Upsurge and massacre in Mexico, 1968 part 3: echoes in the 90s

articles History & People

Revolutionary Worker #977, October 11, 1998

This is the final part of a three-part series. Part 1 described the rising movement of the students and others in the days before the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Part 2 was an account of what happened on October 2, 1968 at the Plaza of the Three Cultures in the Tlatelolco apartment complex in Mexico City. Blood flowed that evening, as troops and police fired upon the people and carried out a brutal massacre.

This October 2, more than 100,000 people marched in Mexico City in honor of the martyrs of 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. They included students from UNAM and the Poli, Tlatelolco residents, veterans of the ’68 struggle, and people from all over. They shouted with anger, “October 2nd is not forgotten!” and “We won’t forget, we won’t forgive!” There were mass protests in eight states. In San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, demonstrators burned a portrait of former President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz and said, “Mexico today is exactly the same as in 1968… Repression continues throughout the country.”

This year’s commemorations also included roundtable discussions at the Poli, an exhibition of images of the 1968 movement and a series of film showings. One of the films was Rojo Amanecer (Red Dawn), starring Maria Rojo and Hector Bonilla, a powerful exposure of the massacre which was banned in Mexico for many years. Other cultural events included plays and performances by the Poli Symphony Orchestra. There are six books by Mexican authors on the Tlatelolco Massacre scheduled for publication this year.

The ’68 upsurge has continued to inspire and challenge people down to today. And there continues to be a great deal of debate and contention over the causes and meaning of the ’68 events and who is to blame for the massacre.

The Official Story
Has Not Changed

Even today, the butchers of Tlatelolco still defend the massacre. In the words of one intellectual, “The official story with regard to the student movement of 1968 has not changed in 30 years.” This official story goes like this: The students provoked the violence, there was no pre-planned police/military assault on the movement, the military and the government committed no crimes. Despite repeated protests and investigative commissions over the years, the key documents in the government’s long-secret files on Tlatelolco are still under lock and key. The Defense Ministry refuses to release even an inventory of what it has, saying, “Those files will not be opened for reasons of national security.”

Earlier this year it came to light that the government is also withholding many hours’ worth of film–120,000 feet of film to be exact–shot by movie crews sent to Tlatelolco by the Interior Minister at the time, Luis Echeverria. Six hidden cameras filmed the horrific events from different angles around the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, beginning at 2 p.m. on October 2.

In February of this year Echeverria–who was overall in charge of executing the massacre and went on to become Mexico’s next president–told politicians and the press gathered in his mansion, “I have a clean conscience and sleep well.” He went on to issue a not-so-veiled threat against today’s rising people’s struggles: “Suppose that there is the threat of revolution, that they are preparing to attack the National Palace. What should be done? What should the supreme commander of the Armed Forces do if there is another Tlatelolco, which is not desirable, but is possible, given so much injustice, poverty and the concentration of wealth in so few hands? Or if there is another Chiapas? Chiapas could happen again. It is not desirable, but it is possible. And what would the president do, send in the Army or order a retreat?”

“Peace” Talk and
Bloody Repression

Echeverria was referring to the January 1994 armed peasant uprising in the state of Chiapas under the leadership of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). Thousands of indigenous campesinos with guns stormed out of the hills and jungles to bring their demands for justice, democracy, autonomy and land front and center.

The Chiapas rebellion touched off an upsurge in the campo which continues today. In addition to Chiapas, the Mexican states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Nuevo Leon, Baja California, Tabasco, Morelos, and the Huasteca region have seen militant peasant struggles. In the rugged municipios of Chiapas as well as other states, peasants armed with sticks, stones and other rudimentary weapons have defied armed troops. All across the Mexican campo, those who used to live and die in humble obscurity, those whose daily struggle for survival and frequent death at the hands of the army and caciques (rural strongmen tied to the ruling PRI) went largely unnoticed, are stepping out of the shadows and are taking heroic action to try and change things.

In the cities, there have been continuous protests and strikes as well as massive outpourings of support for the struggle of the Indian campesinos.

The government’s response has been predictable–talk “peace” and wage war. They are applying the “Made in USA” doctrine of low-intensity warfare. The talks between the government and the EZLN led to the San Andres Larrainzar agreements which called for greater autonomy for indigenous people and made other promises. Although the EZLN refuse to lay down their guns, they have viewed their armed strength and the territory they control as a means to pressure the Mexican government and the political establishment for various reforms. Their goal and strategy are different from the Maoist road of seizing revolutionary state power through waging people’s war.

But the government has violated the San Andres Larrrainzar accords shamelessly and systematically at every turn. Large sections of the countryside have been militarized with patrolling troops and checkpoints along rural highways; the arming of paramilitary squads to carry out murder and mayhem; and psychological warfare designed to terrorize and demoralize the people. In the cities there have been increased repressive measures such as the hiring of more police, building of more prisons, and campaigns to discredit and attack all kinds of social activists.

Right now one-third of the entire Mexican army–some 70,000 troops–are stationed in Chiapas. These troops work hand-in-glove with the local police and paramilitary groups to brutalize the peasant masses. Some of the crimes committed by these reactionary armed forces in the past few months include:

  • Acteal, Chiapas, December 22, 1997: 70 members of a pro-government and pro-landlord paramilitary armed with AK-47 and AR-15 combat rifles gunned down 45 men, women and children who were attending church. The official state police were just outside the village–close enough to hear the gunfire–but they did not intervene in the bloodbath.
  • Ocosingo, Chiapas, January 12, 1998: As more than 6,000 people marched in protest of the Acteal massacre, Chiapas state police fired on the crowd. The gunfire killed Guadalupe Mendez Lopez, a 38-year-old Tzeltal Indian, and injured her two-year-old daughter and a young man.
  • Taniperlas, Chiapas, April 11: 500 Mexican soldiers, police and immigration agents raided a peasant cooperative, the pro-Zapatista autonomous village of Flores Magon. (Over 30 towns and villages in Chiapas have set up such local governments independent of the Mexican state.) They arrested some 20 people without legal warrants and deported about a dozen foreign human rights activists and supporters.
  • Nicolas Ruiz, Chiapas, June 3: 1000 army troops and police surrounded the town and proceeded to search 100 homes, breaking down the doors of the houses and arresting 164 people, without any warrants or charges. The governor of Chiapas said that the purpose of the raid was to bring its autonomous local government “into conformity with the law.”
  • El Charco, Guerrero, June 8: The army arrived with 26 armored vehicles and two helicopters and surrounded a school in this small Mixtec village. According to press reports, guerrillas of the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and peasants were sleeping in the school after a political meeting. The troops called on those inside to give themselves up, and then opened fire. Eleven people were killed, some of them executed after surrendering. Five others were injured and 21 arrested.
  • El Bosque, Chiapas, June 10: 1,200 federal troops with tanks, bazookas, mortars and high caliber weapons laid siege to the municipality, killing at least seven peasants, injuring many others and arresting dozens of people. The troops went on a rampage of looting–breaking into houses, destroying furniture, taking what little belongings and money people have, stealing livestock and eating their food. Hundreds of villagers were forced to seek refuge in the nearby hills.

The government has plastered the walls of Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, with their slogan: “Let peace speak.” This brings to mind the slogan that appeared on billboards all over Mexico City when the 1968 Olympic Games opened, 10 days after the Massacre of Tlatelolco: “Everything is possible with peace.”

This is the “peace” of the graveyard. The “peace” that the big Mexican capitalists and the landowning classes want so they can continue their brutal exploitation of the people. A “peace” backed by the U.S. imperialists, who dominate Mexico and who want to keep their southern border “safe.”

Why is it that those whose hands are covered with the blood of the people always talk of “peace” and insist that violence is not the answer?

False Friends of the People

In this intense situation, the PRD–one of the main bourgeois opposition parties in Mexico–is trying to claim the mantle of the 1968 student movement. The PRD claims to be working in the interests of the people–but they are false friends of the people.

PRD leaders say that the lesson for today is that “repression can be avoided” as long as people rely on the system and opposition politicians and limit their struggle to “acceptable” aims and means. According to them, the greatest fruit of the ’68 struggle is that the PRD leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was elected as mayor of Mexico City earlier this year. (Cardenas is the first non-PRI politician to hold that post in the history of Mexico.) And they say that they now have a chance to win the presidential elections in the year 2000 and end 88 years of PRI presidents.

Mayor Cardenas declared October 2 an official Day of Mourning in the capital this year, and flags were flown at half mast. However, the city government has stipulated that they are honoring “all those who died that day in Tlatelolco, without exception.” In other words, those who died on the side of the forces of repression were also included among the “honored.” Cardenas went so far as to exonerate the Mexican Army as a whole. Speaking at a forum at the Universidad Iberoamericana, he said that it was “unjust” that the Army “be held responsible for the massacre.”

Another current PRD leader, Porfirio Munoz Ledo, was a prominent PRI politician in 1968 and praised the whitewash report on the Tlatelolco Massacre by then-president Diaz Ordaz. (Later, under President Echeverria, Munoz Ledo became the chairman of the PRI.)

This past May a furor erupted when it was revealed that the Subdirector of Security for the city government under Cardenas, General Hector Careaga, was an officer in the Olympia Battalion, the police unit that was at the center of the Tlatelolco Massacre. Careaga was recognized for “acts of valor at Tlatelolco” and promoted to the rank of major. Far from taking decisive action to remove him, the city government defended him and said he had been chosen for the post due to his military experience and “his experience with police matters.” He was finally forced to resign.

This spring, it was reported that Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was bringing an FBI team to Mexico City to train an elite unit of 50 police and 50 judicial agents, as well as supply them with the latest in computers, technology and arms. Cardenas reportedly has held talks with the police departments of New York City and Los Angeles, and wants to adopt important elements from N.Y. Mayor Giuliani’s “anti-crime” program. The LAPD is known around the world for the Rodney King beating. Amnesty International criticized the NYPD for brutality and compared it with vicious dictatorships in the Third World. What does it say about Cuauhtemoc Cardenas that he wants to learn “crime control” methods from these two police departments?

And Cardenas has proposed a “beautification” campaign for the Zocalo involving landscaping it with trees. This central plaza of Mexico City was claimed by the 1968 student movement as a center of protest, and it is the scene of literally hundreds of demonstrations each year. Cardenas’ tree-planting project appears to be an attempt to make the Zocalo off limits for huge public protests.

From 1968 to Today

The student struggle of ’68 and the Massacre of Tlatelolco laid bare the true nature of Mexican society before the eyes of the world, shattering the false showcase image of imperialist-sponsored economic growth and prosperity. The glitter, splendor and Olympic gala was for a handful. It was built on the oppression of the majority, the peasants and working class, and defended by means of bloody repression.

But far from proving the invincibility of the government, the Tlatelolco Massacre and the ’68 movement exposed the profound weakness of the comprador regime–its lack of popular support and its fundamental reliance on brute force. The students and broad masses who rose up in 1968 struck deep blows at the system, and Mexico’s rulers still have not recovered fully. By unleashing people’s rage and hopes, the 1968 upsurge rolled over the barriers of what was then called “possible.” And it continues to inspire and challenge people today.

Thirty years later, Mexico is once again being convulsed by an upsurge of mass struggle, this time centered in the countryside. The 1994 Chiapas rebellion demonstrated the deep revolutionary sentiments of the Mexican people. And the situation today points to the potential–and urgent need–for a Maoist new democratic revolution and people’s war to overthrow the reactionary ruling system and break the U.S. grip on Mexico.

In many ways, the U.S. imperialists face a more difficult situation in Mexico today than they did in 1968. Great stirrings are rumbling up from the peasants on the very bottom of society–and this has deeply shaken other sections of the people. The Mexican economy has become more tightly wrapped in the web of interdependency with the U.S. economy. Economic crisis in Mexico can send powerful shockwaves through the whole U.S. empire–as the 1994 collapse of the peso demonstrated.

There has been a barrage of propaganda about how the Mexican economy has been put “back on track” since 1994. In reality, the situation is very precarious with the potential for much deeper crisis. Real income has fallen 75 percent in the last 10 years, and large sections of the middle classes are deep in debt. Unemployment is sky high. The peso is steadily losing value. The situation in the countryside is abysmal. A recent UN report on nutrition classified Mexico in the same category as many African countries plagued by famine. There is much less maneuvering room for the Mexican ruling class to increase profits or to hand out concessions in the hopes of tying the masses to the government. Infighting and splits within the ruling class are very intense.

The cold-blooded government massacre of hundreds of Mexican youth on October 2, 1968–and many other outrages that have followed–cry out for the overthrow of the system responsible for these crimes. The boldness and dreams of the rebels of 1968 live on. October 2 is not forgotten!

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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Published or Updated on: January 1, 1998
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