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News > Latin America

Mexico: 50 Years After Tlatelolco Massacre, 50 Years of Impunity

  • Protesters threatened by Mexican state forces on Oct. 2, 1968.

    Protesters threatened by Mexican state forces on Oct. 2, 1968. | Photo: EFE

Published 2 October 2018

Fifty years after state forces opened fire on civilians peacefully protesting government repression, the number of people killed remains unknown.

Oct. 2, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre, when Mexico’s armed forces opened fire on civilians who had gathered to demand freedom for political prisoners, respect for university autonomy, and to condemn the authoritarian government of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had been in power since 1929.


Mexico: Tlatelolco '68 Massacre Was a State Crime

Today, people in Mexico will gather to commemorate those who were murdered and disappeared, imprisoned and beaten by Mexican state forces in 1968. Protests and marches have been organized, while even now Mexicans face state brutality against dissenting voices and rampant impunity. The truth of this is shown in the more recent case of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students, with those responsible for the massacre still unknown.  

On Oct. 2, 1968, Mexico’s army, the secret police, the Federal Security Directorate — created in 1947 with the assistance of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) — and the state-sponsored paramilitary group known as the Olimpia Battalion, shot and killed between 200 and 300 civilians who were protesting in the Tres Culturas Square in Mexico City.

The actual number of people killed is still unknown, as many have spoken of disappearances and the fact that bodies were picked up by garbage trucks that night. Hundreds more were imprisoned and beaten.

The protests, led by Mexico’s student movement, began after state security forces violated the autonomy of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) by entering and taking prisoners in attempts to quell student protests.   

These actions sparked the creation of a National Strike Council that demanded the dissolution of the riot police known as the Cuerpo de Granaderos and the mercenary shock-groups known as Porras, along with the release of imprisoned students.

On Oct. 2, 1968, the National Strike Council called for a peaceful march from Tlatelolco to the Zocalo. When they arrived at Tres Culturas Square they found the place was surrounded by about 5,000 soldiers, organizers decided to cancel the march and instead held a political rally in the square.

Adela Gonzalez, who participated in the rally told Peruvian news site El Comercio, “when I was introducing the second speaker a helicopter flew over and released three flares, two green, and one red. Immediately after shots were heard … and I saw people starting to fall to the ground.”

State forces not only shot at the protesters with sniper fire but also followed them as they fled the violence.

According to declassified documents, the CIA played an important role, influencing President Diaz’s response to social unrest. In the middle of the Cold War, the student and workers' movements were seen as a communist plot supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union that needed to be stopped at any cost. No link has ever between found between the student movement and Cuba or the Soviet Union.   

In 2005, the Tlatelolco massacre was recognized as a crime against humanity. However, only one person, Luis Echevarria Alvarez, who led the intelligence agency was charged. Due to his advanced age, he was granted house arrest and later freed.

Last week, Mexico’s President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised during a speech in the Three Cultures Square that the army will never be used again to repress the people. The relatives of the victims of the Tlatelolco massacre continue to demand a thorough investigation to reveal the truth.

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