Hours after a Mexican presidential candidate suggested cutting off hands to punish crime, a gang gave his idea a grisly sign of approval

  • A Mexican presidential candidate suggested cutting off the hands of thieves during a debate on Sunday.
  • On Monday, a dismembered body appeared in Acapulco with a sign alluding to the candidate’s comments.
  • Crime is on the rise in Mexico, but candidates have offered few new ideas to address it.

Few new ideas were offered by Mexico’s presidential candidates during the first debate of the campaign on Sunday night, but one comment aroused surprise and anger around the country.

“We have to cut off the hands of those who rob. It’s that simple,” Jaime Rodriguez, or “El Bronco,” a former Nuevo Leon state governor running as an independent, said during a discussion about corruption. He added he would ask Congress to pass a law backing the idea.

The moderator, taken aback by the comment, twice asked him if he was speaking literally and then checked again if he really meant it.

“That’s right. That’s right,” Rodriguez replied. “Literally,” he added, making a chopping motion with his hand.

He was repudiated for the comment, which was quickly mocked by Mexicans. But he doubled-down after the debate, and hours later, one of the gangs that have proliferated around the country in recent years appeared to endorse it with a grisly display.

Next to a dismembered body left on the outskirts of Acapulco on Monday morning, authorities found a sign reading, “El Bronco already said it: cutting off the hands of the scum who steal here is the first thing.” The slain man’s head, arms, and legs were recovered, but the torso was not found, according to Proceso.

The sign was attributed to Los Enterradores, possibly one of many criminal groups that have appeared around Acapulco, a once idyllic resort area that has been called “Guerrero’s Iraq.” Other signs found near the scene referenced taxes, or “quotas,” levied by criminal groups on activities in areas under their control.

Such messages, often called “narcomantas,” are frequently found at the scene of drug- or organised-crime-related violence in Mexico and were often seen during peak years of cartel bloodshed around 2011.

They are usually meant to claim credit for some action or as a warning to rivals or authorities. In some cases, criminal groups have left them on territory controlled by enemies to draw authorities’ attention there.

In other instances, narcomantas have been left with bodies left in highly visible public areas, as was the case at a pedestrian overpass near the border in Tijuana at the end of 2016 or at several bridges near tourist areas in Baja California Sur in December 2017. The latter incident was the first time that state had seen such displays.

Acapulco Mexico drone police surveillance
Mexican police in Acapulco with a drone used for community surveillance, August 2017. Twitter/Gobierno de Acapulco

Acapulco has been a focal point for violence in Mexico in recent years, with the highest homicide rate among Mexican cities five times between 2011 and 2016. In 2016 the city had 918 homicides, rising to 1,096 last year.

Much of the violence is driven by local criminal groups operating in and around Acapulco.The city’s port makes territory there valuable, as it allows criminal groups to link up with larger drug-trafficking networks that criss-cross the state and run along the coast. Criminal groups also prey on local businesses and even schools and teachers.

Guerrero, where Acapulco is located, has long been one of the most violent states in Mexico.The number of annual homicide victims there have risen steadily, from 2,016 in 2015 to 2,318 in 2017. Through the first quarter of 2018, the state is on pace for more than 2,600 homicide victims.

‘Textbook demagogue’

Rodriguez made history in 2015, when he became the first independent candidate to win a state gubernatorial race, but his political standing has been tarnished in recent years, in part because of incendiary comments, such as saying Mexicans being “too liberal in the topic of faith” led to two earthquakes there in 2017.

He was added to the presidential race – the first such contest in which independent candidates can compete – in April in a decision that surprised many, as the majority of the signatures collected in support of his candidacy were invalidated.

His inclusion was disconcerting for many, as it was seen as most likely to benefit the governing Institutional Political Party – of which he was once a member – by drawing votes away from other candidates. The PRI is currently trailing by a wide margin. Most presidential polls have Rodriguez’s likely votership in the single digits.

Mexico does not have the death penalty, but hardline security proposals have won some support at the ballot box in the past. Rodriguez said almost all the 57,000 WhatsApp messages he received about his idea were supportive of it.

Javier Garza, a journalist in the northern city of Torreón,told The Guardian that Rodriguez knew the idea was “a non-starter” but also knew it would generate attention.

“He doesn’t have ideas and prefers to play with people’s anger instead of offering a serious proposal,” Garza added. “Textbook demagogue.”