Print this pageHistorical Text Archive © 1990 - 2013
The rurales, the national rural police during the regime of
have been the subject of mythology. Supposedly, they were an elite and fierce
police force which tamed the Mexican countryside. Not only bandits but everyday
peones lived in fear of them.
Paul J. Vanderwood, "Mexico's Rurales: Reputation versus Reality," The Americas 34:1 (July 1977), 102-112, paints a quite different picture of them. Using biographical data based on 2,000 personnel folders of ex-rurales found in the Archivo General de la Nación, Ramo de Gobernación, Vanderwood found that the majority of rural policemen came from urban areas and few were accomplished horsemen. Many of their horses were unserviceable. Their marksmanship records showed that they were only average to poor marksmen. They suffered a high incidence of alcoholism. The desertion rate ran 20%. Unit ledgers were frequently juggled to defraud the government; a few officers even held local political office instead of attending to their police functions. They rarely caught their men; instead, bandits frequently chided them for inability to capture them. Their effectiveness was overstated; interior Mexico never free of serious crime. In fact, there were less than 2,500 rurales and they were concentrated in central regions of the republic, the area on which all Mexican governments focus because it includes the national capital where the national political elite lives.
The rural police corps headquarters was normally in state capital and contained a nucleus of 50 men; the rest were organized in detachments of 5-8 men. There were 10 corps 200 men each. Although 80% had horses, these were used for transportation around town. The corps detachments were distributed over several states to prevent the corps commander from acquiring prestige and power.
Being in the corps was advantageous. The rurales’ salary was twice that of factory workers and four times that of farm laborers.