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Tlatelolco 1968 Olympic massacre

Material Information

Title:
Tlatelolco 1968 Olympic massacre
Series Title:
This week in history
Creator:
Castro, Richard T.
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Publisher:
Richard T. Castron
Publication Date:
Language:
English

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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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Copyright [name of copyright holder or Creator or Publisher as appropriate]. Permission granted to University of Colorado Denver to digitize and display this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.

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Full Text
This Week In History
Tlatelolco 1968 Olympic Massacre by
Richard Castro
This week the 1988 Olympics will be in full swing in Seoul Korea with a record 161 nations participating and more watching on television. The city is spending 3 billion dollars to promote this event and place Seoul on the Olympic map. Behind all the euphoria of the grand opening there is still forbidding shadows lurking in the backdrop. Recent government
reforms have not completely stilled student protests and the DMZ separating the students from the games sits only 24.8 miles from the Olympic Stadium.
Twenty years ago this week, against a similar backdrop in Mexico at a Zocalo called Tlatelolco, hundreds of students were massacred while peacefully protesting policies of the Mexican government. This action was kept from the public media to avoid tarnishing Mexico's image before the world.
/
Following Lopez Mateos' election as president of Mexico in 1959, there developed a restless mood among the middle class of the country, primarily due to his foreign policy positions. For example, he became the first
Mexican President to travel extensively. Although he was no leftist he refused to join other Latin American countries in breaking ties with Cuba's new revolutionary government, demonstrating Mexico's independence from Washington. But, the impact of the Cuban Revolution was also felt among Mexican youths and intellectuals and the resulting mood of restlessness promoted private financial flight from the country.


2
The leftist unrest affecting Latin American was the reason for the selection of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz to succeed Mateos in 1964. Diaz Ordaz, was a conservative known to be pro-American. Immediately following his election he made it known that he would not tolerate noisy activism. He sent troops against striking doctors and nurses and put students on notice the same would happen to them if they stimulated unrest.
With a 3.5 percent population growth rate each year and a migration of peasants to urban slums in search of employment created an unhealthy tension in the nation. Mexico however, was experiencing a 6 percent annual economic growth rate and the "economic miracle" and the image of political stability were being touted as a model for other developing nations.
/
The 1968 Olympics were to be held in Mexico. And Diaz Ordaz was proud that Mexico should be the first developing nation to host the Games. The political mood of students, intellectuals and much of the middle class, however, had soured under Diaz Ordaz unstable version of authoritarianism, and the huge expenditure on preparations for the Olympics became a further irritant. The protests that erupted in the summer of 1968 nevertheless came as a surprise. Although the government had an efficient security apparatus, the system proved ill prepared to deal with the seemingly spontaneous movement.
The first clash between students and Mexican police took place in Mexico City on July 22, 1968 and went almost unnoticed. Four days later, leftist demonstrators marked the fifteenth anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution and were attacked by police when they headed for the National Palace. Leftist leaders from the Autonomous National University


3
(NAM) and the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) then began planning a protest strike, while senior high school students barricated themselves in the Preparatia No. 1 in the former Convent of San Idelfonso. But, soldiers fired a bazooka at the school door, beat up numerous students and arrested many more. In charge of the government's response was the
Interior Minister, Luis Echeverria Alvarez, who was to become the next
/
president of Mexico following Diaz Ordaz term.
The repression only served to mobilize the disenchanted middle classes to join the students. The issue became freedom, not for peasants and workers, but for the educated and affluent, including many bureaucrats. And the rallying cry was opposition to the regime rather than support for any specific alternative. On August 13, 150,000 people marched to the Zocalo, and two weeks later housewives and office workers swelled the numbers to 300,000. On September 1, with the Olympics only six weeks away, Diaz Ordaz warned that unrest would be stopped "to avoid any further loss of prestige." But, on September 13, huge crowds again marched down the central Paseo de la Reforma toward the Zocalo, this time in dramatic silence. Despite its size, the movement was more cathartic than expectant of change. A new rally was called for October 2 in the Plaza de Tlatelolco. There was not a huge turnout: many people felt intimidated by the government's growing toughness, others had heard that the real political debate was taking place behind closed doors. At around 5:30 p.m., there were only some 10,000 people in the plaza, many of them women and children sitting on the ground. Two helicopters circled above, but the crowd was accustomed to such surveillance. Even the speeches sounded familiar. Then suddenly one helicopter flew low over the crowd and dropped a flare. Immediately, hundreds of soldiers hidden among the Aztec ruins


4
of the square opened fire with automatic weapons, while hundreds of secret police agents drew pistols and began making arrests. For thirty minutes, there was total confusion. Students who fled into the adjacent Church of San Francisco were chased and beaten and some were murdered. Journalists were allowed to escape, but then banned from re-entering the area when the shooting stoppped. That night, army vehicles carried away the bodies, while firetrucks washed away the blood. By morning, the plaza was empty except for a dozen armored cars and several hundred soldiers. The government conceded that thirty-two people had died, but a more
probable number was between two and three hundred.
The massacre achieved its immediate objective. With more than a
thousand people under arrest and the remaining student leaders in hiding,
/
the protest movement disintergrated. Before dawn on October 3, Diaz Ordaz's spokesman told correspondents that “the focus of agitation has been eliminated." And on October 12, as the Olympic flame was lit and
white doves were released into the air, television viewers around the world saw no shots of the thousands of heavily armed soldiers guarding Aztec Stadium. As host nation, Mexico could control the television images being
fed to the world. But the government could not save its image at home.
★


Full Text

PAGE 1

This Week In History Tlatelolco 1968 Olympic Massacre by Richard Castro This week the 1988 Olympics will be in full swing in Seoul Korea with a record 161 nations participating and more watching on television. The city is spending 3 billion dollars to promote this event and place Seoul on the Olympic map. Behind all the euphoria of the grand opening there is still forbidding shadows lurking in the backdrop. Recent government reforms have not completely stilled student protests and the DMZ separating the students from the games sits only 24.8 miles from the Olympic Stadium. Twenty years ago this week, against a similar backdrop in Mexico at a Zocalo called Tlatelolco, hundreds of students were massacred while peacefully protesting policies of the Mexican government. This action was kept from the public media to avoid tarnishing Mexico's image before the world. / Following Lopez Mateos' election as president of Mexico in 1959, there developed a restless mood among the middle class of the country, primarily due to his foreign policy positions. For example, he became the first Mexican President to travel extensively. Although he was no leftist he refused to join other Latin American countries in breaking ties with Cuba's new revolutionary government, demonstrating Mexico's independence from Washington. But, the impact of the Cuban Revolution was also felt among Mexican youths and intellectuals and the resulting mood of restlessness promoted private financial flight from the country.

PAGE 2

2 The leftist unrest affecting Latin American was the reason for the / selection of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz to succeed Mateos in 1964. Diaz Ordaz, was a conservative known to be pro-American. Immediately following his election he made it known that he would not tolerate noisy activism. He sent troops against striking doctors and nurses and put students on notice the same would happen to them if they stimulated unrest. With a 3.5 percent population growth rate each year and a migration of peasants to urban slums in search of employment created an unhealthy tension in the nation. Mexico however, was experiencing a 6 percent annual economic growth rate and the 11economic miracle11 and the image of political stability were being touted as a model for other developing nations . ./ The 1968 Olympics were to be held in Mexico. And Diaz Ordaz was proud that Mexico should be the first developing nation to host the Games. The political mood of students, intellectuals and much of the middle class, ,. however, had soured under Diaz Ordaz unstable version of authoritarianism, and the huge expenditure on preparations for the Olympics became a further irritant. The protests that erupted in the summer of 1968 nevertheless came as a surprise. Although the government had an efficient security apparatus, the system proved ill prepared to deal with the seemingly spontaneous movement. The first clash between students and Mexican police took place in Mexico City on July 22, 1968 and went almost unnoticed. Four days later, leftist demonstrators marked the fifteenth anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution and were attacked by police when they headed for the National Palace. Leftist leaders from the Autonomous National University

PAGE 3

3 (NAM) and the National Polytechnic Institute (lPN) then began planning a protest strike, while senior high school students barricated themselves in the Preparatia No. 1 in the former Convent of San Idelfonso. But, soldiers fired a bazooka at the school door, beat up numerous students and arrested many more. In charge of the government's response was the Interior Minister, Luis Echeverria Alvarez, who was to become the next I president of Mexico following Diaz Ordaz term. The repression only served to mobilize the disenchanted middle classes to join the students. The issue became freedom, not for peasants and workers, but for the educated and affluent, including many bureaucrats. And the rallying cry was opposition to the regime rather than support for any specific alternative. On August 13, 150,000 people marched to the Zocalo, and two weeks later housewives and office workers swelled the numbers to 300,000. On September 1, with the Olympics only six weeks away, Ordaz warned that unrest would be stopped "to avoid any further loss of prestige." But, on September 13, huge crowds again marched down the central Paseo de la Reforma toward the Zocalo, this time in dramatic silence. Despite its size, the movement was more cathartic than expectant of change. A new rally was called for October 2 in the Plaza de Tlatelolco. There was not a huge turnout: many people felt intimidated by the government's growing toughness, others had heard that the real political debate was taking place behind closed doors. At around 5:30 p.m., there were only some 10,000 people in the plaza, many of them women and children sitting on the ground. Two helicopters circled above, but the crowd was accustomed to such survei 11 ance. Even the speeches sounded familiar. Then suddenly one helicopter flew low over the crowd and dropped a flare. Immediately, hundreds of soldiers hidden among the Aztec ruins

PAGE 4

4 of the square opened fire with automatic weapons, while hundreds of secret police agents drew pistols and began making arrests. For thirty minutes, there was tota 1 confusion. Students who fled into the adjacent Church of San Francisco were chased and beaten and some were murdered. Journalists were allowed to escape, but then banned from re-entering the area when the shooting stoppped. That night, army vehicles carried away the bodies, while firetrucks washed away the blood. By morning, the plaza was empty except for a dozen armored cars and severa 1 hundred so 1 di ers. The government conceded that thirty-two people had died, but a more probable number was between two and three hundred. The massacre achieved its immediate objective. With more than a thousand people under arrest and the remaining student leaders in hiding, the protest movement disintergrated. .I Before dawn on October 3, Di az Ordaz 1 s spokesman to 1 d correspondents that 11the focus of agitation has been eliminated.11 And on October 12, as the Olympic flame was lit and white doves were released into the air, television viewers around the world saw no shots of the thousands of heavily armed soldiers guarding Aztec Stadium. As host nation, Mexico could control the television images being fed to the world. But the government could not save its image at home. * * * *