MEXICO CITY – The Plaza of the Three Cultures in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco neighborhood was full of protesting students when shots began to be heard 50 years ago on Tuesday, but while the army’s guns decimated the movement, the military could not prevent the country’s history from changing.
There is no doubt that Oct. 2, 1968, in Tlatelolco “marked an awakening to the reality that Mexico was experiencing,” Panamerican University historian Iñigo Fernandez told EFE.
The massacre proved that Mexico “could not live in peace” and that “freedom was very relative,” the academician said. As a result of it, “the opposition began to gain strength and the government found itself forced to push forward with election reforms.”
The movement “helped the country to begin to democratize and, later on, for there to be a political alternative,” which became a reality in 2000 with the first presidential defeat of the hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
The historian said that the state “silenced (protests) with violence,” since “the government had a tyrannical view of power.” And the 1964-1970 administration of President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, who promised to govern “with a firm hand,” was no exception.
Felix Hernandez Gamundi, one of the main student leaders in 1968, recalled that when there were important events, like the visits of international leaders, the government preventively arrested political and social leaders.
And on Oct. 12, 1968, the Olympic Games were to begin in Mexico, for which the government “wanted there to be peace on the farm,” he said.
That explains the fact that, in late July of that year, a fight among high school students in downtown Mexico City was violently broken up by riot police.
As a result, a series of student demonstrations were held, to which the army responded by arresting students and occupying a high school, the door of which was blown open with a rocket launcher.
Mexican university students, who had followed with great interest the Cuban Revolution, the Prague Spring and other big European student movements, organized quickly.
On Aug. 2, they created the National Strike Council to coordinate a strike at the country’s main universities and organize marches in the capital.
Late in August, soldiers beat students protesting in the Zocalo, the capital’s giant main square.
Without ceasing their mobilizations, the students opted to launch a dialogue with the government.
On Oct. 2, student representatives met with emissaries of the president and convened a meeting for the next morning. But that meeting never took place.
That same afternoon, army troops and paramilitaries broke up – with gunfire at point-blank range – a peaceful rally in Tlatelolco, killing hundreds of students. It was the coup de grace for the Movement of ‘68.
“Nobody imagined something so excessive but the foreign reporters had already arrived for the Olympic Games and the government had to cut this thing off,” said Fernandez.
Hernandez, meanwhile, who was arrested that day and jailed, acknowledged that the movement was “crushed” but it resulted in “unmasking the authoritarian regime.”
After half a century, at virtually all demonstrations in Mexico, one may still see signs that read: “Oct. 2 is not forgotten.”