Mexico has heard of El Yunque for decades but has never been able to put a name or face on him. Some have dared to raise the accusatory index finger and assure that such a person is a member of the ultra-conservative and violent religious sect that has spread its tentacles in the politics of Latin America and Spain, in the case of the PAN in Mexico or Vox, in Spain . . But not even on their deathbeds do those who took part dare to confess it. Only a few voices admit to having been involved. The secrecy is mainly based on a promise made under torture that they make when entering: the topic will never be discussed publicly. People close to and belonging to the Mexican sect tell EL PAÍS how the process of joining went, the training to become a shock group and the social networks that supported the development in the shadow of this organization whose power has been declining in recent years.
Diego Gil joined El Yunque in 2002 when he was just 11 years old. This is not his real name, which he prefers to keep secret, but the pseudonym given to him in the organization for “security reasons”. He, he says in an interview with this newspaper, was recruited when he was in the Boy Scouts, where members of the sect operated. They were approaching their 50th anniversary – it was founded in Puebla in 1953 – and wanted to double the number of members. Their first step was to enter something they called “La Pre”: a sort of secret organizational sim where, if they did well, they could enter El Yunque. “There they beat me, where they taught me to use a gun, where they taught me to torture,” he says.
Gil spent eight years in the secret organization, half of it in the “radical branch” of a cult with already ultra-conservative and right-wing values. “After eight years, I came to the conclusion that what they are doing to you is abusing your mind. They turn you into a war machine. I was a war machine that could do anything in the name of Christ. I’ve done terrible things. When you go out, you discover that you are a victim and you discover yourself as an abused person because that’s what we are organically [como le llaman a los militantes]”We are people being abused by a perverted institution,” he says in a video call conversation.
The purpose of the anvil is “to impose upon society by any means the lordship of Christ.” In return, they convey to them that the entire organization rests on three pillars: originality, they must give their lives for Christ; reserved, they cannot speak publicly about the organization; and discipline to lead a structured life and engage in physical training. “Some of us learned to handle the Filipino sticks, others handled the chaos very well in other times to meet communists,” says Gil.
To enter El Yunque, he had to pass a three-day initiation course, which consisted of some kind of ritual that dates back to the 19th century. “It’s a course where they kidnap you, send you somewhere, beat you up, don’t let you sleep, you don’t eat, you don’t drink water. Suddenly they point the gun at your forehead and pretend to be enemies of the organization,” recalls the former cult member.
Once inside, they were called “battle warrior monks.” Orders Gil received over the years of his tenure have included physical confrontation with Freemasons and members of Opus Dei, infiltrating state and federal congresses to attack various groups, or attacking those identified as “enemies”. were valid, like gays, socialists or organizations for abortion. “It never bothered me that they asked to kill or torture people. But at other times such things happened. The man recalls that much of their work was intelligence work. They followed people, went to events to take photos, recorded meetings, and reported who spy targets were dealing with.
After four years inside, they forced him to join the “radical branch” of El Yunque: the Crusaders of Christ the King, a religious organization of diocesan right recognized by the Vatican, which was also present in Spain and continues to be active in Mexico . . There, Gil prepared to become a priest while working for El Yunque until 2010. “We were criminals,” he recalls, “a lot of the acts of violence and sabotage I had to commit I did as a crusader, we hung up our cassocks, we went to Congress to file a lawsuit, and then they forgot that we were religious.”
Gil became Secretary of the Interior, a middle position in the sect’s internal structure. He took care of secret information, was responsible for some of the teachings given, and organized the initiation ceremonies. The admissions process included, for example, checks on the would-be member’s naked body to certify that he was not an “infiltrated Jew.” The ceremony was a secret event to which they took the novices blindfolded, made them pray the rosary and uttered a series of threats: “You walked in and they said to you, ‘Welcome to the grounds of brotherhood and struggle. If you wanted to betray us, it would be better if you hadn’t met us.
Gil’s last year at El Yunque was the most difficult. Several things made noise and his questions to superiors had earned him severe penalties. “One day I couldn’t take it anymore, packed my bags and left.” Despite all the physical abuse he has endured, he claims the psychological abuse was the worst. Since then, she has been able to rebuild her life, but she found it difficult to put those eight years behind her. “When you leave a secret organization you have no one to turn to because you can’t go to your neighbor and say, ‘Hey, I just got out of a radical secret organization that taught me to torture. Help me,” he recalls. “You are alone in the world.”
El Yunque, in the shadow of power
The Mexican sect operated in the shadows for decades, but many were aware of its existence and activities and supported it. In addition to dozens of civil associations they founded as fronts to oppose abortion, feminism or LGBT rights, they had made room in universities, business associations and political parties. El Yunque’s ranks included soldiers, professors, businessmen, bishops and journalists, according to reports from several people close to the organization.
On the political stage, they focused primarily on the National Action Party (PAN), where a fringe of the sect currently operated. Within the party, they promoted various candidates across the country for decades. They even got national presidents of the PAN. The time they enjoyed more power was during Vicente Fox’s presidency, when they had members in the cabinet. The most notorious case is then-Home Secretary Carlos Abascal, whom both Gil and other party circles who prefer to remain anonymous describe as an organic member.
Then, between 2006 and 2012, they managed to infiltrate the governments of three states: Morelos, Guanajuato and Jalisco, according to multiple sources. But since El Yunque members do not publicly acknowledge their membership in the group, it has been difficult, even for PAN leaders, to distinguish them within the party.
Gil calculates that there were about 10,000 passive members at the time, as those who had already left the military were called. Most of the militants were children of other members who were in the ranks. But for these years, El Yunque’s presence and power has been on the wane. Today’s young people “can’t wait long,” Gil says, because unlike other times, “there’s more access to information to question what’s wrong.” PAN sources have explained that the sect has also withdrawn within the party after losing the 2012 and 2018 presidential elections and turning into the opposition.
The cult exposed
The researcher Luis Ángel Hurtado Razo, from the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), specializing in secret societies, points out that this far-right group, since it became known thanks to journalistic works, is not of a clandestine militancy shaped. “El Yunque has become a more open and high-profile group that is in power through civil society associations,” he says in an interview. That right-wing extremism is now “well seen by the industry and that can be translated into political support”. Some of the organizations that acted as fronts, like the Pro-Life Association or the National Front for the Family, are still very active today.
For Julián Cruzalta, UNAM’s UNESCO Chair in Human Rights and a member of Iglesias por la Paz, El Yunque has not disappeared, it has changed. The image they are now conveying, says Cruzalta, is that of a modern young person with a high academic level, fitting into various institutions and associations. “Today they are more pragmatic. This image of formal people no longer applies, you only recognize them in the language.” However, the rhetoric still appeals to the usual, he says: the fight against abortion and equal marriage and the defense of traditional family values.
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