On this day, 45 years ago, hundreds of peaceful protestors were massacred by the government in Mexico City. With worsening poverty, repressive government and no democratic outlet, all the conditions are in place for another colossal clash between the state and popular opposition. Mexico’s rulers ought to be worried.
In the lead up to the anniversary of the bloodshed, the capital’s central plaza, the Zócalo, has been once again the theatre of mass unrest. Striking teachers had been occupying the square for five months in resistance to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposed education reform, which threatens to privatise much of the school system and dismiss thousands of its employees.
In preparation for Mexico’s Independence Day last month, 3,000 riot police backed up by military units forcibly removed thousands of demonstrators from the square. Many of those who got in the way or refused to move were violently beaten, arrested and incarcerated.
Thus, on the evening of the celebrations, the square was packed with security forces. They, and the watching media, were treated to a surreal spectacle of the President celebrating the revolutionary heroes “who gave us a homeland and freedom”, only days after the police had violently removed protesters from the same spot.
A year to remember
1968 has a special significance in Mexico. As in the US, France, Czechoslovakia, Brazil and many other places, the year witnessed an upsurge in political activism among young people. The scale of the movement was unprecedented and rocked the foundations of Mexico’s then one party state. The protests were initially led by students in Mexico City, who reached out to and began to unite with blue collar workers, trade unions, peasant organisations and indigenous people’s movements. They featured overwhelmingly peaceful calls for greater democratic participation, an end to police corruption and brutality, greater equality for women and marginalised people.
The government reaction – just two weeks before Mexico was to host the Olympic Games – was completely disproportionate to the movement’s demands. The deaths in Mexico City heralded the beginning of a dirty war against popular opposition movements in which at least 1,200 people were disappeared by state authorities.
Like the nationalist celebrations of Independence Day this year, the media spectacle of the 1968 Olympics proceeded unhindered, despite the repression and violence which had taken place only days earlier.
It was a defining moment in contemporary Mexico as it marked the awakening of a spirit of rebellion and class consciousness that has never disappeared, despite the violent and repressive tactics of successive administrations. Read the full article here.