How Media and Power Painted the Panchitos as Villains

1970s Mexico City's Panchitos gang were more than just delinquents. The media and a corrupt police chief turned them into scapegoats for the city's problems. Their story reflects a society struggling with youth rebellion and government brutality.

How Media and Power Painted the Panchitos as Villains
A web of power: Police corruption and the scapegoating of the Panchitos.

During the late seventies and early eighties, groups of young people grouped into gangs emerged in Mexico City that were characterized by their distinctive clothing and musical preferences. These groups were concentrated mainly in the western area of the city, in the neighborhoods of Tacubaya and Mixcoac, such is the case of the Panchitos.

The reputation of the Panchitos was not created solely by their actions, but also by the media of the time, which created an entire discourse about them based on their clothing. This was largely due to the very particular way of acting of the head of the Police and Traffic Department of the Federal District, Arturo Durazo Moreno, during the government of President José López Portillo. Durazo was characterized by applying various repressive methods, such as torture, rape, extrajudicial uprisings and disappearances, against anyone who appeared to be a criminal, in addition to enjoying a high degree of corruption and impunity in the application of his various methods.

During the greatest rise of the Panchitos, Durazo was head of the department, and he used this group as cannon fodder to hold them responsible for various crimes, since with the reputation that the Panchitos had acquired as a violent group by the media, it facilitated the justification of the crimes they were accused of. At least, that's what some characters in the group have commented over the years. Although they admit to having participated in fights and shoplifting, they deny having committed more serious crimes, such as rape or murder.

The perception of Panchitos is marked by various beliefs. On the one hand, there is the fame that they themselves cultivated, while on the other hand, a myth was created among the population about them. Furthermore, the media contributed to the narrative construction of violence around the group. Arturo Durazo also had a significant role in shaping public perception of this group. However, what is undeniable is the level of impunity with which Durazo operated, from the manipulation of crimes to participation in cases of disappearance, torture, and murder. This casts serious doubts on the credibility of his statements and allows his word to be called into question.

The Federal Security Directorate was aware of the activities of the Panchitos. Therefore, some reports issued by this entity documented the fights in which this group participated. For example, on July 2, 1981, a fight was recorded outside High School 4, which occurred “on June 26 between 9:10 p.m. and 9:20 p.m., when 70 people from a group called “Los Panchitos” from Col. Tacubaya, armed with stones, rods, knives, daggers and Molotov cocktails, attacking the group of students called “Uva” (Union of Anonymous Vagrants).”

Image used to recreate a representation of the group “Los Panchitos.
Image used to recreate a representation of the group “Los Panchitos.” This is a representation of a youth group taken up by the Subdirectorate of Dissemination of Documentary Heritage of the AGN and does not pretend to accurately account for the scenario of the time. Credit: AGN

Another document dated November 11, 1981, states that:

Engineer Javier Rodríguez Higuera, director of High School No. 4, reported today that yesterday at 8:45 p.m., 40 gang members from the group called “Los Panchitos” arrived aboard a passenger truck, who had been following to the student Carlos Rico Granados (a) “Carlota”, leader of the group “Unión de Vagos Anónimos” (UVA), entering the main patio of the campus, where they broke two blackboards.

The story of the Panchitos reveals a complex network of social, political and media factors that contributed to the construction of their public image. Uncontrolled criminalization based on stereotypes and the lack of impartial investigation were constant. The Panchitos are the perfect example of the behavior of society at that time: the creation of gangs and shock groups, the actions of the police, the behavior of the media, the corruption of the political class and the opinions of the population. , are elements of a social x-ray that invites the creation of a critical analysis that highlights the complexity of the social contexts in which these youth gangs emerged and operated.

Source: Archivo General de la Nación. “Los Panchitos: Una radiografía de la sociedad mexicana en los años setenta y ochenta.”, Accessed 18 May 2024.