Washington’s role in Mexican student massacres

Protest in Mexico City for dead and missing students, Oct. 8.Photo: Alan Roth

Protest in Mexico City for dead and missing students, Oct. 8.
Photo: Alan Roth

On Oct. 2, 1968, just 10 days before the opening of the Summer Olympics, held that year in Mexico City, police and soldiers gunned down students gathered in a plaza in the Tlatelolco section of the capital. Students said up to 400 were killed; the government admitted to only 30. No official accounting has ever been made.

This year, scores of students in the Mexican town of Iguala who were preparing for a commemoration of the Tlatelolco Massacre met a similar fate. The media say that on the night of Sept. 26-27, police and drug cartel assassins attacked the students, killing at least six and abducting 43 others.

Since then, mass graves have been discovered with the charred and mutilated bodies of many of the missing. The search for more is ongoing.

This horrendous atrocity, while not given the coverage it deserves, is being reported on in the U.S. media, but merely as a reflection of the corruption and brutality of Mexican officials and the drug lords. Period. No mention is made at all of the role the United States has played in both corrupting and impoverishing Mexico.

But this is exactly what people in the U.S. need to know, because the Mexican people need our solidarity in their struggle to gain justice and true sovereignty.

First of all, the brutality of the U.S. government in relation to Mexico is never mentioned. But the U.S. had a big hand in the attack on the students that produced the Tlatelolco Massacre.

In 1968 there was widespread anger everywhere at both the U.S. war in Southeast Asia and the rampant racism at home. Washington was expecting demonstrations during the Olympic Games. To its dismay, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute from the podium as they received their medals.

The U.S. government had been in touch with Mexican authorities for months before the games. Much later, in 2003, the National Security Archive in Washington published documents from the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, the FBI and the White House, all of which revealed the enormous pressure put on Mexico to prevent any anti-U.S. protests during the games.

Six days before the massacre, both President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and his security chief assured Washington that “the situation will be under complete control shortly.” (“Latin America’s Cold War,” Hal Brand, Harvard University Press) The hands that pulled the triggers may have been Mexican, but the “do whatever is necessary” orders came from the U.S.

NAFTA and rural poverty

Since those days, Mexico’s trajectory has been even more tragic. The U.S.-imposed NAFTA — the so-called North American Free Trade Agreement — which went into force on Jan. 1, 1994, totally undermined the rural people who had put food on the table and earned a little cash by farming. Cheap U.S. corn flooded Mexico, making agribusiness giants very happy but forcing many Mexican families off the land and into the emigration pipeline, where they risked arrest and even death crossing the border.

This destruction of Mexico’s rural economy is what has fueled the rise of the drug cartels, whose market and connections are both in the U.S.

Mexican politicians have good reason to fear their powerful neighbor to the north. The Pentagon at the end of 2008 issued a report warning of Mexico’s imminent “sudden collapse” and threatening that “any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.” (El Paso Times, Jan. 13, 2009)

So, while creating the economic conditions for the rise of the drug lords, the U.S. imperialists then use their existence as a pretext for possible military intervention if things don’t go their way.

Mexican students are not just victims. They are politically conscious leaders in the struggle against imperialism. They deserve all the support and solidarity we can give them.