Lynching has a long, rich history in Mexico. For centuries communities occasionally rose up in spasms of mob violence against priests, tax collectors, and other authority figures. In modern Mexico, lynching has not abated. If anything, it has grown more common.
The linchamiento is part of the Mexico that tourists never see, lying beyond the shimmering hotels of Cancún and the sunny hillsides of Cuernavaca, in benighted towns and pueblos where any justice that does exist is hardly blind. Dozens of linchamientos have taken place in the last few years across Mexico. The state of Morelos, just south of Mexico City, in recent years has become known for them. Residents of one village once took some state police officers hostage, doused them with gasoline, and threatened to burn them. Finally the attorney general came and they took him hostage until the governor relented and came down to talk. In another Morelos town, in 1994, four men accused of robbing a bus were shot, stabbed, kicked, hacked, beaten, stoned, and finally burned. In another town one man was hung from the town basketball rim. In a village in Veracruz in 1996, a crowd grabbed a man suspected of raping and killing a woman, gave him a quick trial, judged him guilty, tied him to a tree, drenched him in gasoline, and burned him to death while someone videotaped it all.
The Mexican lynching is different from its southern-U.S. counterpart, which was a weapon the majority used to oppress a minority. Nor is it similar to the lynchings in the Old West, where there was no law. Rather it is a bellow of rage by the powerless majority against corrupt cops and politicians, protected criminals—against a justice system that people know to be unfair. Lynchings rarely change the cause of community grievances. They are, however, Mexicans’ own clearest statement today on the quality of justice they expect—the horrifying, but not surprising, result of years of perverted justice.