Mexican police ask spirits to guard them in drug war

Fri Mar 19, 2010 3:34pm EDT
 
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By Lizbeth Diaz

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Police running scared from drug gangs in one of Mexico's deadliest cities are using bizarre rituals involving animal sacrifice and spirit tattoos to seek protection from raging violence on the U.S. border.

In secret meetings that draw on elements of Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria and Mexican witchcraft, priests are slaughtering chickens on full moon nights on beaches, smearing police with the blood and using prayers to evoke spirits to guard them as drug cartels battle over smuggling routes into California.

Other police in the city of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, tattoo their bodies with Voodoo symbols, believing they can repel bullets.

"Sometimes a man needs another type of faith," said former Tijuana policeman Marcos, who left the city force a year ago after surviving a drug gang attack. "I was saved when they killed two of my mates. I know why I didn't die."

Violence has exploded along the U.S. border since President Felipe Calderon set the army on drug cartels in late 2006. Turf wars have killed 19,000 people across Mexico over three years.

Badly-paid Mexican police have long prayed to Christian saints before going out on patrol in Mexico, the world's second-most populous Roman Catholic country after Brazil.

Cops are part of a messy war between rival trafficking gangs and the army as cartels infiltrate police forces, offering officers cash to work and even murder for them or a bullet if they say no. More than 150 police are among those killed in Tijuana and the surrounding Baja California state since 2007.

Army raids on homes of police working for cartels have found ornately adorned Santeria-type altars covered with statues and skulls stuffed with money paying homage to gods and spirits.   Continued...