Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

At the mercy of the mob: lynching in Mexico

by El Profe for Borderland Beat


Lynchings in Mexico have been increasing consistently over the past twenty years—with a spike in the last six months.

The definition of lynching is “to put to death by mob action without legal approval or permission.” In the context of mob violence in Mexico, lynching can be seen as a crude attempt at moral justice, due to lack of authority present in order to properly prosecute a criminal.

In this sense, it is not a "crime of passion" but rather an attempt to enact order in a community in disarray. 

Lynching or “justice by one’s own hand’’ reflects a society that enables a de-facto authority organized by criminal groups who enforce through violence. Instead of a just application of rule of law, the authority of both criminal groups and mobs is paradoxically exerted through lawless violence.

Though there are no official figures specific to lynching, a February 2018 report conducted by the Belisario Domínguez Insitute states that since 1992 there have been 366 recorded lynchings throughout Mexico, at least 142 of them occurring since the beginning of 2017. They occur mostly in central Mexico: Puebla and the State of Mexico. In the past six months there have been at least 20 lynchings or attempts to lynch in the state of Puebla alone.

It is important to note that lynchings are not exclusive to rural or urban areas, and the communities where they do occur have no "tradition’’ of mob violence or vigilante justice. This indicates that this rate of lynchings are a somewhat newly organized and manifested action.

The sociologist Raúl Rodríguez Guillén, UAM Azcapotzalco, looks at communal violence as a violence of "moral outrage." He states that “it is a desire to restore the principles of harmony, of peaceful groups of individuals aggrieved by the negligence of judges and the Public Ministry, as well as the abuse of local, state and federal police authorities."

Throughout towns and urban neighborhoods, signs are displayed as a warning to those who commit crimes. These signs are placed there by the community residents themselves, not the police. They warn of beatings and lynchings of ''rateros": declarations from a neighborhood watch that exerts a moral group violence, an execution of a communal desire for justice within a society where the authorities do not adequately punish crime.

This sentiment is evident in a recent account occurring on March 17th in San Miguel Canoa, Puebla. Residents decided to “take matters into their own hands” by dousing a man with gasoline and setting him on fire for theft, because police “always set him free despite committing serious crimes for which he is never charged."

According to René Jiménez Ornelas, member of the Institute of Social Investigations of UNAM, "people involved do [not report crimes] because they take justice into their own hands. The authorities, for their part, prefer to leave it like this, in secret, in such a way that not only are cases not recorded, but that they are not reported."

It is this complicity between authorities and residents that allow lynchings to continue and increase.

An article from The New York Times recounts an incident of lynching in Ajalpan, Puebla in which two pollsters were mistaken for someone who had been kidnapping minors. The case is an example of how extreme the distrust is between authorities and residents.

The police attempted to clear the men's names with witness testimony from a girl who had almost been kidnapped, but the mob had already formed. In this instance, the police were present, but for the people of the Ajalpan their presence was meaningless. It was commonly understood that the two men might be arrested, but if so, freed very quickly.

Guillén states, “We believe that the main cause of lynchings is the crisis of authority, expressed by the increase in crime without punishment or with insufficient punishment, or, as a result of corruption or negligence."

This is a large reason for the risings incidents of lynching. There are no proper authorities to prosecute criminals. And if there are, they are severely distrusted because they are not seen as a legitimate authority in many regions. Guillén says, “when lynching an offender, people lynch symbolically to authority."

Lynching occurs when people act out their very frustration with the authorities by violent means, metaphorically declaring that they are not needed nor wanted and, possibly even more strongly, that residents are capable of the very same violence as those who claim authority.

90% of crimes go unpunished in Mexico. An event like lynching reflects this and takes on a sense of a total collapse of all societal regulation—epitomizing a sort of feedback loop of impunity.

The police will not arrest those who carried out the lynching because in order to do so they would have to acknowledge the reason for the lynching to have occurred in the first place: the fact that there were no arrests to begin with, or that they are in fact severely distrusted and considered useless.

In most parts of Mexico, lynching is a crime that can be punished by 40 to 50 years in prison. It can also be interpreted as “localized social violence groups of organized settlers exerting violence against situations or conditions that put at risk the principles of peaceful coexistence."

Lynching, however, is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as "presumption of innocence” of the suspected criminal is not respected.

In her analysis of lynch mob violence, Elisa Godinez concludes that lynchings occur:

 …in the peripheries, both territorial and symbolically, which in addition to being for a long time subjected to intense social, economic and cultural in a permanent situation of joining the legal and the illegal, the formal and the informal, and where there are undeniable conflicts in the management of violence and justice and the mechanisms of mediation have been profoundly changed that contain, negotiate or resolve discontent. It is in this context of permanently aggrieved communities that violence erupts.

The environment in which these events occur is a no man’s land between law and lawlessness. This can be seen when organized crime groups enact their "authority" over a community even though said authority is in itself outside the law. One does not know who to trust or even who the correct authority to deal with is. 

Regions of Mexico are victim to the rising power of cartels exerting their influence over communities in an official and unofficial capacity. They infiltrate entire police agencies up to the federal government itself, extort businesses, and act as the de-facto authority of entire communities and states. Some government agencies are implicated in cases of torture and extrajudicial executions throughout the country and direct collusion with police cartels.

It is this lack of a delineation between the two that creates ambiguity and lawlessness, enabling mob violence to occur and this violence is a reflection of the lack of proper authority to arrest criminals. Where there is a lack of consistent authority, and where one doesn’t even know who the proper authority is, one can only rely on one’s self and community to enact justice.

In his analysis of CJNG's video of the recently abducted (and then executed) SEIDO agents in Nayarit, Jesús Pérez Caballero from the Colegio de la Frontera Norte states that "on the one hand, [the cartel] says they could always have done wrong, and if they stopped themselves from doing wrong, it was in order to follow rules that the uniformed men have broken: [As to say]: 'We are clear that we were always respected as authorities because it was the cartels' decision, not because they could not do us harm.'"

It is in this analysis that a much larger crisis of authority occurs. The cartels seem to exert their authority whenever they please and only exercise constraint if the official authorities follow ''the rules" the cartels establish. Once these rules are broken, the cartels exercise their power such as the execution of the agents. This can be viewed as a recreation of order from the perspective of the cartel. A rule was broken and now they must ''fix it."

Propaganda-like videos as well as narcomantas in towns and cities serve the purpose of exerting control and authority through fear and violence; to reclaim a sense of order of the territory. It is this dubiousness of authority, this ''no man's land'' that creates the conditions for mob violence.

In essence, the brutal ''justice'' carried out by the CJNG and other horrific violent acts can be seen as the same type of mob justice that occurs in lynch mobs: to exert control and authority within a town or region of the country, a contradictory attempt to piece together a chaotic society lacking authority through violence.


Rodríguez Guillén, R. (2012):“Crisis de autoridad y violencia social: los linchamientos en
México” Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Unidad Iztapalapa Distrito Federal, México. Retrieved from

Aguirre Quezada, Juan Pablo. Instituto Belisario Domínguez (2018). Linchamientos en México. Cuaderno de Investigación Núm. 39. Dirección General de Análisis Legislativo. retrieved from: Retrieved from

Sáinz, Luis Carlos "Los mensajes del narco" Proceso 26 February 2018

García, Emelda. "Mexico: Tierra de linchamientos" Reporte Indigo 14 March 2018

Godínez, Elisa. "Los linchamientos en México: más...escándalo" Horizontal 26 October 2015

Ávila Pérez, Edgar. "Linchan y queman a hombre..." El Universal 3 March 2018

Flores, Claudia. "Linchamiento en México, crimen al alza" El Universal 10 February 2018

Ahmed, Azam. "As Frustrations With...So Do Lynchings" NY Times 23 January 2016


  1. So....whats wrong with people taking the law into their own hands when the police are just as guilty as the criminals? Any address where i can send a box of knives? This should be the NORM.

    1. 11.23pm in theory I agree with you but what happens when the person accused is innocent? If they're caught red handed I can understand the lynching and almost agree with it where the police do nothing. There was a guy near us, a teacher, falsely accused (later proven 100% to be a malicious accusation) of sexually attacking a student. The local paper released his name, which is usually illegal here until trial but he had so much hate mail, violence in the run up to trial that by the time he was cleared on all charges (the girl confessed on the stand if I remember rightly). He killed himself a few days later leaving a note saying his life would never be the same, he left a young wife and two very young children. Another accused of being one of the James Bulger killers (mistaken identity) went on TV to prove he wasn't the killer and again killed himself.

    2. @4:56
      You make a valid point.
      Does it make it right to take the law in ones hands? If so? At what cost? This barbaric behavior will not make one any better than these accused individuals?
      Laws of justice were implemented for social stability / structure.
      Chaos and the destabilization of a country will only be encouraged here.
      I am aware of the frustrations from many. Where lack of enforcement and inept government practices have been addressed.

      Nice article B.B.

    3. Internet warriors show so much heart behind the screen. Cowards. Quick to talk last to jump.

    4. I am in complete support of communal justice but only when the perpetrator is caught in the act. Let's also remember the fact that these generally occur in places where the rule of law has been corrupted in one way or another. I take it as a good sign, it shows these people care about the wellbeing of there community, I just wish I would see more communal action against the violent cartels.

    5. Anyone can agitate and get innocent people murdered by gossip alone.
      There should be at least popular courts where trials are held, at least one week after capturing the accused, but after somebody has been lynched, his crimes should be investigated and many ohotos taken to remind his killers of what they did.

  2. good lord, what a country :( no better than africa

    1. You obviously don't know what happens in the continent of Africa.

    2. I doubt you know either

  3. You mean Guatemala

  4. Lyching happens more in Guatemala, there was a teenage female 19 yrs old, on phone video, caught stealing from a home,acomplice got away, she was doused with gasoline and set afire.

    1. I heard she was actually innocent. Supposedly facts came out afterwards. It’s really hard to know. If someone is intent on running a smear campaign against you that’s just a set up waiting to happen. - Sol Prendido

  5. I mean any country below Chiapas........

  6. @El Profe That's One hell of an informative artical Good Work man.
    I appreciate the work You put into it.
    Booked for sure, Thank You.

  7. This is why CJNG gets support from communities when they cut off some ratero’s hands and dump him on the street

  8. Lynchings are motivated by the desire to restore justice but actually lead to more instability and injustice as people take the law into their own hands and the fabric of civil society unravels.

    1. @9:45 yes and no. I commented on another post how I fully support communal justice when the peretrator is caught in the act. If that is the case it won't lead to the unraveling of society, but when done on a rumore it will. (For example, if a rapist is caught in the act I have no problem with the people handling it, but if someone is accused of rape they must use a judicial system.) One question, if someone lived in a place where the justice system was corrupted, and had no recourse to right the wrong "legally", what are they to do? (I will argue civil society has already collapsed, and its a good thing that these people are taking an active role in looking out for their community's wellbeing, since noone else will.)

    2. @5:17 Very well thought out. You are a good thinker and we need more of your comments.

    3. Many people have been WRONGLY "caught in the act" and executed, sometimes accused by the real perps.
      Justice is not to be left to the mob even in theory because even the wise men of justice fact up too often.

  9. If the institutions of the state fail you, what alternative is there? Worse yet, if the institutions of the state are actually accessories and perpetrators of injustice, what are the people to do? Easy for us to judge it, but it is really not a mystery as to why it happens. The high minded say it is barbaric, but what alternative is there?

  10. I posted some comments on lynching that I put serious thought and effort yesterday. My comments mostly had to do with the people who are the witnesses and active actors in the lynchings. In essence, I think that calling those people at lynchings a "mob" indulging in witnessing, extra-legal acts like taunting and torture and homicide is a bit misleading. Not everyone at lynchings is necessarily participating.... some are appalled and mesmerized .... and some even seem to enjoy the spectacle. Blaa, blaa.

    My original post did not appear. I am not offended, just puzzled?

  11. 8:40 no se hagan tanto la puñeta, this happened in mexico, in central mexico, San Miguel Canoa and Pueblo state in named too.

  12. The movie "CANOA" about some lynchings inspired by a Catholic priest in the late 60s in San Miguel Canoa when the government and the church had everybody scared of a communism they themselves supported behind the courtains, was behind the psychosis that led to that tragedy.
    You still can watch the movie on youtube...

  13. If caught in the act dale gas cortale el chorizo if he's raping or his head..if he stealing la mata..matalo.. si vende drogas take them away let the cartels cut his head for loosing them.. but shit all good in my book with the lynchings

  14. Still Aztecs . Thanks Spain.

    1. 8:15 you are still a pendejo,
      go to Spain


Comments are moderated, refer to policy for more information.
Envía fotos, vídeos, notas, enlaces o información
Todo 100% Anónimo;