From the March 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 2)


The Truth About Tlatelolco, 1968

Jana Schroeder, World Press Review Correspondent, Tepoztlan, Mexico

Commemorating Tlatelolco
Commemorating Tlatelolco, Oct. 9, 1999. Relatives of those who went missing under Mexico's military governments meet annually to mourn the dead (Photo: AFP).
The phrase “Oct. 2 will not be forgotten” was revived in Mexico when Proceso published anonymously received photos taken that night in 1968. The event was a student demonstration in Mexico City’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas that ended in what is known as the Tlatelolco massacre and is described as Mexico’s Tiananmen Square.

The photos are the first to show armed men in civilian clothes, wearing one white glove, rounding up people who were in the building from which student leaders were addressing the crowd in the plaza. “[The photos] clearly prove the existence of the Olympia Battalion,” wrote Proceso’s Sanjuana Martínez (Dec. 9), who received the photos reportedly taken by a government photographer. Since 1968, the government has claimed that students fired the first shots and that the army responded by opening fire on the protesters.

But Luis González de Alba, a student leader who appears in the photos, says they prove “what we’ve been saying for 30 years: that the Tlatelolco massacre was initiated by men in civilian clothes with a white glove on their left hand and a gun in their right” (Proceso, Dec. 16). Over the years, testimonies from students and foreign journalists have claimed that the men posing as students were from the paramilitary squad formed to provide security for the Olympic Games in Mexico City and that they were given the additional task of repressing the student movement before the games began. “Who gave the order? Everything points to Luis Echeverría [then interior minister and later president]...only he and President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz had that power,” González de Alba said.

A week after the photos appeared, La Jornada (Dec. 15) published other photos and excerpts from documents, also received anonymously, “confirming what the Mexican government has denied for 33 years: that Military Camp No. 1 was used as a detention center after the events of Oct. 2, 1968.” In the following day’s edition, retired army general and legislator from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Alvaro Vallarta “denied that students...were tortured or disappeared.”

In response to questions regarding the Mexican army’s role in the Tlatelolco incident and the “dirty war” that followed in the 1970s and 1980s, Sen. Diego Fernández de Cevallos of the National Action Party (PAN) said the armed forces should not be obliged, like other institutions, to report all their activities (La Jornada, Dec. 15).

This provoked a response from Ricardo Alemán in El Universal (Dec. 18), who said the strongest resistance to “an accounting of the past” is surprisingly not from the army or from the PRI, which held power for seven decades until its recent electoral loss, but rather “from the most hard-line, dogmatic, right-wing sector of the party in power, the PAN.” Alemán predicts “the [current] Vicente Fox administration will be subjected to a harsh test... in clearing up responsibilities in the dirty war” in light of the new evidence. Proceso’s Martínez said the photos prove that “all the documentation necessary to find out who committed the Tlatelolco massacre is in government files.”

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