Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Mexico’s capital to mark the passage of 44 years since the October 1968 massacre of student protesters, an anniversary that took on new significance this year with the re-emergence of young people as a force in public life.
The march began in Tlatelolco square, where a few dozen soldiers and paramilitaries opened fire on a peaceful student rally the evening of Oct. 2, 1968.
Efforts to hold anyone in authority accountable have been frustrated by the courts and by Mexican institutions’ persistent unwillingness to hand over information.
Even the death toll remains a matter of dispute. Authorities released only 44 bodies, but activists say as many as 400 were slain.
It was only a year ago that President Felipe Calderon designated Oct. 2 as an official day of mourning for those who died “in the struggle for democracy.”
Tuesday’s procession made its way to Mexico City’s giant main square, the Zocalo, amid a heavy police presence.
The proclamation of a day of mourning created a “new situation” in that the nation at least “acknowledges what happened,” one of the organizers of the march, Raul Alvarez, told Efe.
He pointed to continuity between the 1968 protesters and the YoSoy132 student movement, which arose during this year’s election campaign to oppose the candidate who ultimately won the presidential contest, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which was in power at the time of the Tlatelolco massacre.
A similar note was struck Tuesday by two-time leftist presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said during a ceremony to honor the Tlatelolco victims that the struggle for political freedom continues in Mexico.
Lopez Obrador, who unsuccessfully contested his losses to Calderon in 2006 and Peña Nieto this year, promised to defend young activists at a time when “an authoritarian government is about to impose itself.”
The PRI, which governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000, lost the 2000 presidential election to the conservative PAN party and finished third in 2006, behind the PAN’s Calderon and Lopez Obrador.
During its 71-year reign, the PRI relied mainly on patronage and control of organized labor and the mass media, though it was not above resorting to outright vote-rigging and even violence to stay in power.
“The demands of 44 years ago continue to be the same now,” YoSoy132’s Citlalli Hernandez told Efe.
“We are part of the same movement for democracy and against authoritarianism,” she said, noting that besides commemorating Tlatelolco, Tuesday’s demonstration was aimed at voicing anger over Calderon’s attempt to overhaul Mexican labor law before he leaves office Nov. 30.
In the Zocalo, where the giant Mexican flag that waves over the square was at half-mast, members of YoSoy132 read a statement warning of a new “offensive against the people of Mexico” with the return to power of the PRI.
Participants in the rally observed a minute of silence at 6:10 p.m., when the first shots were fired 44 years ago.
The Tlatelolco massacre was the most dramatic incident in the “dirty war” waged by successive PRI administrations against leftists from the late 1960s to around 1980.
Organizations representing families of the hundreds of activists killed or “disappeared” by the government during the dirty war took part in Tuesday’s anniversary events.
The most serious attempt to hold officials accountable for the bloodletting in Tlatelolco ended in March 2009, when an appellate court “definitively exonerated” former President Luis Echeverria of murder charges.
As interior minister in the 1964-1970 government of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Echeverria was in charge of both the federal police and a clandestine paramilitary unit at the time of the ‘68 shootings.
In November 2001, then-President Vicente Fox of the PAN created a special prosecutor’s office to investigate dirty-war crimes.
The man named to head the office, Ignacio Carrillo Prieto, eventually indicted Echeverria - Diaz Ordaz died in 1979 - in connection with the Tlatelolco massacre and a 1971 incident involving the deaths of protesters.
But Mexico’s courts have effectively blocked all attempts to prosecute Echeverria, who some think was anointed as Diaz Ordaz’s successor as a reward for his success in suppressing the student protests.
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