Andalusia Knoll, Producer: October 2 marks a dark day in Mexican history when the army and police opened fire on a nonviolent student protest, killing an unknown number of participants in 1968. Forty-five years later, tens of thousands of students and allies marched to commemorate the massacre and also express their discontent with the government’s neoliberal education and energy reform.
Crowd (Subtitled Transl.): You haven’t died, you haven’t died, comrade! There will be justice for your death!
Knoll: Jesús Calderon Chavez was active in the ’68 student movement and witnessed the massacre.
Jesús Calderon Chavez, ’68 Protest Survivor (Subtitled Transl.): There were many soldiers detaining the people as they were waiting for I’m not sure what. And there were deaths, many, many deaths. I didn’t want to get involved with all that. It would be committing suicide. I just observed and then left.
Knoll: The student movement of 1968 surged in opposition to the intervention of police and army forces in the public universities in Mexico City. A week before Mexico was to host the Olympics, thousands of students gathered to protest in the Tlatelolco Plaza de las Tres Culturas, located in a working-class neighborhood in the north of the city. They were met with brutal force, and there were close to 3,000 people detained. There is no official death toll, and the government has claimed there were only 20 deaths, while the BBC reported between 200 and 300 and other sources put the death toll at 1,500.
Citlali Hernández was part of the organizing committee of the October 2 march and said that the demands of the ’68 student movement are still relevant.
Citlali Hernández, October 2 March Committee (Subtitled Transl.): The student movement of ’68 was demanding democratic rights that today allow us to mobilize and have the right to freedom of expression. They don’t kill us anymore for pasting up posters, but we are seeing a kind of authoritarian government since Enrique Peña Nieto came to power in the federal government. The authoritarianism and the way the government has been acting—and the [new mayor] Mancera has allowed this form of government and distinct police tactics to be put in operation.
Knoll: Joel Antonio, who marched with parents in solidarity with the students, echoed this sentiment.
Joel Antonio, Protester (Subtitled Transl.): We calculate that there are about 10,000 police here at the protest. This is illegal. It is illegal because supposedly we live in a free and sovereign country. The Constitution guarantees it, that we have rights, the right to freedom of expression. That is what constitutional articles 6 and 8 say.
Knoll: Since the right-wing Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, returned to power on December 1, there have been numerous arbitrary detentions of protestors and severe police repression. Recently, thousands of riot police evicted a teachers encampment in protest of education reform in the city’s main plaza using helicopters, a water cannon, and tear gas.
In preparation for the march on October 2, the city installed temporary walls in front of various government institutions, museums, and parks in the city’s historic center.
Independent journalists documented police hitting bystanders and street vendors with their helmets.
Riot police also assaulted observers with the Miguel Agustin Pro Juárez Human Rights Center.
Unidentified (Subtitled Transl.): They detained us just for documenting what was happening. We are human rights observers. Look at my colleague here.
Unidentified (Subtitled Transl.): The only crime was asking what was the name of the boy they were arresting, and they assaulted us, what was the boy’s crime and why they were arresting him.
Knoll: Close to 100 people, the majority under the age of 30, were arrested at various locations throughout the protest. They are currently being held in public ministry offices throughout the city, far from where the arrests occurred.
Citlali Hernández that the repression will not stop them from protesting the reforms that she believes threaten the sovereignty of the nation.
Hernández: The problem of the education reform is a very clear problem. It does not only relate to students. Education is a form of development. We need to recognize that it is related to the strategy of the foundation of our nation. The education reform is only related to business criteria—speaking of quality of education, which is not a service, instead a basic right which is very important.
Knoll: In 2010, tens of thousands of state electrical workers were laid off, and in their fight against the massive layoffs they joined forces with various social movements. Miguel Márquez Ríos, the health secretary with the electricians union, participated in the march and stated that it’s important for workers to align with the students movement to oppose the government’s neoliberal reforms.
Miguel Márquez Ríos, Electricians Union Secretary (Subtitled Transl.): The energy reform is a large blow to our country. We know that [oil] makes up 40 percent of our economy. It’s worth mentioning that if Mexican oil is really going bankrupt, why are they offering it to transnationals? There is no problem. We have just seen that more than 1,200 companies have privatized and want to keep doing that. It is the moment for us, the working class, to raise our hand in protest, and with the people, because we are living in extreme poverty. There is no longer a middle class, just rich and poor. There a more than 70 million poor people, more than 20 million people who have had to leave their homes, more than 10 million youth who we call NINIS because who don’t study or work, 5 million children who sell gum or do drugs in the street. And the riches are for a select few?
Knoll: Mobilizations will continue against the education and energy reform, and activists are demanding an end to the criminalization of protest and calling for the resignation of the police chief of Mexico City.
Andalusia Knoll, The Real News Network, Mexico City.