MEXICO CITY (AP) - Authorities raised a giant, iconic Mexican flag to half-mast in Mexico City’s main square Tuesday in commemoration of the 1968 massacre of student protesters by army troops 50 years ago.
Students and surviving leaders of the 1968 student democracy movement attended the ceremonies marking the anniversary of an event that caused such revulsion it helped spur long-term political reforms. Today, the movement is credited with sparking Mexico’s democratic transition and its participants and martyrs are treated as heroes.
The lower house of Congress included the student movement on its Wall of Honor in golden letters, alongside the country’s foremost political and military heroes.
And President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has partly credited students for his July 1 election victory, pledged he would never use the army to repress social movements.
“I give my word that I will never ever give an order to the armed forces, the marines, the army or any police force, to repress the people of Mexico,” Lopez Obrador said during a ceremony at the centuries-old Tlatelolco plaza, where the killings took place.
It is unclear how many protesters, reviled at the time as troublemakers, died after troops attacked the peaceful rally at Tlatelolco.
Estimates range from the official version of 25 dead to a more recent investigation that identified 44. Activists at the time claimed hundreds, saying large numbers of bodies were carted off in garbage trucks.
The government at the time was almost a one-party institution, dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which held the presidency from 1929 to 2000.
While it faced little mass opposition - the government had been able to guarantee steady economic growth throughout the 1960s - officials harbored an almost paranoid fear that the students might try to disrupt the Olympic games held in Mexico City a few weeks later.
It took decades after the massacre for Mexico to elect its first opposition-party president - conservative Vicente Fox - and he proved a disappointment to most Mexicans. Fox’s conservative National Action Party held the presidency for two terms, the second of which was marred by the government’s bloody offensive against drug cartels.
Public discontent allowed the PRI to regain the presidency in 2012, but Lopez Obrador finally brought the left to power in the July elections.
Lopez Obrador has invoked social movements like the students of 1968, the Mexican Revolution and liberal reform President Benito Juarez in proposing what he calls the “fourth transformation” of Mexico, pledging an end to rule by wealthy, corrupt, out-of-touch politicians and businesses.
It remains to be seen whether the student movement will be truly vindicated by Lopez Obrador’s “transformation.” Lopez Obrador takes office on Dec. 1, but the ‘68 generation is already dying off, and Tuesday’s commemoration may be one of the last, big demonstrations to mark the date.
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