Mexico Remembers Massacre

Tlatelolco Memory March

Ana Ignacia Rodriguez Marquez, now in her sixties, stood in La Plaza de Las Tres Culturas on Tuesday this week, October 2nd, in the same place that she had stood nearly 40 years ago. It was from that very spot that she saw students, men, women and children gunned down by state police and officials just after 6pm on October 2nd, 1968 as they gathered in peaceful protest in what has become known as the Tlatelolco Massacre – one of the darkest episodes in Mexico’s modern history.

This week – like they do every year – Mexicans young and old gathered to march to the city’s central Zocalo in memory of the hundred who died that day. Scores of people milled around the vast concrete square that is overlooked by the 14-storey Chihuahua building from which the students back then addressed the crowd.

This week those waiting for the march to start were classically-rebellious teenage youths, dressed in baggy jeans and T-shirts. But there were also people of all ages touting banners of all shapes, sizes and causes: punks alongside campesinos (farmers and people who live in rural Mexico); old hippies alongside new-age anarchists.

“They said back then that it was more dangerous to be a student than it was to be a criminal,” says Rodriguez, her shoulder length grey hair and fringe blowing in the light breeze. Behind us, two young teenagers listened intently to the interview taking place as they waited for the March to start. Her age and huge Comite ’68 flag – (the name of the organization set up following the tragedy) made it likely that she was either a survivor or the friend or family of one.
Tlatelolco Memory March

“The atmosphere was one of a deeply authoritarian state that used force as a means of legitimating itself but it was always used unlawfully. The student movement was against this and was violently repressed, particularly in the universities in the 60’s,” according to Salvador Martinez dela Roca, also known as El Pino.

Now a white-haired Deputy who insists on wearing jeans and a shirt rather than a suit in Congress, at the time he was a prominent student leader and member of the National Strike Committee. He was also 22 and in jail for his activism.

“Everyone says different things about this day because we saw it from different views,” says Rodriguez.

“Those that were up in the building have a different view to those that were down in the plaza. I was down here.”

Students gathering for the demonstration back then were calm, says Rodriguez, because although they hadn’t been given permission to march that day, they had been given permission by the government of then President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz to meet and demonstrate in the Plaza.

“That’s why it was such a betrayal – because the government had given us permission,” spits Rodriguez.
Tlatelolco Memory March
Where today there a stone monument commemorating the hundreds who died that night, stood some eight thousand demonstrators on October 2nd 1968. Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, former journalists for the New York Times, write in their book ‘Opening Mexico’ that there were ten thousand soldiers and police present at the plaza in Tlatelolco as the demonstration was beginning.

“Hundreds of plainclothes state security agents were also visible, betrayed by their military haircuts and, on this occasion, another curious detail: mnay were wearing one white glove,” they write.

“As I was watching people talking a helicopter flew overhead, continues Rodriguez.

“We heard the sound of military footsteps but we weren’t afraid because we had heard this sound many times since the movement had started. There was the feeling that we were in a war because all around us were tanks and soldiers with their bayonets drawn. We felt calm but it worried me when the helicopter started to fly overhead and flares went off. We didn’t know what was going to happen – afterwards we realized that this was the attack signal.”

Preston and Dillon write that at 6:10pm that night two flares went off, and shortly thereafter shots rang out as soldiers posted on the rooftops and on the ground began firing on the crowd.

“I watched those student leaders who were above us in the balcony,” remembers Rodriguez.

“I saw that hands with white gloves were clamped over their mouths and they were dragged backwards, and that started happening to all of the leaders up there. Then there was a bout of gunfire and I said to myself this can’t be possible. My friend told me not to be silly, this was really happening, they’re killing those people, those are real bullets. Run!”

Rodriguez and her companions ran to the part of the square in which there are some ancient ruins.

“We had to duck because there were bullets flying all around us.

“Talking to you now about this is very painful, because you’d never think that young unarmed students could be annihilated in this way,” she says.

Tlatelolco Memory March

Clearly Rodriguez is not the only Mexican for whom this memory is so painful after four decades. NGO’s and teacher collectives marched with workers unions and anarchists on this week’s October 2nd. Punks wearing gas-masks and youths with their faces covered by bandanas adorned with skulls walked alongside students brandishing flags carrying the icon of the revolutionary who refused to die – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

Flanked by police on either side, the marchers made their way through the city towards the Zocolo. The police watched on calmly as protestors daubed revolutionary slogans on lampposts, shop windows and bus-stops. An enraged young Mexican, the lower half his face concealed by a black scarf that was drenched in saliva as a result of his vocal exertions, screamed insults to a group of silent policemen on Avenida Juarez. They did not shout back.

They messages of the protestors this week were diverse, but back in 1968 there was a real sense of cohesion.

“The student movement had direction, and it was all of us – men and women,” says Martinez dela Roca. That the movement was so violently crushed that day in 1968 was testament to the perceived threat it posed to the Government’s authority. Preston and Dillon’s book described the student movement of 1968 as an ‘exhilarating cultural revolution.’

But despite the diversity of the slogans, del Roca insists that October second is still of vital importance to Mexicans.

“We march to show that we will never forget what happened on October 2nd – that it can never be removed from history.”

Tlatelolco Memory March

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: