Mexican police clashed with demonstrators who were taking part in a march to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Tlatelolco student massacre in Mexico City on Wednesday.
The march in the capital’s center grew violent when a group of young radicals joined the protest dressed in black clothes and ski masks. They began harassing police officers who were standing nearby, according to news reports.
In the past, similar demonstrations usually end in Mexico City’s famous Zócalo square, a national symbol for such events. But recent protests, including one involving teachers who had set up campsites at the plaza to protest education reforms introduced by President Enrique Peña Nieto, has led authorities to close off the Zócalo. The teachers have now taken their vigil to the nearby Monument to the Revolution.
Near the Bellas Artes auditorium, police clashed with hundreds of protestors who fought authorities with sticks and rocks. At least 32 were injured and about two dozen people were arrested, the daily El Universal reported on Thursday.
Marchers stopped by the Monument to the Revolution to hold a rally in support of the teachers and to publicly reject many of Peña Nieto’s reforms, including his plans to open the state-owned oil industry to private investors.
Each year, people gather in Mexico City to demand answers from the government in office concerning the 1968 killing of some 300 students who were gunned down by Mexican security forces during a peaceful protest in the capital's Plaza de la Tres Culturas. The event has since become known as the Tlatelolco massacre. It was the culmination of months of unrest throughout the country to protest the policies of President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The massacre took place 10 days before Mexico City was to play host to the 1968 Olympic Games.
Arturo Puente, 61, said that the memory of the massacre lives on because justice hasn’t been served in the case and Mexicans “continue to live without certain guarantees.”
That sharpshooter was an army major. He was a shooting to kill"
Others taking part in this year’s march said that they were participating for different reasons. Vera Brandon, a student at the National Polytechnic Institute, said she believed the current PRI government is looking to “repress” demonstrators, and pointed to the sealing off of the Zócalo as an example.
Throughout the march, demonstrators chanted leftist slogans, including some praising Emilio Zapata and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The procession got off to a peaceful start and was proceeding calmly until a group of masked radicals decided to join the march. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera had asked participants not to cover their faces.
One masked protestor, who looked no more than 20 years of age, said he decided to cover his face because he didn’t “want government cameras to record” him. Two small girls appeared to be leading the radical group, which began fighting with riot police shortly after 5pm.
As soon as the skirmishes began, leaders of the march tried temper the young radicals and called on other young people not to join in the hostilities. “Let’s continue in a peaceful manner. Let’s keep officers from finding the only excuse to break up this march,” said one leader. Scores of officers had set up blockades in many streets leading to the historic center, demanding to see the identification of workers who were on their way to their jobs early in the morning.
Francisco Ramos, 46, a civil engineer who described himself as apolitical, said he feared that government agents would try to infiltrate the march to start trouble “so that they can have a motive to crack down.”
Nevertheless, much of the city was calm. There were an unusual number of police wagons and blockades throughout the capital and the Zócalo remained blocked to the general public.
City officials had coordinated Wednesday’s march prior with the organizing ´68 Committee, which includes former members of the student movement back then and others who have come together to protest the reforms.
The facts behind the Tlatelolco Massacre remain murky. Nearby, at a retired police association’s office, former officers gathered to complain about their pension pay. Two of the ex-policeman said they were on duty when the shooting broke out at Tres Culturas.
“They sent us out to control the students,” said one man who declined to give his name. “At one point all hell broke loose. Some fellow officers took off their uniforms and started running. I stayed behind to protect the vocational school students. Not only did I see students die, but workers too. Back then they didn’t treat protestors with kid gloves like they do now with the teachers. The soldiers would jab you with the butt of their 762 [rifle] or stab you with their bayonets.”
Another former officer, who also declined to give his name, recalled that a sharpshooter began firing from above “and we all threw ourselves to the ground.”
“That sharpshooter was an army major. He was a shooting to kill; they grabbed him. He had grenades and was high on marijuana.”
“What occurred back then was a massacre,” said a third former police officer.