Venezuela: Ancestral thugs become modern-day saints

(Image: recién llegados, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from ronaldrivas's photostream)

France24 has a report with photos documenting “Santos Malandros”, or “Corte Malandra”, a contemporary saint culture spreading in Venezuela (not entirely unlike "Santa Muerte" and "Jesus Malverde" in Mexico).

"These 'holy thugs' wearing dark sunglasses, baseball caps and guns tucked in their belts might have been petty criminals during their lifetime, but are now considered modern-day Robin Hoods."

Having had more than a passing acquaintance with magic/religious practice of this kind, I have to say that the article reads a little melodramatic. But it was interesting to see a phenomenon I'm only familiar with in Mexico and Central America expressed differently, further south.

(Thanks, Maggie!)

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  1. This seems like of a sensationalist type of documentation on this religious expression. I’m from Venezuela and i can tell you this isn’t normal. Obviously this is the type of thing you’d expect to find is extreme marginal places where crime is rampant, but there’s no greater context as to how this fits with the larger religious beliefs of the country.

  2. This is interesting. As an adherent of an African derived spiritual tradition I always like reading about what my cousins are up to. Something else very interesting, Brazilian Umbanda and Kimbanda, they both work in part with a spirit type known as Exu/pomba Gira, and the statues of them all mostly show diabolic imagery, pitchforks, horns, etc

  3. That’s quaint, venerating petty criminals like that. In our culture, we don’t bother unless the ancestral figure was a straight up mass murderer (Columbus Day, Presidents Day, etc).

    1. heh, i was thinking somewhat along those lines.  minus the religious bit, is it really so different in america?  i’ve never personally understood the fascination/veneration of sociopaths, be they famous gangsters, rap musicians, sports figures, or politicians.  women line up to write fan letters to convicted prisoners, and men see them as epitomes of masculinity.  i just don’t get it.

      1. The way I think its somewhat described in the vid and in an article I read is: 
        These guys know better than anyone what the poverty stricken Venezuelans are going through, crime wise, so if you were in some sort of trouble, and you had the choice of asking for help:  a an uncaring cop who probably views you as a threat and who enforces laws that seem to you to be more about maintaing general order and protecting the interests of those in power, a priest who is out of touch with your lowly troubles and who wouldn’t be able to take extreme measures, or a gangster who is familiar w your world and the particular predicaments found with-in it and who might be swayed to your side with a gift of some sort?

        Well, who would you ask for help?

  4. “. I’m from Venezuela and i can tell you this isn’t normal.”

    I am from Venezuela too, and I have seen similar stuff since I was a kid, 20 years ago. Machera, in Méida, has been popular for ages. It has indeed gotten worse, and now these cults bless weapons and stuff, but it has been there for a long, long time.

  5. ” (not entirely unlike the “Santa Muerte” phenomenon in Mexico)”

    More like Jeus Malverde in Mexico

    1. Seriously, or else they will soon have to find a spirit willing to look after people who have accidentally shot their own junk off. 

  6. In Argentina we have “El Frente” Vital, a burglar from our shanty towns which had “old school ethics”, was killed (unlawfully, some say) by the police and now acts as a saint of thieves.

    1. Very interesting!  do you have any links w more info? Or pics of statues etc? I’d love to see em

      1. I’m not sure they have statues of him, as that’s usually limited to “important” saints, plus it’s not a very mainstream thing. They pray to him, though, to ask for protection from the police (the story goes that the Frente Vital was chased by the police into a house and then executed as he surrendered, so criminals and their mothers ask him for bullets to miss them).

        Here’s a poster of El Frente:
        http://www.inventati.org/frances/MACADAM/2005/frente/5.htm

        and this is his tomb:http://24con.elargentino.com/files/image/66/66535/4d51858a31021.jpg

        this is uncaptioned… perhaps his tomb at well, or a quick altar/memorial:
        http://www.cronica.com.py/cache/img_cache/d04c435b96a88e939db1fbd5af149fd4_500x500.jpg
        As a “saint” some say he performed miracles for them and he gets offerings in the form of beer, marihuana cigarettes and flowers.

        He was an interesting person. Besides his code of conduct (which some claim more current burglars don’t have) he shared a lot of his earnings with poor people from his shanty town. Once he sequestered a truck from “La Serenisima” (one of the largest dairy manufactureres) and distributed all the milk and yoghurt among the families, because he wanted poor kids to get a proper nutrition.

        1. Thanks very much for the additional info! Something similar to him and the Malandros, though perhaps more apocryphal, is found in BRazil in Umbanda/Kimbanda, and also in Argentina where its practiced somewhat: Ze Pelintra. He was supposedley a real ladies man, an honorable man of the streets, maybe something of a pimp etc… he was said to have been run over by a tram while being chased by the cops:
          http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=pt&u=http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z%25C3%25A9_Pelintra&ei=bSVVTtnHH-XD0AHo8YXFAg&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CB0Q7gEwAA&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dhttp://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z%25C3%25A9_Pelintra%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den%26prmd%3Divns

  7. “And lo, Santos Malandros did bust a cap in yon ass, for yon poser did calleth him a bitch in front of his homies, and it was good.”

  8. I’m not sure they have statues of him, as that’s usually limited to “important” saints, plus it’s not a very mainstream thing. They pray to him, though, to ask for protection from the police (the story goes that the Frente Vital was chased by the police into a house and then executed as he surrendered, so criminals and their mothers ask him for bullets to miss them).

    Here’s a poster of El Frente:
    http://www.inventati.org/frances/MACADAM/2005/frente/5.htm

    and this is his tomb:http://24con.elargentino.com/files/image/66/66535/4d51858a31021.jpg

    this is uncaptioned… perhaps his tomb at well, or a quick altar/memorial:
    http://www.cronica.com.py/cache/img_cache/d04c435b96a88e939db1fbd5af149fd4_500x500.jpg
    As a “saint” some say he performed miracles for them and he gets offerings in the form of beer, marihuana cigarettes and flowers.

    He was an interesting person. Besides his code of conduct (which some claim more current burglars don’t have) he shared a lot of his earnings with poor people from his shanty town. Once he sequestered a truck from “La Serenisima” (one of the largest dairy manufactureres) and distributed all the milk and yoghurt among the families, because he wanted poor kids to get a proper nutrition.

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