Mexico’s Secret Dirty War
In the last two decades, however, the foundations of what Mario Vargas Llosa once termed ‘the perfect dictatorship,’ have begun to weaken, albeit marginally. Indicative of some of the social changes brought about by popular demands for justice, the first of the holy trinity, ex-President Luis Echeverría (1970-1976), architect of Mexico’s secret dirty war, was arrested and accused of ‘genocide’ in 2005.
human rights organizations, family members of the ‘disappeared’, a number of
journalists and intellectuals, have in the last few years been pressing for the
trial of Luis Echeverría Álvarez. Echeverría, with his defense secretary,
General Hermenegildo Cuenca Díaz, oversaw the most intense years of political violence
If the campaign for
justice has arrived late in the public arena, then surely, as this paper will
argue, those with access to channels of public information bear some
responsibility. Political repression in 1970s
Noam Chomsky once
commented that, ‘It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak truth and
to expose lies [….] Intellectuals’, he stated, ‘are in a position to expose
lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives
and often hidden intentions’ (1987: 60). For Chomsky, intellectuals and
journalists occupy positions of certain privilege, and privilege and power imply
responsibility. Here I argue that intellectuals and journalists, as a result of
complicity with the regime, failed in their ‘responsibility’ to challenge the
government when it was committing its worst human rights abuses. If a history
Some of the reasons for a lack of public awareness vis-à-vis the dirty war surely have to do with the manner in which information was controlled through political propaganda, the co-optation of leading intellectuals, the recruitment of pro-PRI editors, censorship and in some cases the annihilation of a dissident press by – at times – killing everybody involved. Additionally, the political repression of the 1970s was virtually absent from scholarly debate and is still a marginal topic in university curricula.
Sergio Aguayo Quezada’s Los archivos de la violencia (1998) and La charola (2001) are notable exceptions of academic work examining
the guerra sucia. Similarly,
Jacinto Rodríguez Munguía’s La nóminas
secretas de Gobernación (2004) is a powerful exposé of the human rights
abuses of the security agency Dirección
Federal de Seguridad (
Why the government carried out a dirty war against political opponents and kept it secret for thirty years is a question which has concerned those pursuing truth and justice throughout the last few decades in Mexico, for the brutal ‘counterinsurgency’ techniques employed by the Mexican state from the late 1960s and into the mid-1980s have been long in coming to light. Torture, imprisonment, assassination, the bombing of entire villages, disappearing civilians were all part of a campaign to cleanse the country of subversives, but it is only recently that the policy of ‘genocidio’ (FEMOSPP 2006: 9) against opposition groups has begun to receive anything approaching adequate attention.
Across disciplines, the
dirty war has been marginalized, ignored or overlooked to the extent that it
merits only passing mention at best. Typically, the dirty war has been
represented not as a result of a systematic policy to annihilate popular
opposition to PRI rule, but instead as a series of almost unconnected
aberrations from the rule of law. Thus, the
massacre of students in Tlatelolco in Mexico City in 1968 bears little
connection to the Corpus Cristi
massacre on June 10, 1971 and less to the campaign of liquidation against Lucio
Cabañas, the Partido de los Pobres
and guerrilla fighters in the early 1970s in Guerrero. Yet the recurrence of
political violence in
Arbitrary detention, systematic use of torture by all levels of police and armed forces, and total impunity for officials. Can such widespread and enduring practices be considered irregularities of the system? No. They are the system. (Gibler 2009: 67)
If violence is and was the system, this article offers some explanations as to why the dirty war was kept safely outside the confines of accepted Mexican history.
In 2002, in an attempt to placate popular pressure for the state to assume responsibility for human rights abuses committed against civilians during the 60s, 70s and 80s, President Fox commissioned the Special Prosecutor for Social and Political Movements of the Past (FEMOSPP), Dr. Ignacio Carrillo Prieto, to draft a report on the dirty war. As the 27 researchers undertook their research in what was intended to be a ‘Libro blanco,’ a ‘White Book,’ a document which effectively would absolve the government of culpability, the group began to take advantage of the Special Prosecutor’s many absences and of the resources placed at their disposal, not least the recently declassified official documents. It was not until a draft of the Informe Histórico a la Sociedad Mexicana had been completed by the team of researchers that Carrillo Prieto became outraged by the report’s actual conclusions. Far from a ‘Libro blanco,’ the researchers concluded that the state had engaged in a campaign of ‘genocide’ and state terror against leftist political organizations. Identification of those responsible for the crimes documented implicated members of the political elite and high-ranking military generals.
By the time Carrillo Prieto sanitized sections
of the report, refused to pay the researchers’ wages and blocked them from
entering the building of the Fiscalía, it had been leaked to a handful
of journalists, intellectuals and human rights organizations, thus making the
document public (Rodríguez Munguía 2006: 38-39). This was characteristic of the
process of constructing a history state
Now, however, public access to a number of archived official documents, the publication of testimonial accounts, the work of investigative journalists and the tacit recognition in some media of Mexico’s dirty war as a historical phenomenon have allowed for a debate to open on the subject.
Throughout the 1960s
and 1970s, political repression in
violence took off in 1968, two weeks before
Around 3000 people were
disappeared or murdered by the state in
In Atoyac, mass graves containing up to 450 cadavers
were exhumed recently, a chilling testimony to the brutality of the dirty war
in Guerrero (Ramírez Bravo 2008). From 1972, the 27 Zona Militar in
Atoyac became a concentration camp where detainees were tortured and then
assassinated. Others were forcibly removed to the prison, Base Pie de la Cuesta, in
The ways in which the authorities, particularly the military, could obtain the information needed in order to limpiar (‘cleanse’) a certain community were apparently endless. The Informe Histórico a la Sociedad Mexicana details a few of the horrors which were systematic during the Echeverría administration. As the authors note, no measure was excessive if its aim was to obtain information on the movements and plans of alleged subversives, all in the interests of ‘national security’. At times this entailed threatening entire communities with violence and torture. By blocking off a village from the outside world, the community was subjected to a kind of psychological warfare and to the impossibilities this represented, particularly in terms of the supply of food, a kind of collective torture. Some members of the community would disappear and be made examples of for the remaining villagers to witness. Additionally, captives were treated to the psychological torment of the constant insinuation that they might be tortured, disappeared or not, depending on the whim of their captors (Rodríguez Munguía 2006: 38). A preferred technique involved taking parents from their children and executing them or threatening to execute them if the subversive in question withheld information. Those who were associated with ‘subversives,’ either biologically or through social ties, were as guilty of insurrection as the ‘terrorists’ themselves and were treated accordingly. Among the seemingly endless avenues available to soldiers to persuade subversives to talk were:
[…] all kinds of torture, including disfigurement of the face, third-degree burns, forcing them to drink gasoline, breaking their bones, cutting or slicing off the soles of their feet, applying electric shocks to various parts of the body, tying up their testicles and hanging them from the ceiling, introducing glass bottles to the vagina and forcing them to perform humiliating acts, placing hosepipes in the anal passage, filling them with water and then beating them.
These methods were not incidental, but when the deaths of subversivos and terroristas made the press, they were confined to the nota roja, or the crime pages. It was rare for these killings to be presented as anything other than individual assassinations and no hint was ever made as to their systematic application. These torture techniques were hardly the actions of a few crazed soldiers operating in hostile rural environments. The zona militar was in constant contact with the Secretario del Estado Mayor, Alberto Sánchez López, who, with defense secretary Cuenca Díaz and Echeverría himself, was kept fully informed from the frontline battle with the enemy (Rodríguez Munguía 2006: 39)
Instructions in torture techniques and methods of
liquidating insurgents also came from the top in the event that soldiers on the
ground were at a loss as to how to treat subversives. One recommendation, for
example, from Luis de la Barreda, then director of the Dirección Federal de seguridad (
Eradication of subversive elements operated on two main fronts: against unionists and urban guerrillas in the cities and against peasant organizations and political parties, such as Genaro Vázquez Rojas’ and Lucio Cabañas’ Party of the Poor, the Partido de los Pobres, in the rural areas such as Guerrero.
In order to quell dissent, the President and his inner circle spied on political opponents in anticipation of political activities potentially damaging to the PRI’s image. When enough information was gathered, political enemies could be discredited publicly either in political speeches or in the oficialista press. If this proved insufficient and the President deemed that popular political activism was threatening the legitimacy of the party, violence would be employed, not only to intimidate opponents, but, as Sergio Aguayo Quezada notes, ‘to educate’ potential adversaries (1998: 31-32).
of the Southern Cone in the 1970s and 1980s met with considerable difficulties
in keeping state-backed atrocities from public scrutiny, despite manipulation
of the media and strict censorship. The dawn of
The most notorious episode of
political violence in
Despite four decades of official
secrecy and denial, an entire canon of literature has been created around the
events of 1968, much of which transcends traditional literary genres and
conventional historical accounts. Faced with the absolute intransigence of the
state vis-à-vis the massacre (and bolstered by the majority of the national
media), writers and historians experimented with new forms of inquiry in order
to reconstruct the history of
‘Parteaguas’ as a term to describe the effect – both culturally and politically – of the massacre has become so commonplace that contemporary history of Mexico is often viewed as pre and post-1968. (Scherer García and Monsiváis 1999: 4) For journalist and writer Carlos Monsiváis, 1968 represents a defining moment, a ‘historical break’ after which the relationship between state and populace entered an altogether new phase of mutual distrust. (1997: 26)
Those writing outside
By focusing predominantly on 1968,
Mexicanists have tended to overlook the nature of political violence in
It is not my intention to dismiss or
minimize the important work carried out on Tlatelolco and 1968 but to suggest
instead that it was a symptom of a larger and more systematic problem. And
because secrecy and falsehood have dominated government rhetoric on the events
of that year, there is clearly still much work to be done on establishing an
accurate historical record. Yet
Tlatelolco, important and fundamental as it is to understanding relations
between the state and oppositional movements, was but one example of state
terror. Why then, has the dirty war, of which Tlateloco can be seen as the
Little more than a year before the
Tlatelolco massacre, at a national union meeting of copra workers in
Perhaps because the victims were urban and in many cases middle class, perhaps because they were all so young, perhaps because the bloodshed took place in the heart of the national capital in the presence of reporters, the Tlatelolco massacre has scarred Mexican history in a way that so many massacres of rural farmers, union workers, and indigenous people do not: yet Tlatleolco was not then, and is not now, an isolated nor entirely unique act of repression. (Gibler 2009: 45)
common feature of much commentary on Tlatelolco suggests that relations between
civil society and the state had been relatively peaceful up until 1968 (Adler
Hellman 1978; Newell and Rubio 1984; Schmidt 1991; Aguayo 2001). The
‘parteaguas’ in the wake of the government response to the ‘student’ movement
correlates with the breakdown in the consensus of PRI rule. Prior to 1968, goes
this line of reasoning, the PRI had enjoyed widespread popular support. Thus,
writes Sergio Aguayo Quezada, ‘If the ideal of political rulers is to exercise
power without obstacles or interferences, the
Complete hegemony in
the attention attributed to Tlatelolco can be explained, as opposed to other
instances of state violence, by its scale. In fact, no one (at least in the
public arena) actually knows how many people died. The Manchester Guardian, with a reporter in
course, the victims in 1968 were not the usual targets of state repression.
Unlike the copra workers in
Furthermore, the Tlatelolco massacre took place in the middle of the capital and, despite manipulation of the media, unlike repression meted out on rural peasants and industrial workers, this was a crime which could not be sidelined easily. Many middle class university graduates previously had some stake and relative representation in the political system and many ended up working in the PRI. Unlike union workers and leaders of peasant movements, there was a perception that the middle classes were immune from political persecution. Thus the break between government and its victims at Tlatelolco seemed all the more radical and shocking to educated and relatively privileged observers.
International journalists who had arrived in
While the Mexican press initially minimized the number of dead, a number of prominent public intellectuals denounced the government’s role in the massacre. Notable examples were Carlos Fuentes, Rosario Castellanos and Octavio Paz. Paz’s Posdata was one of the first and most influential works of literature written in the aftermath of the massacre. Paz’s denunciation of the government’s role in the massacre contrasted with the PRI compliant press to the extent that President Díaz Ordaz even publicly attacked the work on national television. (Young, 1985: 75) Faced with so much secrecy and self-censorship in the media, a number of writers had begun to break the silence almost out of necessity. Their work was a valuable contribution to opening debate on the events of 1968, placing the massacre firmly in public consciousness.
Yet while some prominent intellectuals had publicly denounced Díaz Ordaz, the mood changed only two years later when his successor, Luis Echeverría assumed the presidency. In the election that brought Echeverría to power, 34% of those registered to vote abstained. 25% of the votes cast were annulled and a further 20% went to other political parties. (Shapira, 1977: 575) Rather than ‘voter apathy’, this probably reflected a lack of options and a general disillusionment with mainstream electoral politics from which Mexico’s political system has yet to redeem itself. With much of the electorate skeptical of mainstream politics and politicians, the PRI leadership realized that in order win back a modicum of legitimacy it would have to do so on two fronts.
first of these was the Echeverría government’s investment in social programs.
Between 1940 and 1980
‘perfect dictatorship’ could hang on to power via the legitimacy of holding
elections and by furthering social programs in education, land reform,
agricultural subsidies and economic protectionism. These were an attempt to
inhibit the growth of independent political organizations by catering for the
minimal needs of various sectors of the population. Chappell Lawson (2004:16)
notes that this was a key feature of PRI rule and democracy in
A second aspect of this PRI initiative was an intensification of public relations propaganda. This was carried out via connections with the media and prominent public intellectuals. Clearly, the disruption of 1968 had taught the state of a need to strengthen its propaganda efforts. Former radicals and leftists would now be counted on to write the right kind of articles. In fact, such was the cozy relationship that, of any sector, excluding foreign diplomats and politicians, intellectuals and journalists made the greatest number of visits to the official presidential residence at Los Pinos (Shapira 1977: 579).
Echeverría’s presidency thus took the state’s relationship with intellectuals to a new level. As part of a public relations strategy to create a progressive and liberal image of government, the state attempted to use intellectuals to its advantage, with Echeverría traveling everywhere with a coterie of trusted writers and journalists. Like other administrations, it tried to co-opt intellectuals by offering them prestigious posts in government. There was nothing particularly new about this – President Cárdenas had done similar things in the 1930s – it was the scale on which it was done which is most remarkable.
Carlos Fuentes did a great deal to bolster Echeverría’s legitimacy, he was also
one of his most influential – yet courteous – critics. In 1971 he compared the
continued imprisonment of José Revueltas to that of Heberto Padilla in Cuba and
pressured the President to release him, as he did a few days later (Brewster 2005: 73). Sócrates Amado Campos
Lemus, who in 1968 had been a leader of the Comité Nacional de Huelga (
intellectuals who had publicly criticized Díaz Ordaz and Echeverría in the wake
of Tlatelolco now turned their attentions elsewhere. Despite the fact that
Echeverría had been second in command to Díaz Ordaz in 1968, his presidency
managed to regain the faith of influential intellectuals. In his book, Memorias,
Cosío Villegas recalls that during the Díaz Ordaz and Echeverría
administrations, he wrote editorial columns in the newspaper Excélsior under a pseudonym. It is
significant that one of
For Adela Cedillo, because intellectuals generally depended on the state for their own economic and social status, their attitude towards politicians was one of, ‘te critico pero te respeto’. Cosío Villegas, summed up this kind of relationship well, no doubt in an attempt to refute a fairly evident conflict of interests, when he commented of his friendship with Echeverría:
desde que entramos en relaciones, ambos nos empeñamos en trazar una clara distinción entre las relaciones personales, de modo que él puede considerarme un buen amigo, pero un mal escritor, y yo a mi vez, puedo estimarlo más como amigo que como gobernante. (Cosío Villegas, 1974, 13).
Castellanos, who lamented the state violence of 1968 in her poem, ‘Memorial de
Tlatelolco’, was later made ambassador to
change of rhetoric and style, backed up by relatively radical economic reforms,
had a number of important consequences regarding the writings produced by
journalists and prominent intellectuals. What they wrote and said very often
contributed to the government’s return to legitimacy. Carlos Fuentes, who had
been highly critical of the PRI in 1968, was now convinced of the Echeverría
administration’s benign intentions when he wrote that, ‘Echeverría lifted the
veil of fear thrown over the body of
When intellectuals such as Fuentes did criticize the regime, it was within the parameters of acceptable mainstream debate which accepted the basic legitimacy and benevolence of the Echeverría presidency. Certain policies and tactics would be discussed and criticized, but the basic premise that Echeverría’s government was essentially benign was beyond question. So long as the holy trinity – the basic benevolence of the president, the army and the virgin of Guadalupe – remained immune from criticism, intellectual political debate would thrive.
Fuentes’ exposé of the continued incarceration of writer and activist José Revueltas (accused by the government of being the ‘autor intelectual’ of the 1968 movement) was one example of this. While he criticized what he saw as the unjust imprisonment of a dissident writer, he did not condemn the political regime as a whole, nor did he mention the ongoing repression of peasants in Guerrero and elsewhere. Rather, the repression meted out against Revueltas represented a glitch in an otherwise even-handed regime and was corrected by Echeverría as soon as Fuentes went public in his criticism. As such, Fuentes was what dirty war researcher Adela Cedillo calls a crítico permitido because he failed to question the system’s fundamental legitimacy nor did he highlight the systematic nature of political violence in Mexico (Interview with Adela Cedillo, Mexico City, 5 August 2005). When Echeverría agreed to release Revueltas, Fuentes was effusive in his praise:
Echeverría heard complaints and saw misery. The students and intellectuals imprisoned in 1968 were freed. A new climate of intellectual criticism, debate in the press, and a national dialogue was substituted for the politics of silence…Self-congratulation was replaced by self-criticism, the existence of Mexico’s problems, old and new, was admitted. (Cited in Brewster 2005: 73-74).
This turnaround is perhaps less surprising than it may at first appear. After all, many were taken in by Echeverría’s leftist rhetoric and new social programs. The newly-invigorated discourse presented Echeverría’s sexenio as a beacon of liberalism – the egregious violations of human rights that characterized the height of the dirty war under his presidency failed to capture the attention of or were considered unimportant by the same intellectuals who had been so horrified by Tlatelolco.
dirty war did not fit well with the face of the democratic opening that
Echeverría purportedly spearheaded. Because in
According to journalist and author Elena Poniatowska, the silence of intellectuals had little to do with ignorance of disappearances and torture. Intellectuals and journalists, she insists, were well aware that the state was disappearing and torturing political opponents but kept this from public knowledge, owing to an ‘enorme indiferencia’ towards the suffering of political dissidents at the hands of the state (Elena Poniatowska. Personal interview, Aug. 8 2005). Criticism of the regime was healthy and so long as intellectuals and journalists were indifferent to the plight of the Dirty War’s victims they could write as they pleased.
Yoram Shapira has argued that Echeverría’s coaxing of the intellectual class was especially important in the absence of support from key social and political groupings. In this context, it was important to court intellectuals and the print media – they could exert influence over public opinion and set the limits of orthodox political debate. (1977: 579)
additional aspect and significant factor which contributed to the dirty war’s
absence from recent history was the structural limitations on media
institutions which encouraged and elicited favorable coverage of government in
the press. During the Echeverría regime, concealed controls contributed to
journalistic obedience to political power – direct intervention by the
government in papers and in magazines often toned down or censored material and
the readership would be unaware of these government induced changes. El
chayote or el embute, as they were known, were government bribes
awarded to journalists for what they wrote, and very often, what they agreed
not to write. PIPSA, the state controlled paper company, could withdraw the
subsidized paper supply of a publication when the regime considered its content
adverse. Additionally, newspapers and journals could be held to account by
having to pay back loans and subsidies to government if coverage was considered
unfavorable to the interests of the state. Editors and journalists were aware
of the risks and either had internalized the limits of acceptable criticism or
consciously avoided dangerous stories. The state also had a supreme advantage
when it came to the distribution of books. It was not difficult to print
politically explosive material in
As regards newspapers, El boletín de prensa, a document produced daily for journalists by the Secretaria de Gobernación, represented one of the most effective propaganda tools of political power. Because the information was free and easily accessible, it benefited journalists, newspapers and government. Journalists were aware that offending the patron with critical coverage potentially meant cutting the lifeline – government access – that kept them in the job. In addition, government advertising – that is, newspaper columns and articles produced by officials in Gobernación but published in the media as standard journalism – also played an important role in disseminating official ideology. Private advertisers, along with government-funded publications, could withdraw financial support whenever they deemed a publication too hostile to business interests.
There was also the process of fragmentation in the media. The break-up of journal and newspaper organizations, while internal in origin, was frequently exacerbated by the state. This meant that no one publication could ever become highly influential, because it would almost certainly be divided into factions that would subsequently form smaller magazines and newspapers.
were some limitations over which intellectuals, journalists and editors had
little control but which were surely highly significant, particularly as such
processes were invisible to the average reader, who might be forgiven for
thinking that the press and writers operated freely in
Mutual agreements between the government and the press contributed to an atmosphere of journalistic and intellectual subservience to power. At times Gobernación simply wrote stories or opinion pieces and sent them to the press, where they would appear to the reader as standard journalism. Raúl Álvarez Garín, commenting on the consequences of state intervention in the content of articles, explains:
[Es] un aparato que ahora se llamaría como una oficina de guerra sicológica, de elaboración de interpretación y análisis político, […] las columnas políticas que están alimentadas de información policiaca. Todo eso iba generando un clima de interpretación de lo que iba a suceder o lo que estaba sucediendo en función de los intereses de la Secretaría de Gobernación directamente. De ahí esta caracterización de “prensa vendida” porque era absolutamente parcial, sin ninguna objetividad y todo muy encaminado a legitimar acciones de violencia en contra de los opositores (Raúl Álvarez Garín. Personal interview. Aug. 2005).
Discussing the role of the press in covering the Dirty War, Poniatowska comments that, ‘Se murmuraba pero había una enorme indiferencia. Se murmuraba que había cárceles clandestinas, se murmuraba que se torturaba a la gente pero no se sabía de cierto. Una ignorancia, una indiferencia…’ (Elena Poniatowska. Personal interview. Aug. 2005).
Although some journalists lied or covered up the truth ‘by conviction’, others certainly were afraid of the consequences of exposing government corruption and human rights abuses (Semo, Ilán. Personal interview. Aug. 2005). Poniatowska continues:
Había presión para guardar silencio. Creo que será la tónica en aquellos años, que la gente no hablaba, que sabía que había cárceles clandestinas pero no se hablaba de ello. Se sabía que [se] había torturado en los separos de la procuraduría a los muchachos o a las personas que se oponían al gobierno o incluso a los delincuentes. Se sabía que se practicaba la tortura (Elena Poniatowska. Personal interview. Aug. 2005).
What was the effect of this in hampering public awareness about state-backed atrocities? Rosario Ibarra de Piedra, whose son Jesús, along with hundreds of other young men and women, was disappeared during Echeverría’s presidency, found it practically impossible to get the media to address the subject of the Dirty War in the 1970s. During Echeverría’s term in office she explains:
Los medios callaban. Muchas cosas no las publicaban y si publicaban era una cosa espantosa porque publicaban, “cayó otro terrorista”, “Fue detenido otro subversivo,” “Un grupo de subversivos desarmado, encarcelado”. Era como hacer eco a las palabras gobernamentales. Muchos lo hacían porque había la compra a base de dinero y por otro lado era el temor, el temor a enfrentar un poder terrible que era el poder de Echeverría que era un poder omnímodo, omnipresente. Era un miedo que se hacía manifiesto en todos los lugares (Rosario Ibarra de Piedra. Personal interview. Aug. 2005)
When news of the disappearances or murders carried out by the authorities did appear on the pages of the papers, they were confined to the Nota roja, or crime pages. Thus, though journalists might cover a story in which a ‘terrorista’ or a ‘subversivo’ was shot dead, it was invariably presented as something exceptional, rather than suggestive of a systematic campaign of state violence (Interview with Adela Cedillo, Mexico City, LIMAC, 5 August 2005). There was nothing unusual about this. After all, Echeverría and Díaz Ordaz had made it official policy since the sixties for the press to employ certain terms which disparaged victims of state violence. Thus in 1968, newspapers were ordered not to use ‘estudiantes’ and ‘conflicto estudiantil’. Since 1968, among some of the terms in the lexicon for enemies of the state were ‘conjurados’, ‘terroristas’, ‘guerrilleros’, ‘agitadores’, ‘anarquistas’, ‘apátridas’, ‘mercenarios’, ‘traidores’, ‘facinerosos’ (Rodríguez Munguía 2007: 69). This framed any debate about disappearances within a very rigid framework. The kind of language used – ‘terrorista’, ‘subversivo’, etc – helped to rationalize state violence against dissidents.
compliance, coupled with intellectual co-optation, meant that repression in
[…] nunca han sido gente marginal – siempre han sido la élite cultural del país. Siempre han gozado de todos los beneficios, de instituciones dependencias académicas. Yo pienso que se debe a la esquizofrenia del sistema mexicano. Por un lado viven en la realidad paralela de que son un gobierno democrático y que respetan las libertades ciudadanas. Muestran un botón y sacan a Monsiváis, a Poniatowska, hasta Revueltas en un determinado momento […] Entonces hay esa doble imagen de esquizofrenia pura. Es una cuestión de aparencias (Adela Cedillo. Personal interview. Aug. 2005).
as Roderic Ai Camp notes, ‘To perpetuate
of the few journalists and public intellectuals actively involved in
documenting political repression in
La que siempre estuvo con nosotros, que nos apoyó en la huelga de hambre fue Elena Poniatowska. Ella desde un principio…Hablé con ella en una manifestación y escribió Fuerte es el silencio y sacó todo lo que tenía que decir. Después estuvo con nosotros en la huelga de hambre – pero fue la única. Octavio Paz – hablé con él – me dijo, palabras de él, las tengo grabadas porque me clavaron como puñaladas, ‘Ay, Usted es la señora esa de la que habla Elenita. Yo creía que eran novelerías.’ Terrible. Ninguno – la única fue Elena. Uno que estuvo solidario con nosotros pero no al grado de Elena fue Carlos Monsiváis. Pero en el principio Elena Poniatowska fue la única. Y todavía sigue (Rosario Ibarra de Piedra. Personal interview. Aug. 2005).
Los intelectuales no se meten mucho. No se comprometen…De vez en cuando les preguntan, dicen cualquier cosita, escriben alguna cosa, pero no el compromiso así de ir a nuestros actos, de estar con nosotros (Rosario Ibarra de Piedra. Personal interview. Aug. 2005).
the wake of 1968, sectors of the left had fragmented. As well as disabling the
student movement, some leftist opposition moved to the right. The Partido
Popular Socialista (
the situation further, the Cuban revolution had not been the success many
leftist intellectuals had anticipated. The
intellectuals did change their tone in the latter half of Echeverría’s
presidency and many of the same writers began openly criticizing the President,
but these were criticisms of certain political tactics and policies rather than
attacks on presidential authority and as such were permitted. Particularly in
the first half of the Echeverría sexenio,
as Samuel Dillon and Julia Preston point out, ‘as a result of its adaptability,
the authoritarian system was able to maintain strong ties with the country’s
intellectuals, a unique situation among Latin American nations’ (2004: 407).
‘The PRI system,’ Dillon and
the context of the Cold War, the PRI used the Soviet model as an example and
symbol of everything that
Criticism of the regime then, within the boundaries of an ideological system in which the fundamental authority of the political system was a given, was beneficial, necessary even. If intellectuals and journalists accepted the tacit ruling that in essence Mexican democracy was the only alternative to communism and fascism, then certain critiques of policy, etc. were quite acceptable. Critics writing in the media who adopted those core values – like Paz and Fuentes – would be allowed to write and debate freely because they never addressed the regime’s fundamental legitimacy and could be trusted never to expose its darkest crimes.
if indeed the Echeverría regime was brutal, the fact that its brutality was
sidelined from history for thirty years owes itself in part to this. The
administration presented itself as a singular phenomenon in
Echeverría publicly supported Salvador Allende in
was therefore crucial to the credibility of its government that
the anti-imperialist rhetoric, both Echeverría and his predecessor were on the
concluded that investment in social programs and public spending would prove
vital in swaying Mexican leftists away from the example of
Hidden behind the guise of democratic social spending and revolutionary rhetoric was a campaign of violence to crush political opponents, as 1968 activist Raúl Álvarez Garín comments:
intellectuals, then, tended to avoid exposing the regime and its role in
repression of peasants and dissidents in the 1970s and Tlatelolco is treated as
an exception rather than the rule. In some senses this is true, given the class
background of many of the victims, some of whom were intellectuals themselves.
But a cursory glance at the history of contemporary
leftist intellectuals had been disillusioned by the consequences of 1968 for
the left and
This was compounded by a combination of the complicity and tight control of the mainstream media, whose overall tone and message generally reflected elite opinion. Political violence against elements of society’s most marginalized in places like Guerrero was thus met with what Poniatowska referred to as an ‘enorme indiferencia’ on the part of journalists and intellectuals.
Echoing her comments about Mexican intellectuals attempting to justify their complicity with political power, investigative journalist Jacinto Rodríguez Munguía discusses the press and prominent intellectuals writing in the media during the same period: ‘Uno de los sectores que debe render cuentas, que debe explicar a la sociedad – qué hizo o qué no hizo – es la prensa. Tenemos un vacío inmenso.’ Adela Cedillo has commented that, ‘los intelectuales fueron cómplices del poder…todo el mundo fue metido en la guerra sucia. Eso fue una complicidad tan grande que nadie sale libre de culpa’. On the renewed faith of post-1968 intellectuals and journalists in the PRI and their failure to expose Echeverría’s human rights abuses, she comments: ‘Ellos se justifican diciendo que, “no sabíamos, ¿A qué hora los torturaron, a qué hora los desaparecieron? Es que nadie nos dijo. No sabíamos”. No soportan hablar de la guerra sucia. Es un tema tan incómodo, tan marginalizado, el tema más marginal que puedas estudiar.’
It has taken thirty years for
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Those who wrote in and who distributed the publication of the Liga 23 de septiembre,
 Fiscalía Especial para Movimientos Sociales y Políticos del Pasado.
 Author’s translation: ‘[…] todo tipo de tortura, incluyendo, desfiguraciones en el rostro, quemaduras de tercer grado, darles de tomar gasolina, romperles los huesos del cuerpo, cortarles o rebanarles la planta de los pies, darles toques eléctricos en diferentes partes del cuerpo, amarrarlos por los testículos y colgarlos, introducir botellas de vidrio en la vagina de las mujeres y someterlas a vejación, introducir mangueras por el ano para llenarlos de agua y luego golpearlos.’Informe Histórico a la Sociedad Mexicana, pp. 612.
Años de plomo, ‘Years of
Lead,’ referring to the bullets used by the authorities against dissidents. The
term also has been used to refer to dirty wars in
 See, for example, Carlos Monsiváis, Días de guardar, Luis González de Alba, Los días y los años, Elena Poniatowska, La noche de Tlatelolco, Octavio Paz, Posdata.
 Paz had been Mexico’s ambassador to India.
 Raúl Álvarez Garín. Personal interview. Aug. 2006. ‘La represión en México está muy oculta en una parte por el prestigio del proceso de la revolución mexicana que tiene cambios políticos y económicos muy fuertes. Es un régimen nacionalista viguroso con una legislación y una atención a problemas sociales con métodos bastante revolucionarios y muy extensos. Lo del reparto agrario y la expropiación petrolera y las leyes de defensa del trabajo y las instituciones de seguridad social y una cantidad de elementos que lo presentaban como una alternativa tercermundista muy singular.’