From Tlatelolco to the 43

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A few days ago, hundreds of Mexicans marched from Iguala City in the state of Guerrero to Mexico City to voice their discontent about the incompetence in which the authorities have handled the investigation regarding the disappearance of 43 students and teachers who were intercepted by corrupt police and armed gangs on their way to a protest in the city of Iguala. Although the bodies of those missing haven’t been found, many fear the worst as several mass graves have appeared without clear evidence that the remains inside those graves are of the 43 students. The discovery of these mass graves unrelated to the 43, only sheds light on the type of violence that is lived in the most violent parts of Mexico where a large number of murders go unsolved every year. In 2012 alone, up to 98% of murders in the country went unsolved while many more crimes also went unsolved and even unreported. Coupled with the lack of resources, the incompetence of the local police forces, which in many cases work with drug cartels and armed gangs, and the indifference of the ruling elite, create a devastating problem for the population of rural Mexico and indeed also those who live in the larger cities. But the declaration that Mexicans have pledged by to stand united against the incompetence of the authorities and the accusations of the police of mishandling of these investigations goes beyond that, placing blame directly on the federal police, the military, and even the president himself, saying that these groups who cowardly murdered this group of students and teachers were given the order to do so expressly from the government. In the case of Mexico, not such a sensationalist claim to make.

What may sound like conspiracy theory in other parts of the world, considering Mexico’s turbulent political history of corruption, this may actually not be too far off the mark.

These shameful events that are shrouded in secrecy, painfully remind the Mexican people of an historic event that left a deep scar in the hearts of Mexicans and one that no Mexican will forget, as it is taught generation after generation, and one which serves to remind the people that sometimes the price of freedom is paid with innocents’ blood. Exactly forty-six years, one month and eleven days ago, this event tarnished the name of Mexico before the eyes of the world during one of the most iconic and turbulent years in the world’s history-1968. And although both events have obvious differences, and appear unrelated, they are however connected only by the set of circumstances that surround them.

 

The Massacre of the Plaza de las Tres Culturas

 

The dark night of October 2, 1968 marked a low point for Mexico, as that was the fateful day that the Mexican army by decree of the governor of Mexico City and some allege by order of president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz himself, massacred at gunpoint hundreds of protesters gathering at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City. Students, teachers, intellectuals, farmers, and indigenous peoples were hunted down, murdered, and disappeared as part of Mexico’s dirty war on communists and political opponents challenging the rule of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or P.R.I. (Institutional Revolutionary Party) which had been ruling Mexico uninterrupted for nearly 40 years, and which not ironically came back to power in 2012 after a 12 year hiatus.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the classroom and review a little background information on the massacre which would have a deep impact and leave deep scars in Mexican national identity.

After WWII the tension between communist Russia, or the Soviet Union, and a capitalistic-democratic United States finally imploded when Germany was divided between Russia and the European-American side. For years the capitalists and the communists had been at each other’s throats and many feared that after the defeat of Germany, a much stronger Russia and the new threat of nuclear war would set the stage for a new world war of much greater proportions- which in effect it did happen.

What ensued was the beginning of the Cold War. A war of ideologies, of display of power, and basically a proverbial dick-measuring contest in which the two super-powers pretty much divided the world in half while amounting huge stockpiles of super-weapons in the chance that the other side attacked. The only problem was that just like the Russians wouldn’t and couldn’t allow capitalism to spread so close to the motherland, America could not allow communism to spread so close to its borders either, which is why Cuba was a huge threat at the time and the reason why in the symbolic atomic clock that was devised to calculate the threat level to nuclear war, the Cuban crisis brought us to within one minute to midnight, which of course meant that the world was within a breath of nuclear obliteration.

However, a serious problem was happening on this side of the Americas, as communism proved very popular with many Latin-American nations in response to the oligarchies that formed into dictatorships in Spanish-speaking America sometimes with help of the United States . While Cuba was a great threat, since it was a strategic diamond for the Soviet Union for being so close to the U.S., Mexico was just across the border and at the time it was still extremely porous. One could argue that the leaderships of many countries were loyal to American interest, but communism was very popular among university students and intellectuals in many countries including Mexico. At the time, the recent victories of Fidel Castro and Commander Che Guevara injected new life into the countless communist movements throughout the world, which of course was seen as an even bigger threat to the stability of power in the region.

The general consensus was that the Night of Tlatelolco was a product of protests that began four years before due to the doctors’ strike who demanded fair pay from the government, which they did not receive. And after 206 doctors were abruptly fired from their jobs, several groups formed to demand that the government restart talks which were interrupted often by an uninterested political circle. Steadily more and more people became involved, including teachers and students from various universities through the nation, some very politically active and many of them leftist. This created a domino effect that caused several other institutions to demand equality on several issues.

But what started as a protest for doctor’s compensation, slowly turned into a huge political movement in which several independent organizations, including communists became involved. This, of course, caught the attention of the U.S. government and the C.I.A. who feared that Mexico could eventually go in a state of civil war, and a coup would result in the deposition of a president sympathetic to American interests, including oil. Although books have been written on the C.I.A.’s involvement in Latin American affairs (not unheard of)- in this case Mexico- including Jefferson Morley’s Our Man in Mexico which claims that among those in the C.I.A. payroll were Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz who was supposedly Station Chief of the Mexico City branch, codename LITEMPO-2, we will only go so far as to say that the C.I.A. was involved in some way in the event. At the very least, it is well publicized by the release documents in 2003 in response to requests submitted under the Freedom of Information Act, that the United States government was highly involved in the events leading up to the 1968 massacre. According to the document, the C.I.A. provided radios, riot-gear equipment, and training, and produced daily updates of the situation all the way until October 2nd.

The exact information of whether the United States was working to suppress peaceful demonstrations, even if they were political, is inconclusive. What is known is what can be proven, which is that the American government had at least some form of involvement in controlling the situation one way or another.

On the evening of October 2nd, thousands of protesters gathered at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Three Cultures Square) under the policing of the military. Without the army’s knowledge, a group of individuals within the military known as the Batallón Olimpia (Olympia Battalion) dispersed and conspicuously occupied several buildings around the area in strategic posts, where sharpshooters were set up. Soon thereafter at approximately 6 pm, the sharpshooters fired to military on the ground making them believe that the students had started the shooting. Just as expected, chaos ensued. Hundreds of people were arrested, and the exact number of those killed was never clearly known. Numbers range from 20 to 1500. While government investigations claim that only a small number of people were killed, several independent investigations mainly by journalists- foreign and domestic- raise the number to at least a couple of hundred. Many theories revolve around the disappearance of these bodies, one of which is that they were quickly hauled off in trash trucks away from the city and dumped in mass graves. An independent investigation by Mexican journalist Elena Poniatowska claimed in her book La Noche de Tlatelolco that at least 65 bodies were buried in one single grave.

What happened next was a wave of indignation at the national and international level with several important non-governmental organizations and millions of students all over the world speaking out against the Mexican government and in support of the students and those involved in the protests. More hurtful was the fact that the 1968 Summer Olympic games started without delay merely days after the massacre. Protests were held in the Mexican embassies throughout many countries in Europe and Latin America reaching as far as Russia for the massacre and for the consequent suppression of information of the Mexican government towards journalists. [1]

 

The Massacre of the 43

 

There are obvious differences between the massacre in Tlatelolco and those of the 43 students who were kidnapped and- if investigations prove the public’s fear correct- massacred in the small town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. However, once again, it is the circumstances and the government stance on the matter which complicate the issue and as a result, circumstances where people cannot help but revisit the terrible events of Tlatelolco.

On September 26, 2014, students and teachers from a leftist college in Iguala, Guerrero, were detained by authorities on their way to a protest regarding unfair government practices in hiring and funding in that state. According to the investigation, the students were handed off to an armed group with ties to drug traffickers known as the Guerreros Unidos.

At the moment there is still a lot of speculation and unknown details surrounding the disappearance of the 43 students, but investigations on the alleged massacre point to a partnership between Iguala’s Mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez, his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa and a local drug gang who was on the Mayor’s payroll and thus the government’s. The investigations also concluded that the students were on their way to intercept and disrupt a conference that the Mayor’s wife was giving to promote her husband’s public works as Mayor. After that, the students and teachers were also planning to go to Mexico City to march alongside thousands others to commemorate the anniversary of the slayed students in Tlatelolco.

photo credit: Resa Sunshine via photopin cc

photo credit: Resa Sunshine via photopin cc

Days after the kidnapping, and what many believe to be a massacre, the Mayor and the first lady fled and were subsequently arrested outside Mexico City. Throughout the investigation another 74 other people were arrested including police officers and people of interest who are believed to be the shooters. As of now, out of the 74 people arrested, those part of the Guerreros Unidos gang have confessed to the killings, although they have not been able to provide authorities with a precise location of where they disposed of the bodies.

It is difficult to assess the level of corruption and just how high up government involvement goes. But it is not hard to guess that with any level of government involvement, there will always be efforts to underplay the sequence of events or to restrict the access of information to investigations in which government officials are involved in.

Until now, the bodies of those missing have not been found and it is believed that the several mass graves that have been found do not contain the bodies of those killed, thus leading the population to demand that they be released from wherever they are held. [2]

On a personal note, it is convenient to believe that the members of Guerreros Unidos would simply confess to the crime than to consider the possibility that they, or their families, were paid off to take the blame. Then again this is just speculation.

Until the mystery of what happened to these 43 people is resolved, there is sure to be a severe backlash against the government of president Enrique Peña Nieto whose presidency is now on shaky grounds, and not looking any better for the future- as we have already seen in the past few weeks when

 

Why It Matters

 

Ever heard the old adage “history repeats itself”? Well, it’s not so much that history repeats itself, is that we let it. And I wonder now, when we will let it happen again.

Right at this moment, all the details about the vanishing of the 43 is not well known, even by the authorities- but they wish it was. And many fear that there is strong government involvement in all this and not in the way we wished there was.

With a suspected fraudulent presidential election and talk of extreme political corruption and government suppression of civil rights which include freedom of expression, already the government of P.R.I president Enrique Peña Nieto is on shaky grounds and not looking any better for the future. Even though his first year and a half everything went smooth, this has definitely become his first real trial, and already it seems like it’s beginning to slip out of his control as organized groups are staging marches and protests all throughout Mexico, with many people outside of the country showing their support.

Mexico's president Enrique Peña Nieto and the First Lady Angelica Rivera photo credit: Galería Ricardo Patiño via <a

Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto and the First Lady Angelica Rivera
photo credit: Galería Ricardo Patiño via <a

Earlier this month, the president was heavily criticized for leaving the country in the midst of the investigations, to China to promote investment in the country. Meanwhile his own wife, former actress Angelica Rivera was also criticized by the press for purchasing a 7 million dollar mansion in a deal with a company who had ties with her husband while he was governor of Mexico City in an obscure and strange deal. How she came to acquire that house on an actress salary nobody knows but in the middle of controversy, it all seems in poor taste and a bit suspicious. Still, we only stick with what we know.

Also earlier this month, people became even more outraged at the contemptuous comments that Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo- the top dog in the investigation- said in a press conference he gave concerning this particular investigation. Tired of the questions being asked over several weeks about the progress of the investigation, Mr. Murillo finally decided he had had enough and made it publicly known by declaring exactly that, “Ya me canse” or “I’ve had enough.” Mr. Murillo has done only one thing right so far, which is that he has managed to rile even more people together to ridicule him and the handling of this investigation, under the banner/hashtag #yamecanse.

In addition to the many protests already active all throughout the country, several more are scheduled to begin on November 20th (commemorative day of the start of the Mexican Revolution) in a massive mobilization effort to condemn the government of Peña Nieto by wearing black and in effect stopping all activity in the country. The aim of these protests are to force the authorities to act with better efficacy and speed and to demand the resignation of the president.

It’s unclear just how effective this message will be, as we never know just how effective these things ever are. However, by shedding light on the events and informing the people who want answers and those who know little about the issue, we can at least hope to bring more transparency and a little bit more justice, because as Mr. Murillo himself couldn’t have said it better, we too have had enough.

Credit: (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Credit: (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

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This is an evolving story and will be updated as more information is gathered.

If you want to learn about massacres in Mexico please visit- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_Mexico

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Last November I participated in a small November 5th (Guy Fawkes Night) “march” which is organized all over the world. This one was in Fort Worth and although the turnout was small, we found it fun and educational in a sense. Some people came up to us and asked questions about what we intended to do and our goal. If you are interested in participating on the next November 5th march visit the Facebook page on Guy Fawkes Night in your city and bring your banner to voice your discontent on anything you find important!

 

Credit: Courtney Renee Clark (Facebook) November 5th March in downtown Fort Worth (Nov 5th)

Credit: Courtney Renee Clark (Facebook) November 5th March in downtown Fort Worth (Nov 5th)

 

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All Wikipedia articles used in this blog are “good articles” or “featured articles” and/or cross-referenced with other reputable websites on the matter for reliance.

Bibliography

[1] Movimiento de 1968 en Mexico. (2014, November 12) http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movimiento_de_1968_en_M%C3%A9xico  -Article also available in Spanish.

[2] 2014 Iguala Mass Kidnapping. (2014, November 12) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Iguala_mass_kidnapping . This Wikipedia article is not labeled a “good article” or “featured article” but was used because of its mass compiling of facts and the extensive bibliography which can be fact-checked.

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