Some drug lords take their ostentatious lifestyle literally to the grave: A cemetery in Mexico is blooming with two-story tombs fitted with living rooms, air conditioning and bulletproof glass.
Mexico on Sunday marked 10 years since the government deployed troops in a drug war that has killed tens of thousands of people, with many victims buried unceremoniously in mass graves, dumped on roadsides or left hanging on bridges.
However, the drug barons of Sinaloa State, the northwestern bastion of imprisoned kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, have given themselves more dignified final resting places at Jardines del Humaya cemetery in the regional capital, Culiacan.
One crypt looks like a chapel with white columns, angels on stained glass windows and a statue of Jesus Christ standing on the roof.
Others resemble small modern apartments with glass doors, stairs leading to a second floor and living rooms with couches for mourners. At least two of them were adorned with Christmas trees.
A crypt said to hold the remains of a Sinaloa drug cartel hit man has a bulletproof glass door, a cross that lights up in the dark on top of a dome, and surveillance cameras pointing toward the entrance. Inside, a glass case holds four small swords.
As night falls, lights are automatically activated outside several tombs. Many have alarm systems. One has fort-like towers, and another has a roof terrace with fans.
Most crypts have large pictures or paintings of the deceased on the wall — several look like young men in their 20s or 30s — but many of these tombs have no name to identify the person.
“It’s an expression of the power that they once had and a manifestation of their desire for eternity, which is natural in any human being,” said Juan Carlos Ayala, a philosophy professor at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa who specializes in “narco culture.”
“It’s also a demonstration for those who survive them that this man was important,” Ayala said.
New lavish mausoleums were under construction this week, awaiting for more drug cartel honchos to be gunned down. Ayala estimates that some of the crypts cost as much as US$290,000 to build.
The luxurious graves have become one of the symbols of the “narco culture” that has spread in the past decade, adding a religious facet to an underworld that has also inspired music, television shows, movies and fashion.
Some local governments have fined musicians who publicly perform polka-like ballads known as “narco corridos” that sing the praises of drug barons.
Some federal lawmakers wanted last month to prevent television networks from broadcasting “narco series” during prime time hours over concerns they could influence children.
Narco culture has also intertwined with religion.
Criminals, and millions of Mexicans, worship a skeletal death saint known as Santa Muerte, which is rejected by the Roman Catholic church as blasphemous, but has even gained followers in the US.
However, many also pray to another folk saint called Jesus Malverde, who according to legend was a Robin Hood-type bandit who stole from the rich and gave to the poor until he was hanged in Culiacan in 1909.
A green Jesus Malverde Chapel was built in his honor in Culiacan, where people can kneel in front of a bust of the dark-haired and mustachioed saint to pray for miracles.
People have left Mexican pesos on the walls but also US dollar bills and currencies from Canada, Colombia and Cuba, along with pictures and thank you notes.
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