For the first time, the Mexican flag at the Chamber of Deputies building in Mexico City flew at half mast Oct. 2 in commemoration of the students gunned down by Mexican security forces in the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968.
In an example of how Oct. 2 is increasingly recognized in the political and social calendar of Mexico, the new legislators took time to consider the significance of the day when the soldiers and police of President Diaz Ordaz crushed a pro-democracy movement in Mexico City just as the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI-led government was welcoming the world to the Olympics. In honor of the murdered students, who could have numbered in the hundreds according to different accounts, the lawmakers devoted a minute of silence.
A similar ceremony was held by the capital city’s local elected representatives. In a speech, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard credited the 1968 student movement for laying the groundwork for democratic advances in the ensuing years.
“Thanks to them, we can speak out today,” said the outgoing mayor.
But while politicians contemplated the legacy of Oct. 2, others took to the streets to demand greater democracy and labor rights in today’s Mexico. Invoking the spirit of ’68, student, labor and popular organizations capped off a day-long series of protests and activities with a march of an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people through the heart of Mexico City to the Zócalo, or the historic downtown plaza.
Raul Alvarez Garin, 1968 veteran and leader of the 68 Committee, defined the march as a concrete expression of the “indignant ones, those who have been aggrieved and demand justice.”
In some ways, the 2012 commemorative march represented the passing of the torch from the oldest activist generation to the newest one. “This time, Oct. 2 was different than the previous years,” wrote Proceso reporter Rosalia Vergara, who chronicled the melody-ridden mixture and merging of punk, rock, Latin American protest, hip hop and other musical styles in a unified yet plural demonstration of outrage, remembrance and vision. Young people sang the words of the Calle 13 song “Latin America,” while older people chorused the Beatles’ “Don’t Let me Down,” according to Vergara.
Earlier in the day, Mexico City students affiliated with the #YoSoy 132 Movement conducted strikes at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Metropolitan Autonmous University, National Polytechnic Institute, National School of Anthropology and History and the Autonomous University of Mexico City.
#YoSoy 132 also joined members of the Mexican Electrical Workers and other unions in an unsuccessful blockade of the Senate, which was poised to consider the controversial labor reform legislation approved by the Chamber of Deputies last week.
Opposed by many unions and center-left political parties, the law is backed by the PRI and National Action Party. While critics contend the law will weaken labor rights, supporters insist it will lead to more job creation. Last month, while on a tour of South America, PRI president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto said labor reform, free trade, mineral exploitation and foreign investment in the national oil company would be important pillars of his upcoming economic policy.
On his Twitter account, Peña Nieto took the occasion of Oct. 2 to write: “This Oct. 2, I reaffirm my commitment to exercise a Democratic Presidency, respectful of the rights and liberties of Mexicans. I also take the opportunity of the International Day of Violence, which is celebrated in memory of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, to reiterate my commitment to dialogue and tolerance. I reaffirm my commitment to establish a National Strategy to Reduce Violence that enforces the law and reconstructs the social fabric.”
Outside the Mexican capital, young people and their allies organized smaller Oct. 2 actions in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Queretaro, Morelia, Acapulco, and Chilpancingo, among other places. Local issues of educational access and adequate resources for schools figured in the list of demands in some of the demonstrations.
Ciudad Juárez marchers walked along the Rio Grande from AltaVista High School to the giant Mexican flag in Chamizal Park, chanting slogans against Pena Nieto. Endorsed by teacher, labor and student groups, the Ciudad Juarez action called for an end to political repression and a halt to the militarization of the country.
“We are Realists. Let’s ask the Impossible,” read one banner carried by youthful marchers.
Mexican writer and cultural activist Elena Poniatowska, who penned an acclaimed book about the 1968 massacre, wrote her analysis of the impact of Oct. 2 on a country torn by criminal and social violence more than four decades later.
“1968 cannot be compared with the more than 60,000 dead and disappeared of today, but one can compare the treatment accorded to the victims who have concerned (Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity leader) Javier Sicilia since the day his son was murdered in Cuernavaca, Morelos. Still, the 1968 student movement and the Oct. 2 massacre in Tlatelolco is the kick-off to the violence that Mexico has suffered during the past 50 years.,” Poniatowska wrote.
“It was until Cuauhtemoc Cardenas decided to lower the flag to half-mast on Oct. 2, when he was mayor of Mexico City in 1997, that the student movement and its mortal turn was taboo in Mexican newspapers. Why is it just and necessary to remember it now? Because it forms part of our history…”
Tipping her hat to the movements of young people for freedom and democracy in both 1968 and 2012, the prominent Mexican author proposed that the Mexican capital be renamed the “Federal District of the Students.”
Sources: El Sur, October 3, 2012. Articles by Lourdes Chavez, Aurora Harrison and editorial staff. El Sol de Mexico, October 3, 2012. Article by Sergio Pereztrejo. La Jornada (Michoacan edition), October 3, 2012. Article by Celic Mendoza Adame. El Universal, October 2, 2012. Article by Fernando Martinez. La Jornada, October 2, 2012. Articles by Emir Olivares, Laura Poy, Andrea Becerril, Victor Ballinas, Patricia Munoz, and Elena Poniatowska. Lapolaka.com, October 2, 2012. Proceso/Apro, September 21 and October 2, 2012. Articles by Jenaro Vilamil, Rosalia Vergara and editorial staff. Frontera.info/Sun, October 2, 2012. El Diario de Juarez/Diario.com.mx, September 16 and October 2, 2012.
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Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico