<!--:es-->Mexico destroys ‘Death Saint’ revered by criminals<!--:-->

Mexico destroys ‘Death Saint’ revered by criminals

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico – Officials in Nuevo Laredo have destroyed more than 35 statues dedicated to a “Death Saint” popular with drug traffickers.

The statues, most depicting a robe-covered skeleton resembling the Grim Reaper, lined highways and roads in and around the Mexican city on the border with Texas. One of the statues was located at the base of an international bridge linking Mexico and the U.S.

Soldiers stood guard Wednesday as city workers were seen taking down statues. The effort started before dawn on Tuesday.

A local official who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation from the drug gangs said remnants of the statues will be left at local police stations for owners to reclaim.

The Death Saint is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but has become popular among organized crime figures in Mexico.

Many of the statues were elaborate, marble constructions — some with electric lighting. Devotees often left offerings.

The owner of one statue, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation from police, said he spent $2,000 building his shrine. Mexico is caught in a wave of drug-related violence that has claimed the lives of more than 9,000 people since Dec. 1, 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched a nationwide crackdown on cartels.

Also Wednesday in the port of Lazaro Cardenas, four people were killed and two others were injured in a bar shootout. State prosecutor Miguel Garcia said the shooting was between rival gangs.