Venezuelan Bone Thugs-N-Burglary

In Venezuela, Even Death May Not Bring Peace
Simon Romero, New York Times (December 10, 2009)

Caracas, Venezuela, has long had a bad reputation when it comes to crime: murder, robbery and kidnapping are commonplace ills, as well as crooked cops who cover things up. Criminals are increasingly targeting a new pool of victims — the dead — immune to murder but not kidnapping and assault.

Vandalized coffins are strewn in front of the mausoleum of Joaquin Crespo, a Venezuelan dictator, in the Cemetery of the South in Caracas, Venezuela. (Meridith Kohut for The New York Times)

Tombs are shattered and graves dug up not for treasures buried with the bodies or even for scrap metal, but for the bones themselves, which are used in rituals for Palo, a Cuban religion. The bones are said to have ancestral energy; the more important the deceased, the more powerful the bones and, presumably, the more effective the ceremony.

Skulls fetch $2000, while femurs get about $450. Meanwhile, police demand bribes from journalists wishing to cover the story and told a grieving man that it’s illegal to close his own parents’ grave (never mind opening it in the first place). Inside it, the man’s mother’s skull had been stolen; underneath her was his father, still intact and susceptible to ransack, which the man hoped to prevent by repairing the tomb.

Check out the Times video for more about Palo and the bone thievery. One palero, or Palo practitioner, claims they “do not get the bones the way people think” but gives no insight into how they do. The guy seems a bit shady, but I still gotta wonder — is Palo alone the reason for this black market of human bones? If not… what the heck is going on?

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