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The Tlatelolco Massacre

A Gruesome Turning Point in Mexican History


The Tlatelolco Massacre

Photo taken of the scene in Plaza de Las Tres Culturas by an unknown government photographer

Photographer unknown

One of the ugliest and most tragic incidents in the modern history of Latin America took place on October 2, 1968, when hundreds of unarmed Mexicans, most of them student protesters, were gunned down by government police and army forces.

For months preceding the incident, protesters, most of them students, had been taking to the streets to bring the attention of the world to the repressive government, led by President Gustavo Diáz Ordaz. Some of their demands were autonomy for universities, the firing of the police chief, and the release of political prisoners. Díaz Ordaz, in an effort to stop the protests, had ordered the occupation of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the country's largest university. Student protesters saw the upcoming 1968 Summer Olympics, to be held in Mexico City, as the perfect way to bring their issues to a worldwide audience.

On the day of October 2, thousands of students marched throughout the capital, and around nightfall some 5,000 of them congregated at the Plaza de Las Tres Culturas in the district of Tlatelolco for what was scheduled as one more peaceful rally. Armored cars and tanks quickly surrounded the plaza, and the police began firing into the crowd. Estimates of casualties vary from the official line of four dead and twenty wounded into the thousands, although most historians place the number somewhere between 200 and 300.

Some of the protesters managed to get away, while others took refuge in homes and apartments surrounding the square. A door-to-door search yielded some of these protesters. Not all of the victims of the Tlatelolco Massacre were protesters: many were simply passing through, and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Mexican government immediately claimed that security forces had been fired upon first, and that they were only shooting in self-defense. There is even some evidence to suggest that government forces infiltrated the protesters and deliberately provoked the attack.

In recent years, however, changes in government have made it possible for a closer look into the reality of the massacre. The then-Minister of the Interior, Luís Echeverría Alvarez, was even indicted on genocide charges in 2005 over the incident, although the case was thrown out. Movies and books about the incident have come out, and interest is high in "Mexico's Tiananmen Square." Today, it's still a powerful subject in Mexican life and politics: many see it as the beginning of the end for the PRI political party and the day the Mexican people stopped trusting their government.

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