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MEXICO: Lest We Forget – Tlatelolco 1968

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Jan 15 2007 (IPS) - At 6:10 p.m. on Oct. 2, 1968, red and green flares signalled troops and police in civilian clothes that it was time to fire on the students gathered in Tlatelolco square in the Mexican capital. This massacre changed the country’s history.

After two hours of shooting, the official report said that 26 people had been killed. But the students counted 190, and other sources reported over 300 dead.

A museum will be opened in the middle of this year in Mexico to reinterpret the Tlatelolco massacre, for which no one has ever been punished, and to make sure it is not forgotten, along with other instances in that iconic year such as the May uprising in France, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia and the emergence of civil rights, pacifist and feminist movements in the United States.

Hundreds of documents, films, photos, engravings, paintings and other expressions of the 1960s will be part of the collection at the Tlatelolco University Cultural Centre, a project being developed by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in a building that housed the Mexican foreign office for 40 years, very close to the scene of the student massacre.

1968 was an important year for millions of people because of the nascent social movements, the youthful political effervescence, the appearance of the hippie movement, the spread of rock music and the so-called counter-culture, among other things, the director general of the University Cultural Centre, Sergio Arroyo, told IPS.

The new museum will include space for exhibitions, workshops, courses and conferences. It will be dedicated principally to the social and political movement forged by young people in Mexico against the government of then President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz (1964-1970), which retaliated with a clampdown and the historic Tlatelolco massacre.

Díaz Ordaz was one of the most authoritarian presidents of Mexico during the years of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rule, from 1929 to 2000.

In 1968 in Mexico and in other parts of the world, there were movements that changed the way of thinking of an entire sector of society and transformed the way it related to the world, Arroyo said.

This idea was behind the plan to create a centre that would allow this year to be viewed in context, with its different political, cultural and social facets, he said.

The Tlatelolco University Cultural Centre is to be inaugurated in July or August, and will occupy about 4,600 square metres. The building was donated by the foreign ministry in 2006.

Visitors will be able to use museum resources such as multimedia, photomontage and films, as well as read several types of documents directly.

Over 4,000 digitalised images or conventional photographs, engravings, fliers and other graphic materials of the time will be available, as well as some 60 hours of sound recordings including interviews, advertisements, music and a range of radio programmes.

The goal is to present the 1968 Mexican social movement in as complete a way as possible, and to locate it within an international context that included other social movements, as in France, where the students swept several unions and the population into a social uprising that May, and in Czechoslovakia, where protests against the communist regime were put down by a military invasion headed by the now defunct Soviet Union.

But the exhibitions at the University Cultural Centre will centre on the massacre in Tlatelolco square on Oct. 2.

The aim is that this event should not be forgotten by society, and to provide enough material and information to interpret it, the project’s director said.

On the evening of Oct. 2, 1968, troops opened fire on some 10,000 people gathered in Tlatelolco square, or the Square of the Three Cultures, in the centre of the capital, as part of continuing protests against the Díaz Ordaz administration.

When that day was over, dozens of bodies were removed from the square. The government said that professional guerrillas and terrorists were hidden among the crowd.

At the time the media reported that some 2,000 students were stripped and beaten in public and military jails.

The student movement “was nothing more than an infamous alliance of infiltrated conspirators” moved by communist ideology, Díaz Ordaz said.

The massacre marked a whole generation and went down in history as one of the most important events in the fight for democracy in Mexico, but also as a state crime.

The events of Oct. 2, considered by some as a watershed in Mexican history, put an end to several weeks of student demonstrations and strikes demanding democracy, in a country which was formally democratic but where the PRI controlled all branches of the state and a major part of the social movement.

The movement’s banners in the struggles of that era were a mixture of depictions of rock, Argentine-Cuban guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara and Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata.

The legacy of the bloody event, perpetrated 10 days before the inauguration of the 19th Olympic Games in Mexico City and from which most young people today feel distant, is the democratisation process of recent years and the growth of opposition parties, according to historians.

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