Mexico: massacre commemoration turns violent

As has become traditional, on Oct. 2 present-day students joined veterans of a 1968 student strike in a march in Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of a massacre of strikers and their supporters there by police and the military. The attack, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas near the Tlatelcolco housing project, left at least 44 dead, although many witnesses claim that hundreds were killed. At this year's march, which marked 45 years since the attack, protesters demanded a full accounting for the massacre and punishment for the perpetrators.

As in the past, the demonstrators intended to march the 2.7 km from the Tlatelolco project to the capital's main plaza, the Zócalo. But Federal District (DF, Mexico City) police blocked them, forcing the march to turn toward the Angel of Independence. At this point hooded youths began attacking the police and vandalizing cars and stores. Many of the marchers, including teachers protesting changes in the educational system, tried to continue the peaceful demonstration despite the ongoing confrontations between police and hooded youths. The DF authorities reported a total of 67 arrests by the end of the day, with 32 police agents injured; no totals were given for injured protesters and bystanders.

On Oct. 3 representatives of several human rights groups, including the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), charged that the police used excessive force. "What we saw yesterday was clearly a rather unprofessional police [force]," said Darío Ramírez, who heads the Mexico chapter of Article 19, an international organization defending press freedom. He cited 22 documented instances of police aggression against journalists covering the march and said journalists Gustavo Ruiz Lizárraga and Pavel Alejandro Primo were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. The human rights groups also claimed that plainclothes agents had acted as provocateurs. A number of witnesses said the hooded youths included "infiltrators" who attacked both the police and peaceful demonstrators. In one incident a youth seized an independent journalist's camera. "This is a tool of my trade," the journalist said. "When did you ever work in your life?" "This is my work," the attacker responded, punching the journalist, who lost a tooth. "You'd better go," another hooded youth warned. "You got off easy."

Similar charges of police infiltration followed violence at protests last Dec. 1 during the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Ironically, agents provocateurs appear to have been used to set off the 1968 massacre (see Update #714). The DF is now governed by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD); a number of the party's founders were activists in the 1968 strike. (La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 3, LJ, Oct. 3; LJ, Oct. 4; EFE, Oct. 4, via Latin American Herald Tribune)

Several hundred people demonstrated at the Reclusorio Norte prison on Oct. 5 to demand the release of 27 protesters still being detained. No arrests were reported. (LJ, Oct. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 13.