The Mexican Navy killed Heriberto Lazcano, “El Lazca,” leader of Los Zetas, one of Mexico’s most feared and violent drug cartels on October 7.
He had been connected to some 30,000 murders.
According to the Mexican authorities, he owned a ranch where he used
to get rid of his victims by feeding them to several lions and tigers.
A plaque on a wall of the chapel in the village of Tezontle, Hidalgo,
proclaims the building was donated by Heriberto Lazcano.
“Lord, hear my
prayer; listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and
righteousness come to my relief,” reads the plaque referring to Psalm
143 in the bible. The bronze-colored marker also states the chapel was
built in honor of Pope John Paul II.
According to a CBS news report, Rev. Juan Aguilar, spokesman for the
Roman Catholic Archdioceses of Tulancingo, where the chapel is located,
said the church was built in 2009 as a community project but the money
did not go through the church, which was unaware of who funded it.
the revelation the Archdioceses of Tulancingo, to whom the church
belongs, distanced itself from the property while admitting it knows of
other donations from drug traffickers.
The Mexican Attorney General is
currently investigating the funding of the Tezontle chapel for possible
criminal charges, including money laundering or “use of illicit funds,”
according to The Seattle Times.
This incident and others reported recently by news media highlight a
growing concern about the possible flow of illicit drug profits in
Mexico to religious institutions to pay for construction, new buildings
and even charitable programs. It’s a suspected practice few government
or church officials are willing to admit or discuss publicly.
“The penal code does not list church donations as money laundering,”
said Kathya Martinez, a lawyer in a prestigious Ciudad Juarez law firms.
“Money laundering is doing legal business with illegal money, so unless
the authorities can prove that a priest conducted any type of business
and lied to ‘Hacienda’ (Mexican Treasury) about the origin of the money
you have no case.”
As the number of casualties in Mexico’s drug war continues to climb, the New York Times
states that so far a total number of 47,515 deaths have been recorded,
and the Mexican Catholic church faces some serious allegations.
parishes across the country are being accused of relying on generous
donations from dubious sources, or “narcolimosnas” from drug lords,
according to a report by Angela Kocherga on KVUE TV in Austin.
Ramon Godinez of Aguascalientes, in a recent interview with Televisa
said priests have no control over who gives money and don’t investigate
the origin of donations.
“Of course the cartels donate money,” said Godinez, in the Televisa interview. “If they have money they have to spend it. We don’t investigate where
the money comes from; we live from donations. If it is ill-gotten money
the church can clean it. I don’t know why they’ve made
such a scandal out of this.”
Dr. Howard Campbell, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of the book Narco-Propaganda in the Mexican Drug War: An Anthropological Perspective,
believes that “narcos” want to create a positive public image. “They
want to play into the whole Pablo Escobar image of the benevolent social
The Mexican Episcopate Conference (CEM), the official leadership body
of the Catholic Church in Mexico, reiterated its complete and absolute
rejection of these donations from organized crime.
Campbell said he visited a church built with “narcolimosnas.”
“I was in Culiacan, Sinaloa with a group of journalists and visited a
church that was built by “El JT,” Campbell said. The initials stand for
Mexican drug lord Javier Torres. “It was an official Catholic Church.
We talked to the priest and he was a little bit evasive but in the end
the story holds up – the ‘narco’ built the church.”
Another example of illegal drug profits being used to fund religion
is the church of San Ignacio of Loyola in Tamazula, Durango, a small
town in the marijuana growing region known as the “Golden Triangle.”
According to authorities, this region is controlled by drug kingpin
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
“The pews were donated by local drug lords according to the
inscriptions in them,” said Rodrigo Vera, a journalist for the Mexican
One of the pews says donated by “Ines Calderon Q,” refering to Ines
Calderon Quintero, wife of Rafael Caro-Quintero, a member of the Sinaloa
Cartel. According to a report from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA),
Caro-Quintero was one of the first persons to introduce cocaine and
heroin to the United States.
He is also accused of collaborating in the
assassination of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena in 1984. Caro-Quintero is in
a Mexican maximum security prison sentenced to 40 years for the
assassination of Camarena.
Another pew says that it was donated by the family of Sandra Avila
Beltran, a former beauty queen known as “La Reina del Pacífico,” who
was charged and convicted of laundering billions of dollars worth of
drugs smuggled from Colombia to Mexico.
In June, she was extradited to
Florida and is facing charges for trafficking cocaine into the country,
according to BBC News.
In 2010, Bishop Raul Vera of Saltillo told the Los Angeles Times:
“They make us accomplices after the fact. A steeple built with drug
money has blood gushing from its rafters.”
According to Vera, the states of Michoacán, Durango, Sinaloa, and
Guerrero are the most dangerous places in Mexico for priests.
priests have already been killed, with seven murders in the Archdioceses
of Mexico alone.
With this in mind, some bishops argue that before
people go on to judge a priest for taking cartel money they should take
into consideration the circumstances that surround the situation because
many fear for their lives.
Cartel donations to the church are not a new topic in Mexico.
1990’s, the crime cartel of the Arellano Felix brothers (also known as
the Tijuana Cartel) were accused of donating huge amounts of money to
the then bishop of Tijuana, Emilio Berlie, who was able to schedule a
private meeting with the Mexican Apostolic Nuncio Jerónimo Prigione.
Prigione “thanked them for their generosity,” laughed Campbell. The
cartel of the Arellano Felix may be connected to one of the most famous
cold cases in recent history in Mexico.
On May 24, 1993, Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, Cardinal of Guadalajara,
along with six others, was assassinated outside the Guadalajara
International Airport. He was inside his car when he received 14
According to CNN, government investigations concluded that he
was caught in a shootout between rival cartels and was mistaken for a
drug lord but no one was ever jailed for the murder.
Although the assassination of the Cardinal was allegedly ordered by
the Arellano Felix cartel, some members of the hit squad were members of
the Logan Heights gang of San Diego.
The United States charged nine
members of the Logan Heights gang in connection with Posada Ocampo’s
murder and eventually three pleaded guilty.
Soon after Vicente Fox won the presidency of Mexico in 2000 the case
was reopened when he promised to solve several high-profile murders.
With the reopened investigation new information surfaced. Testimony from
a childhood friend of Posadas Ocampo said that the Cardinal had told
him he was called to the house of then President Salinas de Gortari and
received death threats weeks before his murder.
According to one theory,
the assassination may have been planned by the Salinas de Gortari
government based on allegations that a senior aide to the Mexican
President warned the Cardinal to keep quiet about information that
linked senior politicians with the drug trade.
“They created this evil monster out of Salinas de Gortari,” Campbell
said. “After his ‘sexenio‘ there was an attempt to blame every single
problem in Mexico on him. It seems more likely that the Arellano Felix
ordered his assassination.”
Some wonder why neither the government nor the press have been more proactive in investigating the practice of “narcolimosnas.”
Lawyer Martinez believes the lack of investigation is politically motivated.
“Federal laws protect the church, whereas any individual might be
imprisoned for a felony, a member of the clergy will only be fined. The
Mexican Government does not want to have problems with the church,” said
Alfredo Corchado, an award-winning journalist from the Dallas Morning News who is writing a book about the Mexican drug wars, said through an e-mail that narcolimosnas are “quite common” in Mexico.
“And it’s a message to the community via the church on who has the
economic power there. What better way to win over a community, their
loyalty and their silence through limosnas,” he added.
“Mexican mainstream media don’t cover these stories because they are
part of the system; they receive other kinds of “limosnas.” Journalists
who do investigate the issue are killed, so that’s another reason. And
the Government doesn’t investigate because this is the least of their
problems” concluded Dr. Howard Campbell.
The small luxurious church in Tezontle, Hidalgo was built next to the
San Francisco cemetery, with a capacity of about 200. The church was
built next to the cemetery with only one thing in Heriberto Lazcano’s
mind, to be his last resting place.
After his death, the body was stolen
by a group of armed men who entered and threatened the personnel of the
morgue in Coahuila; the body was put in a funeral car and rode off,
according to Noticieros Televisa.
The location of the body of Heriberto
Lazcano is still unknown.
“El Lazca” was aware of the fate that awaited
him, but his last wish of being put to rest in the church that was built
with his money is yet to come true.