Jesús Malverde – “angel of the poor”

Jesús Malverde, possibly born as Jesús Juarez Mazo (1870–1909), sometimes known as the “generous bandit”, “angel of the poor”, or the “narco-saint”, is a folklore hero in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. He was of Yoreme and Spanish heritage. He is a “Robin Hood figure” who was supposed to have stolen from the rich to give to the poor.

He is celebrated as a folk saint by some in Mexico and the United States, particularly among those involved in drug trafficking.

The existence of Malverde is not historically verified. He is said to have been born Jesús Juarez Mazo, growing up under the rule of Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, whose local supporter Francisco Cañedo ran Sinaloa. He is supposed to have become a bandit after the death of his parents, which he attributed to their poverty. His nickname Malverde (bad-green) was given by his wealthy victims, deriving from an association between green and misfortune. According to the mythology of Malverde’s life, Cañedo derisively offered Malverde a pardon if he could steal the governor’s sword (or in some versions his daughter). The bandit succeeded, but this only pushed Cañedo into hunting him down. He is supposed to have died in Sinaloa on 3 May 1909. Accounts of his death vary. In some versions he was betrayed and killed by a friend. In some he was shot or hanged by local police. His body was supposed to have been denied proper burial, being left to rot in public as an example.

Writer Sam Quinones says that there is no evidence that the Malverde of the legend ever lived, and that the story probably emerged by mixing material from the lives of two documented Sinaloan bandits, Heraclio Bernal (1855–1888) and Felipe Bachomo (1883–1916). Bernal was a thief from southern Sinaloa who later became an anti-government rebel. Cañedo offered a reward for his capture, and he was betrayed and killed by former colleagues. Bachomo was an indigenous Indian rebel from northern Sinaloa who was captured and executed.


Since Malverde’s supposed death, he has earned a Robin Hood-type image, making him popular among Sinaloa’s poor highland residents. His bones were said to have been unofficially buried by local people, who threw stones onto them, creating a cairn. Throwing a stone onto the bones was thus a sign of respect, and gave the person the right to make a petition to his spirit. His earliest alleged miracles involved the return of lost or stolen property. His shrine is in Culiacan, capital of Sinaloa. Every year on the anniversary of his death a large party is held at Malverde’s shrine. The original shrine was built over in the 1970s, amid much controversy, and a new shrine was built on nearby land. The original site, which became a parking lot, has since been revived as an unofficial shrine, with a cairn and offerings.

The outlaw image has caused him to be adopted as the “patron saint” of the region’s illegal drug trade, and the press have thus dubbed him “the narco-saint.” However, his intercession is also sought by those with troubles of various kinds, and a number of supposed miracles have been locally attributed to him, including personal healings and blessings. According to Patricia Price, “Narcotrafickers have strategically used Malverde’s image as a ‘generous bandit’ to spin their own images as Robin Hoods of sorts, merely stealing from rich drug-addicted gringos and giving some of their wealth back to their Sinaloa hometowns, in the form of schools, road improvements, community celebrations.”

Spiritual supplies featuring the visage of Jesús Malverde are available in the United States as well as in Mexico. They include candles, anointing oils, incense, sachet powders, bath crystals, soap and lithographed prints suitable for framing.

In culture

A series of three Spanish-language films have been released under the titles Jesús Malverde, Jesús Malverde II: La Mafia de Sinaloa, and Jesús Malverde III: Infierno en Los Ángeles. They all feature tales of contemporary Mexican drug trafficking into California, with strong musical interludes during which the gangsters are shown at home being serenaded by Sinaloan accordion-led Norteño bands singing narcocorridos.

“Always & Forever” is a stage-play that features Malverde as a prominent character. The play examines various aspects of Mexican-American culture, such as quinceañeras, banda music, and premiered in April 2007 at the Watts Village Theater Company in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. A revival production opened in May 2009 at Casa 0101 Theatre in another Los Angeles neighborhood, Boyle Heights.

A brewery in Guadalajara introduced a new beer, named Malverde, into the Northern Mexico market in late 2007.

A Malverde bust is featured in AMC’s Breaking Bad television series, principally in the episode entitled “Negro Y Azul”. A bust is also featured in one episode of Longmire, “The Cancer”, in season one.

In the 2013 science-fiction novel, The Lord of Opium, the main character, Matteo Alacran is often compared to Malverde. Several shrines in the country of Opium bear a statue of Malverde which were created using El Patrón as a model when he was in his 30s. While the similarities to the old man have gone, many people see them in Matt.

A popular Mexican hip-hop artist performs under the pseudonym Jesús Malverde.

Several important scenes of the telenovela La Reina del Sur take place at his chapel in Culiacán and Malverde’s name is mentioned many times during the show.

On American stoner metal band Red Fang album Murder The Mountains the first track is named Malverde.

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