Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Mexican students killed in the Tlatelolco Massacre

October 2, 1968, was a sad day in the history of Mexico. That day, in the Tlatelolco Massacre, hundreds of unarmed students were suddenly killed by the government in a public square. The late 1960s were marked by student protests and uprisings in many parts of the world, including the French May in Paris, the campus unrest in several U.S. universities, and the Cordobazo in Argentina.

In Mexico, student protests against the government had started on occasion of the Olympic Games, which for the first time were held in Latin America and provided a unique opportunity to bring issues of disconformity to the international stage. The two main sources of discontent were the low progress made by the political leadership in fullfilling the promises of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) of eliminating poverty and inequality, on the one hand, and the limited levels of democracy in the political system, on the other. Students took advantage of the international attention devoted to Mexico during the Games to express their frustration and criticize the government, as well as to demand democratic reforms and social justice.

President Diaz Ordaz was determined to stop the protests. By mid-September, the army invaded the university campus, assaulting anyone in their way, arresting students and eventually causing the resignation of Rector Barros Sierra on September 23rd. Not surprisingly, by that time students incorporated university autonomy and the freeing of political prisoners in their demands.

A week later, on October 2nd, after nine weeks of student strikes, a contingent of 15,000 students marched throughout the streets of Mexico City carrying red carnations to protest against the army's occupation of the University. By the evening, 5,000 students and workers, many of them with their spouses and children, entered the Plaza of Three Cultures, known as Plaza de Taltelolco. That peaceful student demonstration was suddenly drowned in blood, in what was going to be remembered forever as 'La Matanza de Tlatelolco', or the Tlatelolco Massacre. Without any warning, by sunset, the army began to fire against the unarmed Tlatelolco protestors. The killing was indiscriminate and included people who were at the plaza for reasons unrelated to the protest. Although accurate figures are still unavailable, it is estimated that more than 300 people were killed, hundreds were injured and several thousand were arrested.

Three decades later, in October 1997, an opposition-dominated Congress reopened the case and established a committee to investigate. The committee talked to 18 participants, including ex-president Luis Echeverria. In 1968, as Minister of Interior, he was directly responsible for the operation. In his statements, Echeverria admitted that the students had not been armed, and suggested that the military action had been planned in advance to destroy the leadership of the student movement. The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) held power in Mexico until the year 2000, when Vicente Fox of Partido Accion Nacional won the national elections.

The students killed in Tlatelolco in October 2, 1968 are still present in the collective memory of many Mexicans, and are remembered every year by the new generations of students.


Poniatowska, Elena (1971). La noche de Tlatelolco; testimonios de historia oral. Mexico DF: Mexico Ediciones Era. , accessed October 16, 2000. , accessed October 16, 2000. , accessed October 16, 2000. , accessed October 16, 2000. , accessed October 16, 2000.

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