In the year 1968, a massacre took place in Mexico City whereby thousands of students died. On October 2, hundreds of students accompanied by professors and other supporters took to the streets of Mexico protesting for transparency in the corrupt government. Government troops opened fire on the protesters at the Tlatelolco Plaza hence the name Tlatelolco massacre. An account by some eyewitnesses revealed that at around 6.10pm government helicopters lit up the plaza by throwing flares on the protesters.
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As a result, the protesters became startled and the government troops opened fire. Most of the protesters were unable to flee the scene because of the intense military pressure. Once the shooting ceased the soldiers entered the Chihuahua building where some of the students sought refuge. The soldiers killed and arrested the unarmed students from where they were hiding. It is impossible to determine the exact number of protesters who participated in the demonstration that day. The government of Mexico went out of its way to cover up the particulars of the massacre.
For the past 38 years, Mexico has not healed from the wounds inflicted by the massacre. Throughout this period, the dead and their names have not come out. In normal circumstances, the number of the dead would be determined through carrying out of autopsies. On the hand, their names would be determined through consulting other fact-finding materials such as death certificates, hospital records, and good journalism.
However, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz who was the president at the time in Mexico made sure that the particulars of the event remained a mystery. He wanted to preserve the illusion that his government was a democratic institution that governed peacefully.1 In his statement regarding the massacre he stated that the number of people who died were more than 30 but less than 40. Consequently, the mysteries from that fateful night still haunt the people of Mexico as some questions remain unanswered up to date. For instance, whose orders did police and the military personnel follow, who gave such orders, and the number of the people killed in the massacre.
However, the situation in Mexico was to change with the election of president Vicente Fox. In the year 2000 after the election, the administration of the new elected president Vicente Fox promised to commit itself towards clarifying the events. The president began with appointing a Special Prosecutor for purposes of investigating the Tlateleco massacre. The prosecutor’s mandate was to reveal to the public the official cover up by opening secret intelligence documents.
However, as the 38th anniversary of the massacre approached there was still no clarification on what happened. The Prosecutor’s office made progress by completing the report and handed it over to Dr. Ignacio Prieto. The Doctor failed to submit the report to the president. Since then the president made empty promises regarding the final report but no steps were made to provide a glimpse of reality.
The unreliability of the government in clarifying the events of the massacre left the people of Mexico as well as private investigators including Archivos Abiertos with the urge to know what happened. This prompted them to investigate for themselves and this paper analyzes some of the investigation relating to the massacre.2
Names and Numbers
Relative to the number of people who died in the massacre some journalists and eyewitnesses gave their rough estimates and made speculations regarding the issue. For example, a British journalist John Rodda who witnessed the massacre in Mexico gave an account of what happened. He made his account based on the interviews he carried out. John Rodda estimated that about 325 people perished in the massacre.
Eyewitnesses who saw what happened in the plaza gave almost the same estimate as John whereby the estimate was about 300 deaths. However, the government made sure that the number fluctuated over the next few years. La Prensa’s reporter, Felix Fuentes speculated that the calculus of the victims of the massacre fluctuated around the range of 200 – 1500.3
Relative to the names of the victims, Archivos Abiertos used official documents found in IPS, Sedena and DFS collection to investigate what happened. It relied on official documents albeit the fact that they contained distortions as well as errors in their records. However, the investigative body cross-referenced the records with secondary sources for purposes of acquiring facts that would shed light on the events. These records proved to be crucial weapons in revealing the numbers and the names of the victims.
Here we will analyze some of the official documents used by the Archivos Abiertos in revealing some names and numbers of the victims.
Plaza Three Cultures
This document contains a list of hospitals where admissions took place after the October 2 massacre. The document reveals the identities of the some victims. Delegation No.3, that is a part of the document, specifies that 14 unidentified bodies came in the hospital. Among them were 11 male and three female victims. One female victim was pregnant.4
Student problem- Dirección Federal de Seguridad
This is a document acquired from the intelligence service. It gives a detailed report of the clash that occurred among the government snipers and the soldiers during the demonstration. It provides a report of the aftermath of this violent clash. The document provides that 26 people died in the hospitals and delegations in Mexico City. The victims included one soldier and four female victims. Most of the victims remained unidentified. In addition, the report specifies that over a thousand people faced detention.5
Forensic report on the events of October 2
This document came as a response to the Attorney-general’s request regarding the factors that led to death of 26 people. The letter showed that the victims died from bullet wounds that came from a horizontal angle. This showed that most of the victims died from bullet wounds from the soldiers’ guns rather than from the snipers posted in the apartments.6
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Complaint filed by CNH
This document came because of a legal complaint from the National strike council. The student organization filed the complaint against the attorney-general in the year 1971. The document contains helpful information about the events of the massacre. It provides 27 names of victims who lost their lives at the Plaza of Three cultures. It also provides a detailed report of the testimonies given by 63 witnesses. 7
Document from the National Security Archive Web site
This document was the final report produced by the Special Prosecutor mandated to investigate the events that took place on October 2 for purposes of clarification. The document specifies that because of lack of evidence the victims’ names could not come out in a detailed list. The final document shares similarities with a draft report produced in the year 2006. The document contains flaws in its documentation.
Among them are the inclusion of students’ names that died before the date of the massacre. In addition, it specifies that the attorney-general’s mischance led to creation of the National Strike Council. However, the document differentiates from the draft report in various ways including exclusion of reference from the Special Prosecutor’s documents. The exclusion of the reference is a clear indication that the documents are in the hands of the attorney-general instead of the National archives.8
In carrying out the investigation and consulting all the relevant documents, the Archivos Abiertos acquired evidence that confirms the death of 44 victims. Ten of the victims’ names are yet to be determined. However, the investigative body strongly believes that there are more victims of the massacre since their investigation was only limited to the official records. Several government records have confirmed the identities of 34 victims.
National Security Archive. “Complaint filed by CNH – Procuradoría General de la República.” Briefing Book No. 201. 2013. Web.
National Security Archive. “Forensic report on the events of 2 October- Medical Forensic Service of the Federal District.” Briefing Book No. 201. 2013. Web.
National Security Archive. “Historical Report to the Mexican Society 2006- Special Prosecutor on Social and Political Movements of the Past (FEMOSPP)”. 2006. Web.
National Security Archive. “Report on the deaths. – Plaza Three Cultures”. 1968. Web.
National Security Archive. “Student Problem -Dirección Federal de Seguridad”. 1968. Web.
National Security Archive. “The Dead of Tlatelolco- Using the archives to exhume the past”. 2006. Web.
- National Security Archive, The Dead of Tlatelolco- Using the archives to exhume the past, 2006. Web.
- National Security Archive, The Dead of Tlatelolco.
- National Security Archive, The Dead of Tlatelolco.
- National Security Archive, Report on the deaths. – Plaza Three Cultures, 1968. Web.
- National Security Archive, Student Problem -Dirección Federal de Seguridad, 1968. Web.
- National Security Archive, Forensic report on the events of 2 October- Medical Forensic Service of the Federal District, 1968. Web.
- National Security Archive, Complaint filed by CNH- Procuradoría General de la República. Web.
- National Security Archive, Historical Report to the Mexican Society 2006- Special Prosecutor on Social and Political Movements of the Past (FEMOSPP), 2006. Web.