RIGHTS-MEXICO: Verdict Strengthens Dirty War Impunity

  • by Diego Cevallos (mexico city)
  • Friday, March 27, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

But a federal court that had the last word in a case against Echeverría for the Tlatelolco massacre acquitted him Thursday.

'This sentence in favour of Echeverría is an insult to the intelligence and sentiments of thousands of Mexicans. That is why we no longer have any confidence in the justice system,' leftwing Senator Rosario Ibarra, the head of the Committee for the Defence of those Imprisoned, Persecuted, Disappeared and Exiled for Political Reasons, known as the Eureka Committee, told IPS.

The trial against the former president, who was interior minister in 1968 and later governed the country from 1970 to 1976, began in 2005.

Thursday’s ruling released him from house arrest, which he has been under since November 2006.

During the dirty war period, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) – which governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000 – defended the causes of socialist Cuba and the Third World, broke off diplomatic relations with dictatorial regimes, and gave asylum to hundreds of political refugees fleeing military dictatorships in South America.

But at the same time, it was brutally silencing voices calling for democracy.

The judges ruled Thursday that at Tlatelolco square on Oct. 2, 1968, when police and soldiers opened fire on thousands of unarmed student demonstrators, the crime of genocide was committed because the objective was to eliminate a specifically defined group of student opponents of the government.

However, the court found that the former president did not participate. But the judges did not indicate who was responsible for the slaughter of students in Tlatelolco square.

Estimates of how many people were killed that day range from 26 – the initial official report – to 200 or more, as reported by the Consejo General de Huelga (Strike General Council) set up by the National Autonomous University of Mexico students, which led the 1968 protests.

The victims were mainly students who had gathered at the square to protest the government of then president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970) and demand political changes and democracy. But bystanders were also killed.

The entrances to the square had been blocked off by tanks and trucks. Some of the police and military shooters were posted in the tall apartment buildings surrounding the square, while others fired on the crowd of students from street level.

The killings occurred just 10 days before the start of the 19th Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Ibarra, whose 21-year-old son Jesús Piedra Ibarra was seized by the military as a suspected guerrilla in 1975 and never heard from again, said that as interior minister and later president, Echeverría promoted a policy of arresting and 'disappearing' dissidents.

'He was also directly responsible for the murders at Tlatelolco square,' she said.

Echeverría, who is now 87 years old and ailing, 'is guilty, but our justice system does not recognise that because it is blind, deaf and useless,' said Ibarra.

The political violence against leftists and other opponents waged by the PRI regimes left 532 victims of forced disappearance between the late 1960s and early 1980s, according to an investigation carried out during the government of Vicente Fox (2000-2006) by the Special Prosecutor’s Office on Social and Political Movements of the Past.

It was the Special Prosecutor’s Office that brought action against Echeverría for the killings at Tlatelolco and other human rights cases. But only the Tlatelolco case made it to trial – the first against such a high-level politician in the history of Mexico.

Human rights analyst Fabián Sánchez, former head of the non-governmental Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), said the ruling in favour of Echeverría strengthens the impunity surrounding the crimes committed by the state in the dirty war period.

'One of the big pending debts in the construction of Mexican democracy is the failure to clarify past abuses and punish those responsible for the repression,' he told IPS.

'The judiciary has not had the interest in clarifying these events, nor the weapons to do so,' he added.

As a candidate, Fox, of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), which in 2000 wrested control of the presidency from the PRI for the first time in seven decades, promised to clarify past human rights abuses and bring those responsible to justice.

But once in office, Fox gave little support to the Special Prosecutor’s Office, and at the end of his term his administration even failed to endorse its report on the dirty war.

The report, titled 'Que no vuelva a suceder' (roughly 'It Must Not Happen Again'), - stated that government efforts to fight political, student and insurgent groups in the past 'went outside of the legal framework and included crimes against humanity like massacres, forced disappearances, systematic torture, war crimes and genocide.'

It documented dozens of cases of torture, murder and forced disappearance committed by soldiers and other government agents during the administrations of presidents Díaz Ordaz, Echeverría and José López Portillo (1976-1982).

Of the three, only Echeverría is still alive.

The report concluded that rapes, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions formed part of a 'state policy' that came from the country's highest-level political officials and military brass, targeting sectors of the population that had organised to demand greater democratic participation in the decisions that affected them and to fight authoritarianism.

President Felipe Calderón, who like Fox belongs to the PAN, dismantled the Special Prosecutor’s Office after his term began in late 2006, and has made no attempt to clarify the past or seek ways to bring those responsible to justice.

Although the Special Prosecutor’s Office report, research by historians, human rights groups and political leaders concur that high-ranking officials were responsible for the abuses, none has been penalised for the Tlatelolco massacre or the hundreds of victims of forced disappearance.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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