Mexicans try to heal the scars of student massacre: Light is now being shed on a mass killing before the 1968 Olympics, writes Phil Davison

BUILT AROUND the Aztec ruins where Cortes's conquistadores battled Montezuma's warriors, Mexico City's Plaza Tlatelolco, the square of the Three Cultures, is always an eerie place. Just before dusk on 2 October 1968, 25 years ago today, there was an extra unease as 10,000 students, following in the footsteps of Paris and Prague, poured into the square in a pro-democracy protest against single-party rule.

What happened next made the Tiananmen Square re-run look almost tame. As in Peking two decades later, however, tracks were swiftly erased by Mexican authorities anxious to transmit an image of tranquillity 10 days before the opening of the first Olympic Games granted to a Third World nation. To this day, most Mexicans, and most of the world, remain largely in the dark over the extent of the Tlatelolco massacre.

Independent accounts suggest around 300 people, including women and children passers-by, were slaughtered by the Mexican army, police and special 'Olympic Battalion' created for the Games. More than 1,000 were arrested and hundreds never seen again. No one knows whether the government, army or police planned the massacre or it was a botched attempt to capture striking student leaders.

There were helicopters overhead, one of which suddenly dropped green flares, according to eyewitnesses. In what must have been a dramatic re-enactment of what Cortes faced on the same spot, with only the garb and weapons changed, hundreds of soldiers emerged from the Aztec ruins and opened fire with automatic rifles. Cortes at least had the firepower to respond.

The daily El Universal reported that many victims, including women and children, died of bayonet wounds as troops, with orders to detain student leaders, killed anyone trying to flee.

The shooting went on for more than an hour as students, civilians and journalists lay crouched or sought shelter. Local and foreign journalists, including Italy's Oriana Fallaci, were herded out, and the square sealed off, before they could assess casualties. By the time journalists were allowed back the following day, the square was deserted. According to nearby residents, army lorries removed bodies during the night while firemen were called in to wash away bloodstains.

The authorities admitted only 32 dead but as rumours of a greater massacre spread, a spokesman for the president, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, assured the nation and the world that the Games would go ahead in complete security. 'The focus of agitation has been eliminated,' he declared. One of the few officials to speak out was writer Octavio Paz, then Mexico's ambassador to India, who quit his job in protest. Another Mexican writer, Elena Poniatowska, in her book, The Night of Tlatelolco, described the massacre as 'a scar that has never healed'.

Ten days after the massacre, the world saw the Olympic flame lit and white doves released from the Olympic stadium but Mexico's state-controlled television ensured thousands of troops and police were kept off camera.

The authorities could not, however, blot out the effects on the nation's consciousness. The date is seen by many as the start of what is essentially another, painfully slow, Mexican revolution. Many believe the massacre spelled the beginning of what will sooner or later be the end of Mexico's all-done-by-mirrors 'democracy' - in fact, firm control by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

A so-called 'Commission on Truth', an independent group of 20 intellectuals, is working on a definitive account of the massacre in an effort to exorcise the damage to the national pysche.

Today, as every year since, Mexicans will march to the Square of the Three Cultures, so named to mark the Indian, colonial and modern epochs, all of which are represented in the surrounding architecture. This year, after education authorities for the first time allowed references to the massacre in textbooks, hundreds of thousands may show up. Others, still intimidated by the PRI's omnipotence, will stay away.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Systems Developer Technical Lead

£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Energy Engineer

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

£475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment