The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

50 Years Ago in Mexico City:
The Tlatelolco Massacre

Oct 15, 2018

On October 2, 1968, above the Square of the Three Cultures in the Tlatelolco neighborhood of Mexico City, a helicopter launched a green flare. It was the signal for the army and federal police to begin their attack against a meeting of 10,000 striking students.

The square was blockaded by tanks. Soldiers marched toward the assembly firing pistols, rifles, machine guns, and even bazookas. They killed hundreds of students, and also children and local residents. Thousands were wounded, arrested and imprisoned that night, and for many days after.

The student movement had started at the end of June and attracted the sympathy of the workers and the residents of the poor neighborhoods. The students’ slogan was: “We don’t want the Olympic Games, we want the revolution!” But for the government, the Olympic Games which were set to start a few days later had to be held at all costs.

The Mexican state was led by a unique party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. This state, supported by the official union bureaucracy, had the habit of responding to any opposition of workers, peasants, or students, with military force.

Since 1950, the law had criminalized all opposition. The government had violently repressed movements and strikes by miners, teachers, railway workers, nurses, doctors, peasants, and students. Opponents of the regime were jailed.

The student movement was politicized, influenced by Castroism, Maoism, and Trotskyism. On June 30, 1968, soldiers had blown up the door of a religious school with a bazooka. On August 1, the rector led a demonstration of 50,000 students against this police repression. Students occupied the big universities. Brigades of students went into the streets demanding the abolition of the anti-riot police and the end of the 1950 law banning political opposition.

Then the students organized a series of marches of as many as 600,000 people. A growing part of the population turned toward the students who expressed their desire for a more free and equal society, against what Mexico was under the PRI government.

That government decided to retake control with ferocious repression. Those arrested filled the prisons. The soldiers made prisoners strip naked and beat them for no reason. Doctors and nurses recorded the consequences of the military fury: old women disemboweled by explosive shells and children killed by bayonets.

After the massacre of October 2, the Mexican government imposed a black-out on any news about the repression. We don’t know even today how many were killed, wounded, and disappeared. This massacre, backed by Washington, was just one of many then beginning against political opponents throughout Latin America.

The Olympic Games in Mexico in October of 1968 are remembered not only for the athletic performances, but also for the massacre of students which made them possible. A few days later, two black U.S. athletes raised their fists on the podium in solidarity with the exploited of their country. Their gesture also showed their solidarity with those who suffered under repression in Mexico.