In Mexico the coalition PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institutional) government had begun to confront the problems of the poor but when Gustavo Diaz Ordas came to power in 1964 it was on a platform emphasizing business rather than social programs. Students were the first to express outrage: demonstrations at the National University in Mexico City in 1966 were squashed by federal troops. The grassroots CNH student movement was formed to take up the fight for factory workers and rural peasants.
Students distributed leaflets in streets and on buses, gradually gaining sympathy for their fight against government corruption and repression.
As Mexico City prepared for the 1968 Olympic Games, building hotels, athletics facilities and a subway system, discontent came to a head. The CNH saw the Olympic Games, with the world’s attention on the city, as an opportunity to gain support. The orderliness of a huge demonstration on August 1 proved to the public that the students were not simply communist agitators, but Diaz Ordas was determined to stop further protests at all costs.
On October 2 about 10,000 students gathered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the city’s Tlatelolco district for a peaceful rally. The square was surrounded by 5,000 soldiers backed by tanks and armored cars. A helicopter hovered, a flare blazed, and as demonstrators and bystanders gazed upwards the troops opened fire into the crowd. The bloodshed continued into the night. Bodies, dead or alive, were carted off in military trucks.
Newspapers reported a few casualties after security forces returned fire in the face of armed student provocateurs. Not until 2001, after the end of the PRI’s 70-year repressive reign, did President Vicente Fox order the release of government documents relating to the tragic ‘Night of Tlatelolco’.
When: October 2 1968
Where: Mexico City, Mexico
Death toll: The official version was four dead and 20 wounded, but it is thought to be between 200 and 300 dead. More than 1,000 were injured or arrested.
You should know: Recently declassified US documents suggest American involvement. While the CIA recognized the ‘graft and dishonesty’ of the PRI, both governments saw the prevention of any disruption to the Olympic Games as paramount, and at the time the US stood by Diaz Ordas.