Criminal groups in Mexico are posting in public lists of police they plan to kill, and the message often comes with a macabre symbol -- a severed pig head.
Between January and August of this year, at least 17 heads have been found next to narcomantas, banners left in public by criminal groups that typically threaten rivals, authorities, government officials and even the public.
According to a review of local media by InSight Crime, the messages most often referenced police officers, displaying their names, badges or patrol numbers, and even their photographs. Many of these banners have focused on allegations that police units support rival groups in exchange for bribes.
In early August, Mexico City's Attorney General's Office announced a rare arrest in the case of a narcomanta that threatened to kill employees at a prison in the capital. Two people were charged with criminal association and attacks on the public for placing the banner directed at Hazael Ruiz Ortega, Mexico City’s undersecretary for prisons. The message, which claimed the undersecretary provided preferential treatment to members of rival gangs inside the prison, was accompanied by a pig's head.
In June, the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) left placards and a pig's head outside the base of the Guadalajara police. The placards listed the names of officers and accused them of protecting the Sinaloa Cartel. The unit, which had been in a firefight with a CJNG cell in April, had one of its officers taken from his home by gunmen and killed.
Messages accompanied by pigs' heads have also been used to challenge rivals and to threaten politicians. The CJNG posted a banner in July announcing the end of a truce with parts of the Tijuana Cartel in Baja Calfornia.
And before Mexican legislative elections in June, several narcomantas threatened political candidates, telling people not to vote for certain parties.
InSight Crime Analysis
As a way to demonstrate overwhelming power, narcomantas have been used by crime groups since at least 2006. The appearance of the pig heads, though, comes at a time when police are being killed at an alarming rate.
According to a study by INEGI, Mexico’s statistics agency, 803 officers were killed in Mexico between 2013 and 2018. In 2020 alone, 524 officers were slain. This year appears to be on track to be just as deadly for police.
According to David Saucedo, a journalist and security analyst in Mexico, pig heads are specifically used to accuse police and other officials of corruption.
In an interview with InSight Crime, Saucedo explained that the meaning of the severed pig head is derived from poli puercos (police pigs), a derogatory term to refer to police officers in Mexican cities. “When left next to a banner, it signals that the target is dirty or traitorous,” said Saucedo.
The CJNG seems to have been behind many of these banners as part of a nationwide campaign that saw the group leave 60 narcomantas across Mexico from January to July.