When the National Geographic Society unveiled the Gospel of Judas this month—an ancient Christian text that redeems Judas Iscariot by claiming that Jesus had in fact asked the alleged betrayer to rat him out—scholars followed with a predictable media battle over the significance of the revelation: Christian fairy-tale believers, like New Testament scholar Ben Witherington of Kentucky, argued for its irrelevance by discrediting those kooky heretical Gnostics who must have made it up, while Christian party poopers, like New Testament scholar Craig Evans of Nova Scotia, argued that a conversation between Jesus and Judas could have been private enough to have been unknown to the authors of the other Gospels, and hence there is potential historical truth to the story.
Whatever. That's ancient history. What worries me is this: If Judas' status shifts from zero to hero, what happens to my favorite Catholic ritual, the traditional burning of an effigy of Judas in town squares all over Mexico on el Sabado de Gloria, the day before Easter?
Luckily, some savvy folks in Mexico City are way ahead of me. This month, instead of torching Judas, a group of Easter revelers in the country's capital chose to dispose of a giant papier-mché likeness of widely despised Puebla textile mogul José Kamel Nacif Borge. Good idea. Even if Judas maintains his reputation as a sell-out snitch, his treachery is no match for that of the multi-millionaire commonly known as the “denim king.” A target of everyone from labor-rights organizations to the Nevada Gaming Association, Nacif has been accused of a long history of worker exploitation, tax evasion, money laundering, drug dealing, illegal firearms sales and, in his most recent scandal, arranging the arrest of his enemy, courageous journalist Lydia Cacho.
Scandalous tape recordings of Nacif's phoned arrangements, anonymously released to the press, have Mexico in an uproar over elite corruption, the kind of business-as-usual detailed in Cacho's book Demons in Eden, wherein she implicates Nacif as an associate of Jean Succar Kuri, notorious leader of a child-prostitution ring, who's been in jail in the U.S. for two years but was approved by a U.S. district court this month for extradition to Mexico, where he faces charges of child pornography, sexual exploitation and criminal conspiracy.
In her book, Cacho implies that powerful interests have pressured Mexican prosecutors to take the heat off Succar Kuri. The secret tapes reveal that Nacif conspired with Puebla Governor Mario Marin to have Cacho arrested for defamation, a charge for which she still faces trial. Cacho was driven by arresting officers from Cancun-where she operates a shelter that helps victims of sexual violence-to Puebla, a 20-hour drive during which she claims she was threatened and otherwise mistreated.
There are widespread allegations in Mexico that Nacif was also complicit in profiting from the sexual exploitation of children, though he has not been officially charged as a conspirator with Jean Succor Kuri.
Hopefully, by now you're already planning your own Kamel Nacif effigy burning! If you gave up Easter Egg dyeing years ago, this might be a great replacement ritual for you, but please use non-toxic materials. If you don't want to wait until next Easter, you might burn your Nacif effigy on Nov. 5, Britain's Guy Fawkes Day-another crusty ritual that needs some updating with a more despicable effigy.
On the other hand, you might be thinking: Wealthy leaders of industry and government in Mexico kidnapping children and forcing them into sexual slavery and attacking anyone who tries to stop them sounds bad, but what does it have to do with me? A lot, actually. A Reuter's report earlier this month cited an FBI list that named San Diego as one of 14 cities in the U.S. identified as centers for the sexual exploitation of children. You may recall that a San Diego regional task force was formed just last year to combat child-sex trafficking in San Diego in the wake of the sex-fields scandal in which, for more than a decade, the Salazar brothers' crime ring ran a sex-slavery operation that routinely subjected children allegedly as young as 9 years old to rape by paying customers in the thick brush of San Diego's North County. Two of the brothers are now in prison, but the third, Julio, the alleged mastermind of the operation, escaped.
I don't know if the Succor Kuri operation ever reached San Diego, or to what extent the Salazar operation is still functioning, but that isn't the point. The FBI says our beloved “finest city” is still a hotbed of child-sex slavery this glorious spring season. What are we going to do about it?
Maybe it's time we adjust our own Easter rituals-we could roll heads instead of eggs on the White House lawn, for instance, or adopt the Mexican el Sabado de Gloria ritual and burn an effigy of Julio Salazar until he's caught.
At any rate, with Easter candy still half-off at the local Wal-Mart, maybe it's time for more San Diegans to take Jesus' advice and put some of their time, energy or money where their hearts ought to be, and join or support the efforts of local heroes like Sheriff's Deputy Rick Castro and Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition Executive Director Marisa Ugarte, who have devoted their lives to fighting child exploitation in San Diego.
I'm not big on Bible quotes, but in hoping you'll take action, I want to draw a parallel between the unanswered cries of children raped in our strawberry fields for years and years and Jesus' admonition of a rich oppressor for exploiting the poor: “... the cries of those who gather in your crops have reached the ears of God the Almighty.”
On the other hand, if you're like me, and apart from exciting rituals such as dummy burning, you don't give a rat's ass about religion, I encourage you to imagine a future when you'll be able to tell your grandchildren that around the turn of the century, you lived in a town that was one of 14 centers of child-sex slavery in the U.S., and you tried to do something about it.
Write to dakolodenko[at]gmail[dot]com and editor[at]sdcitybeat[dot]com.