STREETS ALIVE: Memories of a Massacre

There are some very odd things about Puerto Vallarta and one of the strangest is the name given to the street we all know. It runs from the Rosita Hotel to the lighthouse, borders and is part of the Malecon and, officially, is known as Paseo Diaz Ordaz.

It is anchored at the north end by that restaurant for the masses, McDonalds, and is home to the Jazz Foundation, Banorte Bank, La Dolce Vita and the Cheeky Monkey.

The biography of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz Bolaños is a picture of a very unpleasant fellow who, had he lived long enough, would certainly have been prosecuted for genocide.

Born in Oaxaca on 12th March 1911, his family was poor but respectable. His mother was a teacher and a very pious woman but had a few quirks of her own. Little Gustavo had huge, protruding teeth and was skinny and boney and his mother would often say to her friends and family ,”What an ugly son I have.” His looks and his mother’s comments would take a toll on his character and his life. He was, by all accounts a very miserable, sour and violent man.

He served as the Secretary of Government in the cabinet of President Adolfo López Mateos from 1958 to 1964 and on 18 November 1963, he became the presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). It was a coronation! He was elected as president in 1964.

In 1968, student movements were happening worldwide — including in Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Argentina, Japan and the United States. Mexico, like many countries in the prosperous 1960s, had spawned a vibrant middle class that enjoyed a quality of life unimaginable in previous decades. These children of the Mexican Revolution who now lived in comfort were, for the first time, able to send their own children to university in unprecedented numbers and many of them were politically active and involved in struggles for democracy.

In Mexico City the students demanded reforms from the federal government including the release of political prisoners, and increased political and civil liberties and they were supported by many workers, farmers, housewives, merchants, intellectuals, artists and teachers.

The student movement in Mexico City got its start from a street fight between high school students after a football game. The students confronted the Mexico City riot police sent there to end the skirmish. After hours of student resistance, the army was called in to end the violence. The siege ended when the soldiers blasted the main door of the National Preparatory School in San Ildefonso with a bazooka, killing some of the students in the building. After more protests the army occupied both the National University (UNAM) and the National Polytechnic. Things were getting ugly!

Students expected the government to give in to their demands, but they were greeted with a clear message from the president, Diaz Ordaz: “No more unrest will be tolerated.”

The students called for a meeting on Oct. 2 at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco housing complex. Thousands of students showed up to get firsthand knowledge of the movement’s next steps. As the gathering was ending, soldiers arrived to capture the movement’s leaders. They were greeted by gunshots from the buildings surrounding the square. The troops then opened fire, turning the evening into a shooting spree that lasted nearly two hours.

A ten minute video of the massacre is on YouTube. It’s horrifying!

No formal investigation into the killings was carried out by any PRI government but in 2000 their 70 years of one-party rule was broken with the election of Vicente Fox who ordered an investigation of the Tlatelolco massacre. Ordaz’s Minister of the Interior, Luis Echeverria, was indicted for genocide for his role in it but in 2009 the charges against him were dismissed due to the statute of limitations. Diaz Ordaz, himself, was lucky enough to die on 30th November 1970.

Every year, students in Mexico City march in remembrance of “The Night of Tears” on 2nd October. In 2013 demonstrators in Zapopan, Guadalajara, defiled a statue of the former President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, daubing the bust with red paint to symbolize the blood of the student protestors gunned down by Mexican soldiers on October 2, 1968.

Next time you stroll along the Malecon you might think of those students gunned down by orders of the man whose name the street carries.

John Warren on Email
John Warren
John Warren is in charge of Publicity for the International Friendship Club (IFC). His articles describe the programs and charities that IFC supports, the sources of income of IFC and the social experiences, lectures and classes that members can enjoy.
He splits his time between Puerto Vallarta and Lethbridge, Alberta. In the winter months he writes for the IFC, this summer he’s focusing his writing on the environment.