It was on a cold night in December 1968, in a Coyoacán cantina called La Guadalupana, when my dear uncle Manolo, drunk and teary-eyed, confessed to me that he had been part of the tragedy of Tlatelolco.
He had been part of the Olimpia Group, originally made up of police officers from several federal agencies who were tasked with the surveillance of the Olympic facilities. They also had to be present, as plainclothes officers, during the different Olympic events, ready to prevent any sabotage or protest attempts that might interrupt the games and celebrations.
A few days before that fateful October 2nd, Olimpia Group was briefed about an upcoming operation in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, the main square within the Tlatelolco neighborhood of Mexico City. The group was allegedly summoned to serve as back-up in the surveillance of a massive protest march by the students’ movement.
The higher echelons of government worried about such a massive popular demonstration so close to the Olympic inaugural ceremonies.
Just a day before, on October 1, said my uncle, they were informed during a meeting that they were to be located in strategic points around the plaza, fully armed, and that they should wear one or two white gloves in order to identify themselves.
A command would then be given, after which the officers of Olimpia Group would fire their arms into the air to confuse the protesters and make the arrest of the student leaders easier. All was kept under wraps.
So there they were a couple of hours before the arrival of the marchers. When the latter began to arrive, my uncle noticed several army contingents installed across from his position in the plaza, which was almost full by this point.
I wasn’t there, and several months went by before information about what really happened began coming out, but that night in Coyoacán, Manolo wept, accusing the government of using him to commit a massacre. He quit his job shortly after and never worked for the authorities again.
It has taken years for a true chronicle to come out, telling what happened there. According to my uncle, after receiving the order to shoot into the air, allegedly to confuse the protesters, some officers of the Olimpia Group shot instead towards the army, apparently hurting some soldiers.
The Army immediately assumed it was being ambushed and began firing into the panicked throng of people and targets in the surrounding buildings. And so began the greatest slaughter of civilians in the modern history of Mexico.
The Army bayoneted and arrested tens of people, many just curious bystanders. Rumors abounded about truck after truck transporting the slain and injured to Military Camp No. 1.
At this point my uncle interrupted his narration and broke into a deep weeping spell. We had a couple more drinks in silence.
We seldom saw each other after, and we never spoke about the issue again, but this tragic event affected him for the rest of his life.
The greater part of the population welcomed with relief the dissolution of the students’ movement. The city healed its wounds and prepared to enjoy the long-awaited Olympic games. Tlatelolco was soon forgotten.
My family — my wife and three children — decided to move very far away, to a city on the northwestern Mexican border. I never lived in the capital ever again.
Armando González is a journalist and broadcaster who lives in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.