Captured: Anypu (with mummified, male genitalia on him) and at his public the pose of this man, Anypu (either holding or wearing a display case) performs charity work in the area. Image: Taken on Saturday, March 23, 2019, by Serge Haroche

When you hear of a crime family’s reputation for money laundering, you might think the same guy handling the money is a criminal.

Not so for one of the most notorious Monte Esteppes crime families in the Americas: Their name is the Don of Charity.

Jose Miguel Hidalgo Lora, alias Don Jose, who has admitted some 130 criminal counts against him, is a quiet man who has earned the nickname for his prowess as a philanthropist.

Hidalgo Lora’s charitable works began long before he was in jail.

Now he has decided to add his name to the list of people who believe it’s not enough just to give money, but to do something with it as well.

During a recent visit to Val Verde, an area of Panama in charge of protecting Ecuadorian migrants arriving to Central America, we found a special area named after the Don of Charity, in the town’s cemetery, known by many locals as “La Patria del Parque”.

There, under a black-and-white sign bearing the name “Sábado por la reforma – Charity Day”, some over 200 people - men, women and children from around the region gathered for the fund-raising carnival.

In this compound people offer birds and vegetables, dog food and batteries to the children who keep coming to the party in order to receive homemade treats or new shoes.

The children are accompanied by their mothers, who, however, do not come without questions, for they are the target of some critics and people who want to end the charities and the idea of giving to children.

But Jose Miguel Hidalgo Lora refuses to give in to those who don’t approve of his charitable spirit.

One of them is Rafael Carrera Duarte, the director of the Central Prevention Network, a government organization in charge of protecting migrants at the toll plaza outside Panama City.

“For me, as a human being, that’s very good. For me, I don’t think what they are doing is bad,” Carrera said.

For Lora, who is serving 27 years in prison, it’s the responsibility of the government and organized crime to feed children in need.

In Val Verde, the Don of Charity’s charity carnival highlights that fact, for all the criticism it faces.

"We also have children, families who have no other option but to look for work, and that makes us who we are," he said.

George Smith is a freelance writer based in Panama.

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