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Lynching and the Politics of State Formation in Post-Revolutionary Puebla (1930s–50s)



A number of scholars have analysed lynching in Latin America as a response to the recent upsurge in insecurity and crime in the region. This article turns our attention to historical and deeper socio-political undercurrents behind this practice. Drawing on several cases of lynching that took place in post-revolutionary Puebla, the article argues that, rather than signalling state absence, the occurrence of lynching expressed communities’ reactions towards a state presence that was perceived as intrusive and illegitimate. It furthermore shows that lynchings emulated the brutality and visibility of extralegal forms of violence perpetrated by public officials at the local level.

Diversos académicos han analizado al linchamiento en América Latina como una respuesta al repunte de la inseguridad y del crimen en la región. Este artículo destaca corrientes históricas subterráneas más profundas detrás de tal práctica. Apoyándose en varios casos que tuvieron lugar en la Puebla post-revolucionaria, el artículo señala que en vez de una ausencia del Estado, los linchamientos expresaron reacciones de las comunidades a una presencia estatal que fue percibida como intrusa e ilegítima. Indica asimismo que los linchamientos emularon la brutalidad y visibilidad de formas de violencia extralegal perpetradas por funcionarios públicos a nivel local.

Segundo acadêmicos, linchamentos na América Latina são a resposta ao recente aumento da insegurança e do crime na região. Este artigo foca em aspectos históricos e sócio-políticos por trás desta prática. Baseando-se em múltiplos casos de linchamento ocorridos em Puebla pós-revolução, argumentamos que, ao invés de sinalizar uma ausência do Estado, a ocorrência de linchamentos expressou uma reação contra uma presença de Estado que era entendida como intrusiva e ilegítima. Além disso mostramos que linchamentos emularam a brutalidade e visibilidade de formas extralegais de violência perpetradas por oficiais públicos a nível local.



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I would like to thank the JLAS's anonymous reviewers, as well as Pablo Piccato, Federico Finchelstein, Jeremy Varon and Andrew Kloppe for providing valuable comments on previous versions of this article. A Charles A. Hale Fellowship from the Latin American Studies Association, a Women in the Humanities Fellowship from the Mexican Academy of Sciences and a Visiting Fellowship at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame, supported research for this article.



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1 Letter to President Lázaro Cárdenas signed by Albina Hernández and Francisca García, Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), Documentación de la Administración Pública (DAP), Serie Asesinatos, Caja 52, 2/012.2 (18) 113/2, exp. 39.

2 Elected by villagers, the agrarian commissioner oversaw the use of communal lands and presided over the agrarian commission. The latter institution had its origins in the 1917 Mexican Constitution and the new Agrarian Law, both of which recognised villagers’ rights to collectively owned land as well as to reclaim properties that had been taking away from them in prior periods. See: Nuitjen, Monique, ‘Agrarian Reform and the Ejido in Mexico: Illegality within the Framework of the Law’, Law and Anthropology, 9 (1997), pp. 72104.

3 Tecamachalco had a strong presence of agraristas, revolutionary peasants who supported agrarian reform. These agraristas organised popular mobilisations to gain access to lands that had traditionally belonged to large Puebla landowners. The accusation made against Simón García and the strong reaction it generated can be placed within this historical context. For more on Tecamachalco, see: Vaughan, Mary Kay, Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930–1940 (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1997), pp. 77100.

4 This article is based on the examination of a total of 93 cases of lynching that took place during the 1930s and up to the 1950s in the state of Puebla, as well as more than a dozen cases in other states, including Querétaro, Estado de México, Veracruz and Mexico City. Archival materials are from the AGN. These include telegrams, security reports and letters found in the following collections: DAP, Ramo Presidentes and the Dirección General de Investigaciones Políticas y Sociales (DGIPS). Periodical sources consulted include major Puebla newspaper La Opinión and, when relevant, national newspapers Excélsior, La Prensa and El Porvenir.

5 The fact that perpetrators of lynching perform this practice in visible public spaces reiterates the fact that, in their eyes, this practice constitutes not a crime, but an expression of justice. See: de la Roche, Roberta Senechal, ‘Collective Violence as Social Control’, Sociological Forum, 11: 1 (1996), pp. 97128.

6 Huggins, Martha K., Vigilantism and the State in Modern Latin America: Essays on Extralegal Violence (New York: Praeger, 1991), p. 4.

7 This echoes David Garland's observation about lynching in the United States as a collective performance ‘that was standardized, sequenced, and dramatic’: Garland, David, ‘Penal Excess and Surplus Meaning: Public Torture Lynchings in Twentieth-Century America’, Law and Society Review, 39: 4 (2005), p. 807. In contemporary Mexico, lynchings involving a greater number of perpetrators seem to involve a greater level of ritualisation. Antonio Fuentes Díaz, ‘Violencia y Estado, mediación y respuesta no estatal (estudio comparativo sobre linchamientos en México y Guatemala)’, unpubl. PhD diss., Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2008, pp. 114–15.

8 Incidentally, this ringing of church bells echoes the organisation of riots and rural rebellions in nineteenth-century Mexico. Young, Eric Van, The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810–1821 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 484. In present-day Mexico lynchers use – in addition to church bells – other devices to summon people, such as loudspeakers and local radio stations. See: Quinones, Sam, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, The Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2007).

9 Although this article focuses mainly on cases of lynchings perpetrated against public officials, evidence collected by the author suggests lynch mobs also targeted witches, communists, Protestants and criminals – from rapists to murderers and kidnappers – as well as people who, like Simón García, were wrongly accused.

10 This article centres on the ways in which people's objections to aspects of Mexico's process of state formation after the 1910 Revolution were expressed in lynchings. Some of the changes introduced by the post-revolutionary state, together with the resistance these changes generated – including secularisation campaigns and other modernisation projects – can be traced back to the nineteenth century. For more on state formation during the nineteenth century at the national level and in Puebla in particular see: Thomson, Guy P. C. and LaFrance, David G., Patriotism, Politics, and Popular Liberalism in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: Juan Francisco Lucas and the Puebla Sierra (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999); Eric Van Young, The Other Rebellion; Mallon, Florencia, Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995).

11 Weber, Max, ‘Politics as Vocation’, in Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. Wright (eds.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), pp. 77128; Loveman, Mara, ‘The Modern State and the Primitive Accumulation of Symbolic Power’, American Journal of Sociology, 110: 6 (2005), pp. 1651–83.

12 Ibid.

13 See: Vaughan, Cultural Politics in Revolution; Joseph, Gilbert M. and Nugent, Daniel (eds.), Everyday Forms of State Formation. Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994); Pansters, Wil, ‘Zones of State-Making: Violence, Coercion, and Hegemony in Twentieth-Century Mexico’, in Pansters, Wil (ed.), Violence, Coercion, and State-Making in Twentieth-Century Mexico (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), pp. 339; Nugent, David, ‘Conclusion: Reflections on State Theory through the Lens of the Mexican Military’, in Fallaw, Ben and Rugeley, Terry (eds.), Forced Marches: Soldiers and Military Caciques in Modern Mexico (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012), pp. 241–2.

14 Pansters, ‘Zones of State-Making’, pp. 27–8.

15 For the case of Puebla, see: Quintana, Alejandro, Maximino Ávila Camacho and the One-Party State (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010), p. 6; for further examples, see: Paul Gillingham, ‘Who Killed Crispín Aguilar? Violence and Order in the Post-Revolutionary Countryside’, in Pansters (ed.), Violence, Coercion, and State-Making, pp. 100–2; Alan Knight, ‘Narco-Violence and the State in Modern Mexico’, in Pansters (ed.), Violence, Coercion, and State-Making, pp. 121–2; Rath, Thomas, Myths of Demilitarization in Postrevolutionary Mexico, 1920–1960, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013), pp. 106–9.

16 A recent body of literature has called into question the characterisation of this period by pointing at the repressive and contested nature of the PRI's rule during these years. See: Gillingham, Paul, ‘Maximino's Bulls: Popular Protest after the Mexican Revolution 1940–1952’, Past and Present, 206: 1 (2010), pp. 175211; Padilla, Tanalís, Rural Resistance in the Land of Zapata: The Jaramillista Movement and the Myth of the Pax Priísta, 1940–1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), pp. 79; Rath, Myths of Demilitarization; Gillingham, Paul and Smith, Benjamin (eds.), Dictablanda: Politics, Work, and Culture in Mexico, 1938–1968 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

17 Puebla's political elites were highly divided and the state was subject to constant conflicts between conservative and revolutionary factions. Between 1911 and 1933, for instance, the state had a total of 27 governors, none of whom was able to complete their period in office. See: Quintana, Maximino Ávila Camacho; Pansters, Wil, Política y poder en Puebla. Formación y ocaso del cacicazgo avilacamachista, 1927–1987 (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1998).

18 The term ‘cacicazgo avilacamachista’ refers to the political network built by the Ávila Camacho family in the state of Puebla and at the national level: ibid., p. 117. See also Quintana, Maximino Ávila Camacho.

19 For this argument, see: Pansters, Política y poder en Puebla, p. 125; Quintana, Maximino Ávila Camacho, pp. 84–5; Rath, Myths of Demilitarization, pp. 107–8.

20 Weber, ‘Politics as Vocation’.

21 Taking Western Europe as their site of analysis, both Elias and Foucault identify a decline in public and physical forms of torment as part of the modernisation process. See Elias, Norbert, ‘On Transformations of Aggressiveness’, Theory and Society, 5: 2 (1978), pp. 229–42; Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1977).

22 Although it goes beyond the scope of this article, it is worth mentioning that this puzzle becomes even more acute if we take into consideration the documented increase in the incidence and legitimacy of this practice over the last 40 years, a period coinciding with the country's alleged process of democratisation. See: Guillén, Raúl Rodríguez and Veloz Ávila, Norma Ilse, ‘Linchamientos en México: Recuento de un periodo largo (1988–2014)’, El Cotidiano, 187 (2014), pp. 51–8; Schedler, Andreas, Ciudadanía y violencia organizada en México, vol. 2 (Mexico City: Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica, 2014), available at, last access 1 Nov. 2018; Zizumbo-Colunga, Daniel, ‘Explaining Support for Vigilante Justice in Mexico’, AmericasBarometer Insights, 39 (2010), available at, last access 1 Nov. 2018.

23 Vaughan, Cultural Politics in Revolution.

24 Knight, Alan, ‘The Weight of the State in Modern Mexico’, in Dunkerley, James (ed.) Studies in the Formation of the Nation State in Latin America (London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2002), pp. 212–53; Vaughan, Cultural Politics in Revolution.

25 For instance, communities of the Sierra Norte of Puebla upheld a strong sense of local autonomy and Catholic identification during the nineteenth century liberal uprisings and the 1910 Mexican Revolution. During the second half of the 1930s, these same communities took centre stage in the violent reactions organised against secularisation campaigns and public schooling programmes promoted by the central government. Brewster, Keith, Militarism, Ethnicity and Politics in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, 1917–1930 (Tucson, AZ: Arizona University Press, 2003), p. 35; Bazant, Jan, ‘La Iglesia, el Estado y la sublevación conservadora de Puebla en 1856’, Historia Mexicana, 35:1 (1985), pp. 93109; Mallon, Peasant and Nation, pp. 24–5; Vaughan, Cultural Politics in Revolution (particularly chapter 5).

26 Pansters, Política y poder, pp. 112–13; see also: Paxman, Andrew, Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 224–33.

27 This was particularly true in the case of lynchings against socialist teachers as well as in that of ‘quasi-lynchings’ against the agraristas or peasants who were in favour of agrarian reform.

28 Although communities were not homogeneous entities, lynching did reflect communities’ dominant understanding of what were legitimate or illegitimate conducts. This is not unlike the eighteenth-century riots described by E. P. Thompson, which reflected a ‘popular consensus’ as to the acceptability of certain economic practices. See: Thompson, E. P., ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, 50 (1971), pp. 76136.

29 ‘En Cholula iban a ser linchados dos ingenieros por el populacho enfurecido’, La Opinión, 26 Sept. 1931.

30 Mallon, Peasant and Nation, pp. 93–6.

31 For examples of collective forms of resistance towards the liberal reforms, see: Vanderwood, Paul, The Power of God against the Guns of Government: Religious Upheaval in Mexico at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998); Tutino, John, ‘Agrarian Social Change and Peasant Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: The Example of Chalco’, in Katz, Friedrich (ed.), Riot, Rebellion and Revolution: Rural Social Conflict in Mexico (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 95140.

32 Bazant, ‘La iglesia, el Estado y la sublevación conservadora’, pp. 101–3.

33 Van Young, The Other Rebellion, p. 484.

34 Not all lynchings preceded by the ringing of church bells were of religious nature. Nonetheless, one could argue that inasmuch as churches stood as a symbol of communal life, their use signalled the communal character of a lynching. For instance, church bells were also rung during the lynching of five university workers in the town of San Miguel Canoa, Puebla, on 14 Sept. 1968. The five were wrongly accused of being communist students. See: Meaney, Guillermina, Canoa: El crimen impune (Puebla: Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, 2000).

35 Salinas, Salvador, ‘Untangling Mexico's Noodle: El Tallarín and the Revival of Zapatismo in Morelos, 1934–1938’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 46: 3 (2014), pp. 492–3.

36 Implemented by the federal government during the 1930s, the socialist education reforms were aimed at modernising local communities as well as at undermining the influence of the Catholic church. They were officially introduced in December of 1934 through Article 3 of the Constitution, which stated that public education would be socialist and oriented towards fighting religious fanaticism and prejudice.

37 Raby, David L., Educación y revolución social en México (Mexico City: Secretaría de Educación Pública, 1974), p. 188.

38 ‘Dos detenidos en la iglesia de Santa María’, Excélsior, 13 Nov. 1935.

39 ‘Fue clausurada una escuela en Amozoc, Puebla’, Excélsior, 2 Oct. 1935.

40 ‘Mayor Hanged in Mexico’, New York Times, 2 June 1935.

41 ‘Fue detenido un Sr. Presbítero’, La Opinión, 2 July 1936.

42 ‘Fue asaltado un maestro rural cerca de Chilchotla’, La Opinión, 11 July 1936.

43 Ibid.

44 Fallaw, Ben, Religion and State Formation in Postrevolutionary Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), pp. 24.

45 Resistance to the socialist education reforms was not homogeneous and teachers’ anticlericalism differed from region to region. According to David Raby, violence against teachers was more pronounced in Puebla, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Michoacán and Veracruz. See: Raby, Educación y revolución social, p. 191. For a detailed analysis of the differentiated responses to the socialist education reforms in Puebla and Sonora, see: Vaughan, Cultural Politics in Revolution.

46 ‘Todos los maestros rurales están condenados a muerte en la Sierra Norte’, La Opinión, 20 July 1936.

47 ‘El linchamiento, táctica de lucha de los fanáticos’, El Nacional, 7 Jan. 1935.

48 See: Fallaw, Religion and State Formation, p. 6. In Puebla, some of the better-known vigilante leaders included Clemente Mendoza, Odilón Vega (alias ‘El Desorejador de Maestros’, or ‘The Remover of Teachers’ Ears’), Leodegario Cortés (on whom see further note 54), Julio Mondragón and Enrique Rodríguez, alias ‘El Tallarín’.

49 ‘Otros asesinatos de la banda que manda el criminal Tallarín cometidos anteayer’, La Opinión, 2 March 1938.

50 ‘Se protesta enérgicamente por el asesinato del compañero Prof. José Ramírez Martínez, Maestro del Estado de Puebla’, Letter to the president signed by Jesús Ceja, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 55, 2/012.2 (18), exp. 30.

51 ‘El Tallarín’ was one of the most influential insurgents to participate in the ‘Second Cristiada’ or ‘Second Cristero War.’ The latter was an armed uprising that took place during the second half of the 1930s and that, similar to the Cristero War, was driven by local politics, religious issues and land conflicts. See: Salinas, ‘Untangling Mexico's Noodle’, p. 475.

52 Ceja transcribed a telegram sent by Maximino to the President and included it in his petition. See also: ‘Informando sobre el atentado en que perdieron la vida el Profesor Rural Federal y los Regidores del Ayto. de Tochimilco’, Letter to the minister of the interior signed by Maximino Ávila Camacho, 25 March 1938, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 55, 2/012.2 (18), exp. 30.

53 Pansters, Política y poder en Puebla, pp. 140–1.

54 For instance, Maximino granted a safe passage and permission to bear arms to Leodegario Cortés, a well-known segundero (insurgent in the Second Cristiada) under the command of ‘El Tallarín’ who was responsible for harassing various teachers: ‘Que el C. Leodegario Cortés, debe presentarse a éste Gobierno a efecto de que le sea entregado el Salvo-Conducto que solicita’, Letter to Secretario de Gobernación signed by Maximino Ávila Camacho, 14 June 1938, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 54, 2/012.2 (18) 16739.

55 A case in point was Maximino's mother. A fervent Catholic, she supported the activities of Clemente Mendoza, a segundero who operated in the town of Teziutlán, in the Sierra Norte. Arrazola Cermeño, Jorge Efrén, La oscura sombra del cardenismo: Origen y formación del poder político en Puebla (Puebla: H. Congreso del Estado de Puebla, 2010), p. 96.

56 Pierce, Gretchen, ‘Parades, Epistles, and Prohibitive Legislation: Mexico's National Anti-Alcohol Campaign and the Process of State-Building, 1934–1940’, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 23: 2 (2009), pp. 151–80.

57 ‘En Nopalucan se iban a registrar los mismos sucesos que en Quimixtlan’, La Opinión, 24 Aug. 1939.

58 The closing down of illicit pulque distilleries prompted similar reactions in Mexico City. See: ‘Dos gendarmes iban a morir linchados’, El Nacional, 31 July 1934.

59 ‘Seis personas iban a ser fusiladas sin formación de causa en Tehuiloyocan’, La Opinión, 24 Sept. 1930.

60 ‘Gendarme víctima de brutal atentado por una horda de desalmados en el barrio de S. Matías’, La Opinión, 27 Sept. 1937. Pablo Piccato narrates similar incidents organised by Mexico City residents against policemen. See: Piccato, Pablo, City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1931 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), pp. 44–5.

61 ‘Comandante policíaco sufre una paliza’, La Opinión, 4 Aug. 1942.

62 Thomas Rath, ‘Camouflaging the State: The Army and the Limits of Hegemony in PRIísta Mexico, 1940–1960’, in Gillingham and Smith (eds.), Dictablanda, pp. 100–3.

63 For an earlier case involving the attempted lynching of a soldier who was saved by the authorities only to then be executed in a staged version of ley fuga – which refers to the extralegal killing of a suspected criminal by state officials upon his alleged attempt to escape the law – see: Vanderwood, Paul, Juan Soldado: Rapist, Murderer, Martyr, Saint (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).

64 ‘Soldados a punto de ser linchados ayer’, La Opinión, 20 July 1939.

65 ‘Dos miembros del ejército fueron asesinados’, La Opinión, 1 Dec. 1936.

66 See: Rath, Myths of Demilitarization, pp. 115–43. The colonel was Salvador Martínez Cairo, who was known for using repressive tactics – including extortion and extralegal killings – against dissenters in Puebla.

67 Rath, Thomas, ‘Que el cielo un soldado en cada hijo te dio …: Conscription, Recalcitrance and Resistance in Mexico in the 1940s’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 37: 3 (2005), pp. 507–31.

68 Similar episodes of armed resistance were reported in the states of Morelos and Zacatecas. See: García, Mauricio Cruz, ‘Gobierno y movimientos sociales mexicanos ante la segunda guerra mundial’, Foro Internacional, 51: 3 (2011), pp. 458504.

69 Letter to the governor of Oaxaca signed by Ezequiel Navarro on behalf of the Comité Regional Campesino Tuxtepec, AGN, Ramo Presidentes, Manuel Ávila Camacho, exp. 545.2/14–19.

70 See, for instance, letter to the president from Luisa García, mother of Epigmenio Avendano, ibid.

71 ‘Brigada anti-aftosa iba a ser linchada’, La Opinión, 12 Aug. 1949.

72 The same year, an American health inspector was lynched in Temascalcingo, Estado de México. The doctor was part of the Mexican–American Commission for the Eradication of Foot-and-Mouth Disease. See: ‘Robert L. Proctor, Inspector de la Comisión México-Americana Contra la Aftosa, asesinado de forma salvaje’, El Porvenir, 3 Feb. 1949.

73 Archivo Central de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Federación, Primera Sala, Quinta Época, Amparo Directo, José Guadalupe López, exp. 531/51.

74 ‘La señora Candelaria Osorio se queja de que fue asesinado su hijo’, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 51, 2/012.2 (18) 53. The Defensas Sociales were paramilitary groups trained by the army. Created after the 1910 Mexican Revolution in order to defend villages against crime and banditry, they were, nonetheless, utilised by landowners and local caciques in order to advance their own interests. See: Knight, Alan, ‘Habitus and Homicide: Political Culture in Revolutionary Mexico’, in Pansters, Wil (ed.), Citizens of the Pyramid. Essays on Mexican Political Culture (Amsterdam: Thela, 1997), pp. 107–30; Pansters, Política y poder en Puebla, p. 112.

75 For more on Barbosa and his abusive practices, see letter to the Secretary of the Interior, signed by Rafael Ponce de León and Antonio Mayés Navarro, 12 Dec. 1934, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 51, 2/012.2 (18) 114.

76 Letter to the president, signed by José F. Hernández (president of the agrarian commission), 10 April 1935, AGN, DAP, Serie Quejas, Caja 139, 2.012.8 (18) 100, exp. 37.

77 Gómez Carpinteiro, Francisco Javier, ‘La modernidad contendida. Estado, comunidades rurales y capitalismo en la posrevolución’, Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, 21: 1 (2005), pp. 127–9; Rath, Myths of Demilitarization, p. 130; Pansters, Política y poder en Puebla, pp. 120–30.

78 Letter to the president, signed by Teodora Morales, 21 July 1942, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 50, 2/012.2 (18) 11.

79 Letter to the president, signed by Nicolás Gutiérrez, 12 Jan. 1936, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 54, 2/012.2 (18) 120006, exp. 15.

80 Letter to the president, signed by Delfina Castro de García, 22 July 1940, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 52, 2/012.2 (18–132) 1, exp. 46.

81 ‘Se inserta informe del C. Presidente Mpal. en el que comunica la muerte del extinto bandolero José García Pinto’, 17 Aug. 1940, ibid.

82 ‘Se informa con relación a sucesos ocurridos en la C. Chiautla de Tapia, Puebla, el día 1 y 2 del presente’, 8 Jan. 1939, signed by Inspector PS-6, AGN, DGIPS, Caja 78, exp. 1.

83 Repression and intimidation tactics continued during the 1950s. Gladys McCormick, for instance, refers to the ways in which Colonel Gabriel Ávila Camacho – Maximino's youngest brother – used repression against mill workers in Atencingo. Telling of Gabriel's tactics, a government agent asserted it was the colonel's opinion that ‘one or two men hanged (colgados) or simply disappeared should be enough to bring the rest of the mill workers into line with the wishes of the management’. See McCormick, Gladys I., The Logic of Compromise in Mexico: How the Countryside was Key to the Emergence of Authoritarianism (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016), p. 156.

84 Letter to the president, signed by M. Rodríguez Espíndola on behalf of the Partido Revolucionario de Unificación Nacional (Revolutionary Party for National Unification, PRUN), 18 June 1940, AGN, DAP, Serie Asesinatos, Caja 52, 2/012.2 (18–81) 1, exp. 43.

85 AGN, Ramo Presidentes, Manuel Ávila Camacho, Serie Asesinatos/Atropellos, exp. 541/199.

86 AGN, Ramo Presidentes, Manuel Ávila Camacho, Serie Asesinatos/Atropellos, exp. 541/536.

87 This contrasts with the literature on lynching in the United States, where it is often analysed as a form of extralegal violence exercised by public officials (from mayors to sheriffs and police officers). See Carrigan, William D. and Webb, Clive, ‘The Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin or Descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928’, Journal of Social History, 37: 2 (2003), pp. 411–38; Waldrep, Christopher, ‘War of Words: The Controversy over the Definition of Lynching, 1899–1940’, The Journal of Southern History, 66: 1 (2000), pp. 75100.

88 For a theoretical and empirical reflection on the notion of a ‘grey zone’ between state and non-state, licit and criminal, in post-revolutionary Mexico, see Pansters (ed.), Violence, Coercion, and State-Making.

89 ‘Prodigiosos crímenes en Santa Isabel Tepetzala’, La Opinión, 12 Aug. 1930.

90 ‘Exigirán responsabilidades a quienes lincharon a cuatro hombres en Huitzilan’, La Opinión, 21 May 1937.

91 Claudio Lomnitz narrates an earlier example of the authorities ‘staging’ a lynching in order to cover up an extralegal killing. This ‘fake’ lynching was perpetrated against Arnulfo Arroyo, a man accused of attacking President Porfirio Díaz in 1897. See: Lomnitz, Claudio, ‘Mexico's First Lynching: Sovereignty, Criminality, Moral Panic’, Critical Historical Studies, 1: 1 (2014), pp. 85123.

92 ‘El alcalde de San Aparicio cometió un grave delito’, La Opinión, 9 Sept. 1931.

93 For an analysis of ley fuga and justice in post-revolutionary Mexico, see: Piccato, Pablo, A History of Infamy: Crime, Truth, and Justice in Mexico (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017).

94 ‘Formidable zafarrancho se registró ayer durante la romería de El Carmen’, La Opinión, 18 July 1932.

95 ‘Espantosa matanza de un comandante y cuatro policías’, La Prensa, 6 Aug. 1943. Similar cases were reported in Chihuahua and Sinaloa. See: ‘Comisario de policía linchado por matón’, La Prensa, 2 March 1943; ‘Linchamiento de un policía’, La Prensa, 19 Jan. 1944.

96 Archivo Central de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Federación, Primera Sala, Quinta Época, Amparo Directo, ‘Abuso de autoridad y homicidio (Legislación de Puebla)’, exp. 2824/58.

97 This was particularly so due to the instrumental role he played in consolidating Cárdenas's influence in the region. Maximino's appointment as Puebla's military commander had allowed Cárdenas to secure his influence over the state and against opposing factions within the PRI. Moreover, in 1935 Maximino and his brother, Manuel, who would become president of Mexico (1940–6), helped Cárdenas suppress an insurgency organised against him. In turn, Cárdenas supported Maximino's fraudulent election as governor of Puebla and tolerated the repressive practices Maximino implemented in the state against both unionised workers and the agraristas: Quintana, Maximino Ávila Camacho, pp. 6, 64; Pansters, Política y poder en Puebla, pp. 112–13. For a broader discussion of the phenomenon of caciquismo in Mexico, see: Knight, Alan and Pansters, Wil (eds.), Caciquismo in Twentieth-Century Mexico (London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2006).

98 Similar arguments have been made regarding the federal authorities’ tolerance towards the actions of other ‘coercion-wielding actors’ as a means of maintaining rule. See: Nugent, ‘Conclusion: Reflections on State Theory’, p. 242; see also Gillingham, ‘Who Killed Crispín Aguilar?’, p. 100.

99 The following two edited volumes illustrate this trend: Pansters (ed.), Violence, Coercion, and State-Making; Gillingham and Smith (eds.), Dictablanda.

100 Violence had traditionally been attributed to top-down repression on the part of PRI politicians and public officials against peasants, unionised workers and student mobilisations. In contrast, recent literature has demonstrated that violence was exercised in a decentralised way, with private or semi-private actors playing a central role in the organisation of violence. See: Gillingham, ‘Who Killed Crispín Aguilar?’; Pansters (ed.) Violence, Coercion, and State-Making; Smith, Benjamin T., Pistoleros and Popular Movements (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009).

101 Godoy, Angelina Snodgrass, ‘When “Justice” Is Criminal: Lynchings in Contemporary Latin America’, Theory and Society, 33: 6 (2004), pp. 621–51; Goldstein, Daniel M., ‘“In Our Hands”: Lynching, Justice and the Law in Bolivia’, American Ethnologist, 30: 1 (2003), pp. 2243; Rodríguez Guillén and Veloz Ávila, ‘Linchamientos en México’.

102 Binford, Leigh and Churchill, Nancy, ‘Lynching and States of Fear in Urban Mexico’, Anthropologica, 51: 2 (2009), pp. 112; Goldstein, ‘In Our Hands’; Snodgrass Godoy, ‘When “Justice” Is Criminal’.

* I would like to thank the JLAS's anonymous reviewers, as well as Pablo Piccato, Federico Finchelstein, Jeremy Varon and Andrew Kloppe for providing valuable comments on previous versions of this article. A Charles A. Hale Fellowship from the Latin American Studies Association, a Women in the Humanities Fellowship from the Mexican Academy of Sciences and a Visiting Fellowship at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame, supported research for this article.

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