The tragedy of Tlatelolco. The tragedy of Tlatelolco.

One officer who never got over Tlatelolco

He accused the government of using him to commit a massacre

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.

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He had been part of the Olimpia Group, originally made up of police officers from several federal agencies who were tasked with the surveillance of the Olympic facilities.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.

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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. 

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  • Güerito

    “Tlatelolco was soon forgotten.” Huh?

    • Mudly

      In that time it was. It took over two decades for some reporting to become “interesting”. Only two years later, Former Interior Secretary of Interior Echeveria was “Elected” President of EUM. It was well after his term ended, that Tlatleolco, became widely known.

  • Brasscheck TV

    This story has the smell of disinformation bullshit

  • Brasscheck TV

    “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 – WTF?

    • Mudly

      That quote from this article is too sadly accurate

  • George Michelson

    The wrong editorial ending, “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.”

    • Güerito

      I’m glad others picked up on this. This writer often does this. He tries to tame his reactionary impulses throughout most of the essay, but then, out of nowhere, he’ll drop bombs like that. I’ve called him on it a couple times with past essays. So have some other readers.

      • Brasscheck TV

        “Mi querido tio Manolo”…such a tender, colorful tale that pulls at the heartstrings – and sells a “the government was innocent” story so artfully and ends with a fascist salute. I wonder if this author attended the Langley School of Magical Realistic Journalism.

        • Raul Bolanos

          Brasscheck TV In my essay I clearly acuse the governent for the conspiracy the provoqued the massacre. ¿Were you there? Were were you when it happened? ¿How old were you? I lost some friends in the tragedy and that was why I left Mexico City forever. A fascist salute? come on grow up and forget the black and white. AG.

      • Raul Bolanos

        Guerito: I will try to answer in english even thoug it is not my native lenguage. How old are you? Were you in any moment in Mexico City during 1968? Did you know that took almost TWO years to find an aproximate truth on the tragedy of OCT 2nd. The city suffered trough for more than seven months of Marches, bloked streets, police violence and represion and groups of vandals that destroyed and robed.hundredss of bussinness. The Olympics were Highly expected by everybody and were in danger to be suspended I clearly blame the coverment for the conspiracy to shut at the army and create a reaction with terrible consecuences. That is why I left Mexico City forever. I don’t trow bombs, I share facts. I was there, 25 years old married with 3 children and having to spend 3 hrs. daily to get to work. Guerito, preconceptions are a sad part of judgement and bigotry. AG

        • Güerito

          Raul, so you’re Mr. Gonzàlez? I’m confused.

          “I don’t trow bombs, I share facts.” No, you share with us your OPINIONS. That’s why your essays are filed under Opinion, not News.

          P.S. – if your writings published here are English translations of essays originally written in Spanish, that may explain why some of your thoughts (or subtleties) get lost in translation.

          • Raul Bolanos

            Guerito: are you a gringo.? You didn’t answer my questions of age and were were you in Oct 1968? I might be shearing my opinion of something that I experienced. Where do you opinions come from?. Do you speak spanish? maybe we can try that. and be more clear so you don’t get confused. AG

    • Raul Bolanos

      Mr. Michelson, In what grounds you judge the ending of my editorial. Were you there in 1968? How old are you now?. It took almost TWO years to find out what happenned that evening OCt 2nd in Tlatelolco. Did you suffered 7 Months of anarchy and goverment represion? Was you bussinness destroyed by the hundred of vandals thar filtrated the studenr marches? Or couldn’t get to work because of miltary or Army blockades? Many people, as I did were on the side of the students, but specting the celebration of the Olimpic Games. The bad part of the neew tecnologes in comunication is that everybody passes quick judgement and has an absolute opinion. AG

  • Juan Gray

    I was working in Mexico City on October 2, 1968. From my office window I heard the sound of rapid gunfire and wail of sirens as police and medical raced past toward Tlatelolco. I believe more than 250 people died that night after the commander of the army unit surrounding the scene and his aide were shot by someone and his troops retaliated blindly shooting into the crowd assembled in support of the National Strike Council. Stories such as that told by the former police officer ring true. To an outsider, during 1968 – the year of the Prague Spring – Mexico seemed on the verge of a revolution. There were huge protest marches in Mexico City and elsewhere and clashes between demonstrators and police/military were regular occurrences. After the massacre at Tlatelolco an uneasy quiet settled over Mexico City as fear and rumors spread about what happened. The opening of the l968 Olympic Games two weeks later spread across many venues swamped the media and, for the government, provided a welcome diversion. President Diaz Ordaz was booed at the opening ceremony – unprecedented. But the city returned to outward calm. Major anti-government demonstrations subsided for a couple of years, until the Corpus Christi massacre of June 1971. I worked in Mexico City another three years and cannot recall any significant observances of the Tlateloco anniversary during that time. The facts emerged years later as governments changed. They sparked the investigations leading to the current level of interest and action.

  • Güerito

    “Dancey, the Mexican journalist, and I took a cab. The Mexican said that he had been taken by police to another room. “What did you find out, how many had been killed,” I asked. He said 500 and wrote the figure down in case we misunderstood.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/cities/from-the-archive-blog/2015/nov/12/guardian-mexico-tlatelolco-massacre-1968-john-rodda

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