug war" in Venezuela, when murder rates are double those of Mexico and…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 20 MAR 2013

A new study found that nearly half of United States firearms dealers are economically dependent on demand from Mexico, while…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.