Friday, October 02, 2009

Tlateloco Massacre, 41 Years Ago Today

On October 2, 1968, the Mexican police massacred somewhere between 200 and 300 protesters in the Tlateloco neighborhood of Mexico City. It was 1968, the protesters were activists against a variety of issues, some of which were unique to Mexico, others part of the zeitgeist of that year. On a day when the Olympics were given to the first Latin American nation since Mexico held them in 1968, it's worth noting the connection. President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz was determined not to let protesters get in the way of Mexico's glorious Olympic triumph and ordered the massacre.

A friend who is a Mexican historian guided me around the neighborhood one day. At the time, most of the high-rise apartment buildings surrounding the plaza were government owned, with PRI (the dominant political party) placing government workers in them. According to my source, the presidential guards went into the apartments, told residents that if they'd lose their jobs if they said anything, and used their windows to set up snipers. The military on the ground and snipers in the apartment building began firing on the peaceful protesters.

The ensuing massacre completed the PRI's bankruptcy and the absolute end of any claims the Mexican government had to being a revolutionary state. In fact, I'd argue that the Mexican Revolution really wasn't revolutionary much at all after the mid 1920s. Sure, there were some important reforms put into place, but the PRI quickly institutionalized itself. By the 1940s, the one-party state became far more concerned with its own survival than with the stated goals of the 1917 Constitution. Not only was Diaz Ordaz heavily involved, but future Mexican presidents such as Luis Echeverria, who was charged with genocide in 2006, though he was later cleared. That this kind of massacre clearly does not meet any reasonable definition of genocide is besides the point, the man should live out his last years behind bars.

Of course, the Mexican government made an enormous tactical error by ordering the massacre. Not only did it permanently stain the PRI, something that it still has to deal with today, but it also stained the Olympics, which are more remembered today for the massacre and for the Black Power salute than anything that happened in the competitions. In fact, one might call the Mexico City Olympics the least successful ever, though Atlanta in 96 was pretty bad and obviously Berlin in 36 had some pretty serious issues.