Introduction
This book is about criminals and their victims in Mexico City at the begin-
ning of the twentieth century. Crime was then, as it is now, a central prob-
lem for the inhabitants of Mexico’s capital. Understanding and preventing
it was a key aspect of the interactions between the state and all social groups.
Its causes and consequences affected many parts of everyday life. A history
of crime is, therefore, a history of the city and its inhabitants.
Since the difficult years that followed independence from Spain in 1821,
violence and crime marked the nation’s growth. Insurgency and the royal-
ist reaction devastated the economy of the country. There followed years of
instability, military uprisings, civil wars (leading to the Reforma War, 1857–
1861), foreign invasions (most importantly by the United States, in 1847,
and France, 1861–1867), and multiple constitutional experiments oscillating
between liberal federalism and conservative centralism. Independence also
brought forth uncontrollable banditry around highways and uncertainty re-
garding the survival of judicial institutions. Things clearly began to change
with the 1867 restoration of the 1857 Constitution, the passing of civil and
criminal codes in the early 1870s, and Porfirio Díaz’s ascension to the presi-
dency in 1876. The Porfirian regime (1876–1911) managed to control ban-
ditry and political dissent, guarantee the interests of foreign investors, and
enforce liberal legislation on property, with the resulting dispossession of
large numbers of peasants and the accumulation of wealth by national elites.
Both facts contributed to renewed population growth in the capital and
rising crime rates (see appendix, table 1) despite the state’s activism vis-à-vis
social reform through the strengthening of police, penalties, and
prisons.1
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