Tlatelolco, 2 October, 1968: Mexico’s Tiannamen Square

Let’s play a game of word association. I’ll give you a word and you say the first 5 things that pop into your head. Don’t over think it. First word:

Mexico

Aaaand GO!

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

I can say without hesitation that some of your words were tacos, beer, fiestas, Cancun, sombrero, or cactus.

Even though you lost points for originality, you’re forgiven, because if you do a google image search for Mexico, that’s what comes up. Mexico does have all those things and they are great, but there is another side of Mexico’s relatively recent history which you may not be aware of. I only knew about it myself after I visited Mexico City for the first time in 2012 and it affected me. As today is the 2 October, I wanted to write about it and remember it in my own way.

Democracy, Mexican style

Mexico has two major political parties, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and National Action Party (PAN) – or BREAD party if it comes up in an automatic social media translation (pan is Spanish – and coincidentally Japanese – for bread).

PRI held government in Mexico from 1929 – 2000. Although Mexico is technically a democracy, PRI used a variety of methods, including electoral fraud and jobs for mates to maintain power. Although Australia has it’s share of political corruption, it’s nothing on the scale of Mexico. To give you an idea, http://Transparency.org rates Mexico 130th out of 180 countries on it’s corruption scale (180 being the most corrupt). Australia is 12/180.

A war on its people

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Mexican government waged a US-backed war on rural insurgents, in states such as Guerrero (where Acapulco is located), known as the “Dirty War”. Government troops committed acts of extreme violence and torture against Mexicans in rural areas. Although these were terrible atrocities, they were mostly confined to small towns away from major cities.

Plaza de las tres culturas

In the neighbourhood of Tlatelolco in Mexico City, there is a main square called la plaza de las tres culturas – it was designed and named in recognition of the 3 eras in Mexican history – pre-Columbian, Spanish colonial and an independent nation. Each era is represented by architecture – the Aztec pyramids of Tlatelolco, the 17th-century Spanish Templo de Santiago and the Centro Cultural Universitario, a modern tower. The plaza was completed in 1966.

Sadly, the square is now famous, not only for the architecture, but also for the massacre that occurred there.

A giant pressure cooker

In the summer of 1968, the Olympic Games were held in Mexico City. Mexico was a pressure cooker, with tensions at boiling point. There was dissent among various groups including university students, labour unions and farmers (to name a few).

A peaceful protest and a violent massacre

On the 2 October 1968, just 10 days before the Olympic Games was due to begin, about 10 000 students (high school and university) gathered to protest the government and listen to speeches. Students were calling for basic freedoms such as free speech, accountability for police and military abuses and a dialogue with the government.

While the students gathered, a police and military presence increased in the area. There were military snipers, helicopters and tankettes. Government forces began shooting into the crowd, killing many people.

But it didn’t end there. Troops continued to shoot into buildings and many more people were killed, including bystanders and children. People were forced to lie on the ground and the military raided nearby houses looking for students. The beatings and killings continued into the night. As many as 400 people were killed. This massacre is remembered every year by Mexicans.

Short memory?

They say that if we don’t remember, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

But given that PRI was voted back in in 2012, did Mexicans forget?The parents of “the 43” might have an opinion on this. In 2014, 43 university students from Guerrero were forcibly abducted in Iguala, Guerrero. The students had apparently taken several buses to go to Mexico City to commemorate the Tlaletlolco massacre.

The students have never been seen again and are presumed dead. Some reports say they were captured by the local police and handed over to a drug cartel. Others say the military and politicians were involved, but no one really knows.

Graffiti in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas Mexico

If you are interested…

There is a mountain of information on the internet about this time in Mexico’s history, but I can recommend watching Roma (Netflix), the award winning movie by Alfonso Cuaron – although set in the 1970’s, this movie has elements of the aftermath of Tlaletlolco and another student massacre – the Corpus Christi Massacre. You will also see other facets of Mexican society and class structure.

The documentary “Gimme the Power” by Mexican band Molotov

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/from-the-archive-blog/2015/nov/12/guardian-mexico-tlatelolco-massacre-1968-john-rodda

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