At the end of the 60s there was much political upheaval and student social and political movements. Few were as serious as those witnessed in the student riots of France and Mexico.
There were student riots in both countries that were much more fierce than the protests at UC Berkeley and other U.S. college campuses. During the Mexican student riots in ?68 about 300,000 students participated, and according to official sources about 400 -- though
that estimate goes as high as several thousand -- were killed by the Mexican military.
Since the Olympics were being held in Mexico City, students saw it as an opportunity to focus media attention on their struggle, while the Mexican government did not want to risk embarrassment all over the world through civil unrest and a perceived lack of control of its young citizens. A fact that has been shrouded in mystery by several Mexican presidents who have refused to investigate and assign blame for who ordered the killings. Paco Ignacio Taibo II relates the roots of the student movement instead of conducting investigative journalism ? la Jorge Ramos for Univision, to discover the reasons behind the massacre and who was responsible.
Paco Igancio Taibo II, who is a university professor of History and Anthropology at the Autonomous University of Mexico and is extremely involved Mexican politics primarily as a politician, union leader, is also a writer of detective novels whose Spanish family was also politically involved and as such had to flee Franco?s regime to relocate to Mexico. Taibo gives his impressions of the origins of the student movement from the viewpoint of one who was within the mileu that he is trying to relate so there is no distance between him and his subject. The book has an air of historical myth-making for idealists who believe that things in Mexico can only be saved through a massive revolution as in the past. Taibo paints a picture of student activists who solely demonstrated for the improvement of Mexico rather than for personal gain.
"Sin embargo en 1969 escrib? tres gruesos cuadernos de notas sobre el movimiento, pensando que si no lo pon?a todo en el papel, corr?a el peligro de desvanecerse. (Taibo 9)
Neverthless, in 1969, I wrote three thick notebook?s worth of notes about the movement, thinking that if I did not put all of it down on paper, it ran the risk of disappearing." (translation by T. Camacho)
Taibo is acting as the scribe of an oral tradition to relay to all Mexicans the
motivations behind espousing Che, Marx, Mao, Lenin, Trotsky and the anti-war protests
to Vietnam in the U.S. as well as the importance of freedom of expression and human
rights and dignity especially for the blue collar man or worker. The notes that Taibo
wrote were intended to be a novel about ?68 but he states, ?Probablemente es una novella
que no quiere ser escrita.? (Taibo 9) ?Probably it is a novel that does not want to be
written?(translation by T. Camacho). The inscribing of the events is more important as
are the ideals of all of the students involved and Taibo has provided a written record to
serve as a record of the student movement when it was active and motivating people to
strike and demand their rights not when it was extinguished by military forces that night
The students were spurred to action by the Che and the Cuban revolution and they
kept that inspiration even after his death. The influence of all of the upheaval all over the world also spurred them to action and a critical eye toward the policies of the Mexican government and what they deemed misinformation by that government. Also they were attracted to books that questioned the status quo of governments or social structure such as Carlos Fuentes? La regi?n mas transparente and they were drawn to films with such
themes as colonialism and its consequences, The Battle of Algiers. They saw themselves
as the agents of change since they felt that they lived in what was a microcosm of Mexico
City ? the university village of UNAM ? the Autonomous University of Mexico. As
leftists, many laborers joined them in their strikes and supported their goals much to the consternation of the PRI controlled Mexican government of President Gustavo D?az
The matter of ?68 is something that even though several presidential administrations have wanted to turn a blind eye ? will always resurface and President Fox attempted at least to assemble a special investigation unit to review the matter and other political crimes during Mexico?s own dirty war in November 2001. Perhaps at some future date the mystery will be resolved but it will not make a difference now.
Teresa Camacho is an independent researcher, critic and writer based in Los Angeles.