Tlatelolco, whose anniversary will be commemorated Sunday with a mass rally and march in downtown Mexico City that is expected to draw thousands, also set in motion a variety of broader political, social and economic forces that Mexico has struggled to accommodate, with only limited success, over the last two decades. Mexico's last three presidents have had to contend, for instance, with economic problems, including triple-digit inflation, a swelling foreign debt that has now reached $103 billion and a debilitated currency, which most Mexicans consider an outgrowth of the government's inept response to the crisis ushered in by the events of 1968.
''The system fractured in 1968, and the timid reforms of successive governments have not been able to restore it to health,'' the essayist Octavio Paz wrote last month. Mr. Paz resigned as Mexico's Ambassador to India in protest at the slaughter in 1968. Today's Mexico, he said, ''is observing the denouement of a process that began more than 20 years ago.''
To a large extent, the presidential election held here on July 6 was fought around issues of political legitimacy that were raised in 1968, like the centralization of power in the hands of an all-powerful president and the political entity he heads, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI On Dec. 1 a member of the ''Generation of 1968,'' 40-year-old Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who was a student at the time of the unrest, will be inaugurated as president of Mexico. A Generation More Critical
Thousands of others who were also college students in 1968 have found a niche in universities, journalism, the government bureaucracy, political parties and business, where they are exercising a growing influence on all aspects of Mexican national life. Though they are now of various political persuasions ranging from right to left, they have in common a set of experiences and beliefs that transcend ideology.
''Our generation, unlike the ones that preceded it, has broken with traditional values,'' said Miguel Basanez, author of a forthcoming book on the impact of 1968 on contemporary Mexico and himself a critic of the PRI from a centrist position. ''Having gone to the streets and confronted tanks, it is more critical, more skeptical, more prepared to take the initiative, and more willing to confront power.''
The student unrest erupted in the summer of 1968, with demands ranging from university autonomy to the freeing of political prisoners. By the end of August, after soldiers and anti-riot police had gone to campuses and clashed with students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the National Polytechnic Institute, the students were able to mobilize as many as 300,000 sympathizers for marches.
President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz regarded the turmoil as both a personal and national affront. Mexico had been awarded the 1968 Olympic Games, the first developing country to be so honored, and when the movement had not faded away by Sept. 1, weeks before the games' opening, Mr. Diaz Ordaz warned that he would not hesitate to take the measures necessary ''to avoid any further loss of prestige.''
Large demonstrations in which the students were joined by middle-class workers continued throughout September, but seemed to lose some momentum as the Oct. 12 opening date of the Olympics approached. At dusk on Oct. 2, when the Army and security police struck without warning, a crowd of no more than 10,000 was in the square.
Officially, the death toll was put at 32 people, a figure dutifully repeated by Mexican newspapers cowed by government intimidation. But the foreign press and opposition leaders say that about 350 people were killed, a figure that does not include more than a score of political leaders who were arrested in the days after the massacre and never reappeared. Several thousand student leaders were also jailed and sentenced to prison terms of up to 16 years. Borrowing Seen As a Safety Valve
Those directly responsible for the massacre were never brought to account. When in 1970 it came time for Mr. Diaz Ordaz to choose his successor, he picked Luis Echeverria Alvarez, who as Minister of the Interior had supervised the military repression at Tlatelolco, and the choice was duly ratified by the PRI.
Once in office, Mr. Echeverria tried to restore the concept of rule by consenus that traditionally had been the key to the PRI's success. Confronted with mounting popular disaffection, he and his subordinates tried to bring students, intellectuals and the middle class back into the system through favors and huge outlays of government expenditures.
In 1970, when Mr. Echeverria entered office, Mexico's total public sector foreign debt was about $4.5 billion. By the time he left office at the end of 1976, government debt had risen to $19.6 billion and borrowing money abroad had come to be regarded as an acceptable safety valve for domestic pressures.
Mr. Echeverria also ordered the devaluation of the peso, which had traded at eight 12 and a half to the dollar for 22 years, setting in motion events that have reduced the once solid peso to a fraction of its original value. It now trades at 2,250 to the dollar. ''The thread that ties all of this together is presidential centralism,'' Mr. Basanez said. ''Unlike the United States or Europe, where there are various sources of power, here the presidency has always been everything. But what happened here on July 6, the blow that was delivered to presidentialism with the emergence of a strong and viable opposition, is the fruit of seeds planted in 1968. We are reaping now what was sowed back then.'' Older Generation Versus the New
Mr. Salinas has vowed that his six-year term in office will be devoted to a sweeping overhaul of the political system and a streamlining of the state economic apparatus. But he faces stiff opposition on both counts from an older generation of party leaders, including several who played important roles in the crisis of 1968 and are uncomfortable with any major diminuition of presidential and party power.
In 1968, the PRI president, Jorge de la Vega Dominguez, for instance, served as Mr. Diaz Ordaz's personal emissary to the students, and a party elder statesman, Gen. Alfonso Corona del Rosal, was mayor of Mexico City. Fernando Gutierrez Barrios, who appears to be the current front-runner for the key post of Minister of the Interior, was then director of the Federal Security Police.
''The whole of Mexico's current problem can be viewed as a generational conflict,'' said Mr. Krauze, author of a collection of essays called ''For A Democracy Without Adjectives.'' ''Salinas may not have participated in or even sympathized with the student movement then, but each generation is a system of ideas and beliefs, so he finds himself committed to changing and democratizing the system. To do that, however, he has to confront all the previous generations.''
Mr. Salinas, however, appears not to have the support of many of the intellectuals and political leaders who spearheaded the student movement in 1968 and have now moved into the national arena. Many are supporters of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and his left-populist National Democratic Front, which emerged as the principal opposition group in the July election.
''The Generation of 1968 consists of those who were involved in the struggle that took place then,'' said Pablo Gomez, a student leader in 1968 who was imprisoned after the massacre and is now one of the rising stars of the Mexican Socialist Party. ''If Salinas had taken part, he would not be what he is today: the representative of the oligarchic group that has ruled this country for decades.''
Nevertheless, Mr. Salinas and his closest political associates, including a former college classmate, Manuel Camacho Solis, 41, have made it clear on many occasions that they are mindful of the lessons of Tlatelolco. In August, Mr. Camacho was named as secretary-general of the P.R.I., with a clear mandate to give the party an indentity distinct from that of the state and government.
''The events of 1968 constitute a phenomenon that had a tremendous impact on an entire generation, and they continue to have impact,'' Mr. Camacho said in a recent interview at his office at party headquarters. ''They did not change the regime or its economic or social structure or political base. But they did affect the way that rising generation perceived the country's problems.''
Indeed, Mr. Camacho said one of his principal goals is to avoid any repetition of the violence of 1968.
''I have always had in mind the conviction that you must seek, by all possible means, to avoid political confrontations, and the only way to do that is by directing grievances through political and social channels,'' he said. ''I am wagering that social transformations in Mexico can be carried out peacefully.''Continue reading the main story
October 2 marks the date of one of the most important demonstrations in the history of Mexican social movements, the Tlatelolco massacre.
Under the motto “Dos de Octubre no se olvida” (October 2, don’t forget), the former members of the Strike Committee, now grey-haired, walk along teen students as comrades, part of an ongoing effort to remember that most of the demands of the 1968 movement are still relevant.
It is not only activists who remember the killing and disappearance of as many as 500 students at the Tlatelolco Square, leading figures in literature, music, poetry and cinema have made sure it has not stay confined to the annals of political history, but has been kept alive in popular culture.
In 1971, the laureate writer Elena Poniatowska wrote “La noche de Tlatelolco,” published in English as “Massacre in Mexico.” The then young Poniatowska wrote the novel colloecting testimonies from neighbours, when there was still blood on the streets and shoes littering the square.
“The wound is still fresh, still under the shock of taking a hammer to the head, Mexicans question themselves, stunned. The trampled blood of hundreds of students, men, women, child, soldiers and elders is now dry on the ground of Tlatelolco. For now, that blood is back to its quiet place. Later, flowers will bloom among the ruins and among the tombs,” writes Poniatowska in "Massacre in Mexico."
Even before Tlatelolco, folk singer Oscar Chavez was famous for supporting students, playing at meetings at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (known as UNAM) from 1962 on. He sang songs from the 1910 Mexican Revolution, like “El Corrido Zapatista” and “Carabina 30-30,” influencing the student movement there as much as the songs of The Beatles and Joan Baez.
During the 1968 strike, Chavez exchanged the lyrics of popular songs with those that mocked politicians, or the police. After the slaughter, he recorded a double album with songs specifically about Tlatelolco.
“I wanted to put more songs into it,” Chavez said during an interview with La Jornada newspaper, “but they didn’t let me, I would have gotten into trouble.”
One of Chavez’s most moving songs came to him after reading a letter from a girl that witnessed October 2.
She wrote him saying that when the shooting started a boy grabbed her hand to run with her, but he got hit by a bullet. She described the “red flower” forming on his white shirt.
Chavez then wrote “The Red Flower”:
“A red flower stopped in my soul, a red flower won't let me ever be calm.”
The year of the massacre, the poet Jaime Sabines wrote a poem honoring the fallen, criticizing the government’s actions.
In the poem, Sabines wrote of the then president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz: “This man, small from wherever you look at him, incapable of everything but holding a grudge.”
Sabines predicts the deep impact of the event on the Mexican’s collective memory.
...they would have to wash not only the floor: but the memory
they would have to remove our eyes, for we saw
kill the relatives of the dead, too
so nobody cries, so there are no more witnesses.
But the blood roots
and grows as a tree grows in time
the blood on the cement, on the walls
in a creeper: it splashes
soaks us in shame, shame, shame…
Jaime Sabines (Tlatelolco 68)
Leobardo Lopez Arretche made the documentary “El Grito” (The scream) in 1968, with filmed material from several meetings, marches and police and military actions during the students movement that ended with the massacre in Tlatelolco.
In 1989, the issue even reached mainstream audiences with "Rojo amanecer" (Red Dawn). The film looked at the massacre from the point of view of a family that lives in one of the apartments facing the Tlatelolco Square during the shooting. The film details the way they became part of the story, conveying that there can be no innocent bystanders to such a tragedy.
The movie became one of the biggest hits in what has since been dubbed “The New Mexican Cinema movement.”
Scenes and stories from the events leading to or from October 2 have become themes for more than 23 books and novels.
It even plays a small, but important part in Roberto Bolaño’s “The Wild Detectives,” where the exiled Chilean tells the story through the eyes of a foreigner. The protagonist is the fictional Auxilio Laucuture, an Uruguayan exile hiding in a bathroom stall from the soldiers entering the UNAM.
In November 8, 2011, the National Congress determined October 2 to be a national day of mourning, and the date was engraved on the honor wall in the House of Representatives.