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Mexico marks 1968 massacre, hope for justice dims

October 2, 2005

By Greg Brosnan

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Angry that hopes of punishing top
officials for a 1968 student massacre are fading, thousands of
Mexican protesters marched on Sunday to the scene of the blood
bath exactly 37 years later to demand justice.

The brutal October 2, 1968, crackdown in a Mexico City
square by soldiers and police ushered in an era of state
terror.

President Vicente Fox, whose 2000 election ended 71 years
of single-party rule, pledged to uncover the truth and to
punish those responsible.

But with 14 months left in his term, and after a series of
setbacks in the drive to try former President Luis Echeverria,
the chances of winning justice for victims look slim.

To survivors and rights leaders, the case is emblematic of
Fox’s failure to end impunity for once-powerful officials,
which many see as crucial to achieving full democracy.

“It’s sad to think that this sort of historic opportunity
may be lost,” said Eric Olson of Amnesty International in
Washington. “We’ll continue to insist on truth, justice and
reparations for the victims and their families, but at this
point it’s disappointing.”

The 1968 attack days before the Olympics opened in Mexico
City is remembered as the Tlatelolco massacre and remains
shrouded in mystery. Witnesses said troops shot dead some 300
people. Officials said agitators provoked a shootout that
killed 30.

A snaking mass of thousands of protesters, including
current and former students, many dressed in the red and black
colors of the country’s student movement, marched to Tlatelolco
on Sunday shouting slogans.

At a stone monument to victims beside a colonial church in
the square, they placed wreaths, candles, incense and a sign
that read: “October 2 will never be forgotten or forgiven.”

The massacre marked the beginning of an era of repression
under the long-ruling PRI party. Echeverria, now 83, was then
interior minister and is widely blamed for the 1968 blood bath.
He went on to lead Mexico from 1970-76 at the height of a
so-called dirty war in which hundreds of dissidents died or
disappeared.

He has twice evaded moves to indict him and denies any
wrongdoing. In September a court dismissed genocide and
kidnapping charges against Echeverria and eight others for the
Tlatelolco massacre, citing insufficient evidence and the time
elapsed.

Victims and a special prosecutor appointed by Fox say such
rulings reflect entrenched political interests that still wield
influence, and they vow to continue the legal battle.

One of hundreds of banners students carried on Sunday bore
a straightforward demand: “Jail for Luis Echeverria, now!”

RESIGNATION RUMORED

Echeverria’s defense lawyer, Juan Velasquez, declared the
process dead after the latest ruling, perhaps giving rise to
rumors that Special Prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo was resigning.

Instead, Carrillo appealed the court’s decision. He argues
that the massacre was part of a calculated government strategy
to wipe out a dissident movement.

Legal experts say the genocide charge may go too far,
however, and prosecutors’ hands are tied by legal obstacles
such as the statute of limitations.

As the clock ticks, activists say Fox failed to give the
special prosecutor the tools and backing he needed. Many expect
the process to fizzle out altogether after Fox leaves office.

Perhaps Fox chose caution to avoid instability at a moment
of political transition, in contrast with Argentine President
Nestor Kirchner’s bold move to prosecute dirty war crimes, said
Amnesty’s Olson.

Tamara Yaham, a 16-year-old high-school student with thick
purple and black dreadlocks, said she attended the march to
demand justice for students from an earlier generation, many of
whom had died fighting for it.

“We owe them a lot,” she said. “The least we can do is
fight.”

(Additional reporting by Lorraine Orlandi)




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