The Tlatelolco massacre, also known as The Night of Tlatelolco (from a book title by the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska), was a killing of an estimated 30 to 300 students and civilians by military and police on October 2nd, 1968, in the “Plaza de las Tres Culturas” in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City.
The events are considered part of the Mexican Dirty War, when the government used its forces to suppress political opposition. The massacre occurred 10 days before the opening of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
More than 1300 people were arrested by security police. There has been no consensus on how many were killed that day in the plaza area.
At the time the government and the mainstream media in Mexico claimed that government forces had been provoked by protesters shooting at them. But government documents made public since 2000 suggest that the snipers had been employed by the government.
Estimates of the death toll ranged from 30 to 300, with eyewitnesses reporting hundreds dead.
According to US national security archives, Kate Doyle, a Senior Analyst of US policy in Latin America, documented the deaths of 44 people.
The head of the Federal Directorate of Security reported the arrests of 1,345 people on October 2nd, 1968.
The Mexican government invested a massive $150 million in preparation for the 1968 Olympics to be hosted in Mexico City. That amount was equal to roughly $7.5 billion by today’s terms.
Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz struggled to maintain peace during a time of rising social tensions but suppressed movements by labor unions and farmers to improve their lot. He wanted to present the country in a positive light without protests.
His administration suppressed independent labor unions, farmers, and was heavy handed in trying to direct the economy.
In 1998, President Ernesto Zedillo, on the 30th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre, authorized a congressional investigation into the events of October 2. However, the PRI government continued its recalcitrance and did not release official government documents pertaining to the incident. In a 2002 All Things Considered radio interview with Kate Doyle, director of the Mexican Documentation Project for the US National Security Archive, she described the PRI government’s investigations: “I mean, there have been a number of investigations throughout the years.
In fact, former President Miguel de la Madrid was interviewed yesterday in the press, and said that he had asked the military and the interior secretary for documents and for photographs of the demonstrations, and was subjected to tremendous political pressure not to investigate. And when he continued to press, the military and the interior ministry claimed that their files were in disarray and they had nothing.
In October 2003, the role of the United States government in the massacre was publicized when the National Security Archive at George Washington University published a series of records from the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, the FBI and the White House which were released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The documents detail:
- That in response to Mexican government concerns over the security of the Olympic Games, the Pentagon sent military radios, weapons, ammunition and riot control training material to Mexico before and during the crisis.
- That the CIA station in Mexico City produced almost daily reports concerning developments within the university community and the Mexican government from July to October. Six days before the massacre at Tlatelolco, both Echeverría and head of Federal Security (DFS) Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios told the CIA that “the situation will be under complete control very shortly”.
- That the Díaz Ordaz government “arranged” to have student leader Sócrates Campos Lemus accuse dissident PRI politicians such as Carlos Madrazo of funding and orchestrating the student movement.
In 1993, in remembrance of the 25th anniversary of the events, a stele was dedicated with the names of a few of the students and persons who lost their lives during the event. The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation has a mural commemorating the massacre.
During June 2006, days before the controversial presidential election of 2006, 84-year-old Echeverría was charged with genocide in connection with the massacre. He was placed under house arrest pending trial. In early July of that year (after the presidential elections), he was cleared of genocide charges, as the judge found that Echeverría could not be put on trial because the statute of limitations had expired.
In December 2008 the Mexican Senate named the 2nd of October starting in 2009 as a National Day of Mourning; the initiative had already passed the Deputies’ Chamber of Congress.
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