Saturday, July 01, 2006

Mexico News: President Luis Echeverria House Arrest

The following article from El Universal (online English paper in Mexico) might interest CIASPers.

In 1968, dramatic events changed the face of Mexico (and the world). The most famous and traumatic for Mexico was the massacre of students at the Plaza of Three Cultures (Tlatelolco). This government action traumatized an entire generation of Mexicans, and it signalled the beginning of an extended period of authoritarian repression at the hands of the governing PRI. The suppression of almost all opposition voices led Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa to observe that Mexico was "a perfect dictatorship"

Student leaders, social activists, professors, and progressive intellectuals were driven underground, and were brutally harassed by the PRI government of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. Intolerance to dissenting voices and criticism continued during Luis Echeverría's term. Within Mexico, the impact was divisive and very similar to the impact that the Vietnamese war had on our generation of youth.

(The student movement in Mexico, and the government suppression is described in chapter 9 of Mark Kurlansky's book 1968: The year that rocked the world)

In the recent past, there've been several investigations and "commissions" examining those events. Many incriminating documents have been released, and previously secret films of the massacres were uncovered and released to the public..

The events at Tlatelolco played a major part in the eventual demise of CIASP.

As with most political and criminal events in Mexico, one can never know with certainty "why this arrest was made yesterday". Many observers cynically suspect that the arrest of Echeverría is an attempt to influence tomorrow's Presidential Election results (July 2). The Mexican Electoral Commission (IFE) requires a publicity blackout beginning a few days before the presidential election date, and the house arrest of Luis Echeverría is an obvious way to "further blacken" the reputation of the PRI, and leave PAN (the party of Vicente Fox) as the only party committed to reconciliation, justice and change.

A more detailed Spanish Report is found in the newspaper La Jornada at the link

Echeverría placed under house arrest

El Universal
July 01, 2006
Echeverría placed under house arrest on genocide charge.

Former President Luis Echeverría was placed under house arrest on genocide charges stemming from a 1968 student massacre, an unprecedented move coming just two days before the country elects a new president.

An investigator from Special Prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo´s office on Friday formally placed Echeverría under arrest as crowds of reporters waited outside his ivy-covered Mexico City mansion. It was the first time a former president has been arrested.

"My client is mortified," Echeverría attorney Juan Velásquez told reporters. "Nobody wants to be served an arrest warrant, especially one for genocide."

Echeverría calmly signed the document recognizing the warrant, which will be enforced by federal agents, said José Manuel Luis Jiménez, the investigator for the special prosecutor. The 84-year-old Echeverría was under house arrest because a 2004 law allows judges to keep elderly suspects out of overcrowded jails.

Velásquez said the former president was innocent and the arrest warrant was timed to influence Sunday´s closely fought presidential vote.

"Obviously, this is very convenient for some parties during the election season," he said.

Echeverría´s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was trailing in third place in pre-election opinion polls.

Prosecutors had been trying to convince courts to authorize Echeverría´s arrest, but previous attempts were blocked.

Special prosecutor Carrillo, appointed by President Vicente Fox, brought criminal charges against Echeverría for his alleged role in the killings of dozens of students in two separate Mexico City protests: in 1968, when he was interior secretary, and in 1971, when he was president.

The former president has been briefly hospitalized twice in the past year and is considered to be in poor health.

Echeverría was interior secretary, a powerful position overseeing domestic security, when troops ambushed mostly peaceful student protesters at Mexico City´s Tlatelolco Plaza on Oct. 2, 1968, just before the capital hosted the Olympics. Officially, 25 people were killed. Human rights activists say as many as 350 people may have lost their lives.

Special prosecutors say they have reviewed military documents indicating 360 sharpshooters fired from buildings surrounding Tlatelolco Plaza. The attack is considered one of the darkest moments of modern Mexican history. The president at the time, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, died in 1979.

In February, a leaked draft of a government report on Mexico´s "dirty war" alleged the government ordered soldiers to torture, rape and execute people as part of a counterinsurgency campaign from 1960-80.

The most brutal period occurred during Echeverría´s presidency, from 1970-76, when military bases allegedly served as "concentration camps" and the government "implemented a genocide plan that was closely followed during his reign."

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