Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, the deceased founder of the Familia Michoacana drug gang, is reportedly worshipped as a saint in his home state of Michoacan, drawing attention to the links between narco-culture and religion.
According to Mexican media reports, Moreno, alias "El Chayo," is regarded as a religious figure by some in his home region of Apatzingan, Michoacan. Blog del Narco reported that altars with photos and figurines of the trafficker had been found in two communities of Apatzingan, with prayers referring to him as "Saint Nazario."
El Chayo was reportedly killed in a firefight with federal officers in December 2010, though his body was never found and there have been rumors that he is still alive.
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Although little is known about the origins of El Chayo, he is thought to have been a devout evangelical who wrote a book on his spiritual musings. El Chayo tried to portray his cartel as a protector of the Michoacan community, and the Familia had a strong pseudo-religious aspect and claimed to carry out “social work.” This included establishing curfews, punishing alcoholics, and attacking rivals like the Zetas with claims they “corrupted” the state’s morality. Members were even reported to distinguish themselves by carrying around religious articles like rosaries and Bibles.
The prayer to El Chayo refers to him as a representative of God, the “Protector of the poorest,” and the “Knight of the towns,” evidence that the Familia's publicity campaign had some impact in the region. Since Chayo's death, the Familia have been largely replaced by a splinter group known as the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar. Some have theorized that El Chayo faked his own death and now leads the Knights, in further evidence of the power of his image.
El Chayo’s unofficial canonization is representative of the power of narco-culture in Mexico, where cartel leaders sometimes try to promote themselves as modern-day folk heroes. This often has religious connections. For example, the cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death) has attracted devout followers among drug traffickers, with shrines to the unofficial saint of death present in some parts of Mexico.