I have yet to read a good investigation into Santa Muerte and the role it plays in Mexican underworld society, as well as how the government perceives it vis a vis drug trafficking. You get plenty of stories quoting Joe Schmoe saying "God doesn't do anything for me so I turned to Santa Muerte" but you don't actually get any real depth to their thinking, which I know they have. You also read about the government arresting people and seizing Santa Muerte statues (until recently, they were not displayed alongside guns and drugs after seizures, now they are); I'd love to hear why exactly the authorities think these statuettes are so dangerous.
In the new National Geographic, Alma Guillermoprieto gives it a go (Link in title of post). I'm a great admirer of her writing, but in recent pieces about Mexico, she's come across a little too much like the exoticist anthropologist for my liking. I get the sense that a lot of the people she's quoting are completely lying to her (as I know many people in Mexico have lied to me in the same way) and giving her nice romanticized quotes that they know will make her happy and leave them alone. For that reason, this piece is perfect for National Geographic, but not much else.
The photo above is of a prisoner in Matamoros who makes Santa Muerte statues. Prison representatives then sell them in the markets in major Tamaulipas cities; prisoners are supposed to get 100 percent of the cash, and can then put the work on their resume. Nice arrangement, if it works like it's supposed to.