Thirty-six bodies were found in the eastern coastal city of Veracruz on Thursday, two days after the Mexican government announced a major military operation in the city. Marines found the bodies hidden in three homes during neighborhood searches, reported the Los Angeles Times.
The security operation, dubbed Operation Safe Veracruz, was announced with “indirect reference” to the Mata Zetas, or Zeta Killers. “Those who seek justice by their own hand, or invade the state in its intransferable duties, become delinquents, and the government will apply to them the full force of the law,” Interior Secretary Jose Francisco Blake Mora said according to the Times.
Last month, the paramilitaries attracted notoriety after stopping rush hour traffic at gunpoint before dumping the bound and partially nude bodies of 35 people onto the street. Earlier, the Mata Zetas appeared in online videos declaring their intentions to attack the Zetas drug cartel.
The Mata Zetas are also apparently the third group of sicarios — or assassins — to have adopted the same name. The newest iteration, likely a combination of gunmen from Sinaloa Cartel hit squad Gente Nueva and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generation, may be attempting to “distract [Zetas boss Heriberto Lazcano] from his current offensive push into Jalisco,” according to Southern Pulse.
We missed this in last week’s round-up, but Viginia Lopez at The Guardian featured a story about Venezuela’s cult of Ismael and the Holy Thugs. A sort of street religion, the cult combines “spiritualism and hero worship that comes with its own quirky iconography: chiefly garish figurines with baseball caps on back to front, cigarettes dangling from their mouths and guns stuffed into their belts,” Lopez writes.
The figures are an extension of the broader Maria Lionza cult popularized among drug traffickers following the Caracazo of 1989, and are believed by the cult’s followers to channel the spirits of the dead and protect criminals from harm. Think a Venezuelan version of the Mexican and Mexican-American cult of Santa Muerte, although with some significant differences less rooted in Catholicism and more Afro-Caribbean Santeria.
A friend and journalist-photographer in Caracas tells me cult members gather in El Cementerio General del Sur, a major public Caracas cemetery where the “Holy Thugs” are believed to be buried. He also says the cemetery “is in pretty bad shape right now” with problems such as grave desecration and that “people avoid being buried there.”