Mexico's 'Bronco': tough-talking rancher seeks to be dark horse

Mexico City (AFP) –


Jaime "El Bronco" Rodriguez, a tough-talking rancher turned independent presidential candidate, has next to no chance of winning Mexico's election Sunday, but he's stolen the show as the most entertaining contender.

A horse-riding, cowboy hat-wearing character who doesn't shy from controversy or cussing, Rodriguez already made history three years ago by becoming the first independent candidate to be elected governor in Mexico.

Now he has taken leave from running his home state, Nuevo Leon in the north, to throw his hat in the ring as an independent presidential candidate -- the first in Mexican history, under a recent electoral reform.

Rodriguez, 60, says his own rise from poverty and first-hand experience of crime make him the person to whip Mexico into shape.

He grew up in an impoverished family of 10 children, and as an adult has been the victim of numerous crimes -- his eldest son was murdered, his two-year-old daughter was kidnapped, and he says he himself has been the target of two attempts on his life.

"Of all the candidates, I'm the only one who knows the problems in the flesh: poverty, lack of opportunities, violence, evil," he said when he launched his campaign.

But "El Bronco" also has a penchant for landing in hot water, such as when he warned school children about the dangers of teen pregnancy by saying, "No one loves a fat girl."

In the first presidential debate, he took the country by surprise by proposing to amputate the hands of corrupt officials.

"Literally?" a moderator asked him.

"Yes," he said. "We have to cut a hand off the criminals."

But when electoral authorities ruled he had improperly used public resources for his campaign -- sending state employees to collect signatures in support of his candidacy -- he blithely declined to become the first amputee.

- Straight talk -

The National Electoral Institute (INE) actually annulled Rodriguez's candidacy in March, finding that more than half the two million signatures he submitted to get on the ballot were forged, photocopied or invalid due to other irregularities.

But the country's electoral court controversially ruled at the last minute that he could run, saying the INE had erred in not letting him contest its decision.

Rodriguez denies any wrongdoing.

"God is great, thank you," he wrote on Twitter after the ruling. "#NoSurrender."

"El Bronco" prides himself on straight talk.

He has often said, for example, that he is a big believer in marriage -- so much that he has married three times and had six children.

His latest wife is 25 years his junior.

He is also famous for his love of horses, and even rode one to his inauguration as governor.

Once in office, he vigorously defended his favorite horse, Tornado, when critics questioned how much in state resources was being spent to care for it.

"My horse doesn't cost me much. My horse eats hay and alfalfa," he said.

"It eats less than my wife. So it costs a lot less than my old lady."