President Clinton recently visited Mexico. While there, he met with PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) president Ernesto Zedillo. The PRI is the political party in power. It has been in power for over 60 years and has never lost a presidential election. Is the PRI the true expression of the democratic will of the people of Mexico, or a totalitarian dictatorship? In 1968 Mexican students protested the PRI government and army. Over 300 students were murdered. On January 1st 1994, a group of Mayan Indians calling themselves the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) rose up in arms to protest the same government and army. This paper will explore the history of the PRI, the 1968 student massacre, and the formation of the EZLN. By examining this part of Mexican history, this paper will show direct links between governmental corruption, the lack of democracy, the intolerance of social protest, and the necessity for the oppressed to move towards armed struggle.
In 1924 Plutarco Calles was the president of Mexico. He was the founder and organizer of the P.N.R.(National Revolutionary Party), which later changed its name to the PRI. Calles was a Masonic anti-clerical president, who closed many churches and deported a number of priest and nuns. Calles portrayed himself as a socialist, but it was a front. Vincent Padgett writes, “ … as the money poured in, all those at the top embarked upon a pattern of conspicuous consumption in fine houses, luxuries cars, clothing, and jewelry which marked them as something totally apart from the rank and file they professed to serve”(30). Calles was the president of Mexico until 1928, but was so powerful that he continued to run the country behind the scenes. Padgett also writes, “He [Calles] picked a relatively obscure man, Pascual Ortiz Rubio, as the PNR’s candidate to succeed Portes Gil at the end of the provisional presidency, and arranged a lopsided victor over the PNR’s popular opponent, Jose Vasconcelos”(33). Since its formation the PRI was involved in corruption and showed signs of intolerance.
It was hard for Calles, Rubio and the PRI to hide the signs of dishonesty. A change needed to come. In 1934, the president’s position was passed to Lazaro Cardenas. He distributed land to the poor via Article 27, but he made sure himself and his colleagues from the PRI filled their pockets along the way. Cardenas and the PRI succeeded in the nationalization of Mexican oil companies.
In 1940, Manuel Avila Camacho became PRI president of Mexico. Camacho stressed the importance of economic growth and industrial capitalism. As a result of this, the work force grew but left many unemployed. Pablo Gonzales Casanova explains, “One finds in Mexico the unresolved dualisms of a popular revolution of the masses which ended by consecrating a military dictatorship of the middle classes; a very rapid growth of the industrial sector which leaves the traditional peasant sector untouched and unabsorbed”(xi).
The cycle of corruption, unemployment, intolerance, and the party-state dictatorship continued into the 50’s and 60’s. The presidency of Miguel Alem?n pushed for the privatization of public services. Alem?n, along with his colleagues from the PRI, benefited from his actions since they receive “kickbacks” from private industries. Brandenburg states, “Alem?n’s undisputed leadership of the Revolutionary Family [PRI] ended a year before he left the presidency. Forced savings, capital accumulation, and his new agricultural policy, plus inflation and conspicuous graphed, had alienated the masses”(106). At the end of Alem?n’s term, he became richer by taking advantage of public treasuries.
By the mid 60’s, student who wanted to end governmental dictatorship, began to organize. Most students felt corruption was taking place, economic policies where only benefiting the elite of the PRI, and military occupation of their campuses was unnecessary. From July to October 1968, the student movement reached its peak. Cecilia Rodriguez writes about the 1968, “The eyes of the world, it was said, where upon Mexico. The 19th Olympics would begin in Mexico on October 18th of 1968. Millions of dollars had been invested in the Olympics, and news of the intensity of the student movement began causing cancellation of the city’s most luxurious hotels”(Libertad 6). The student protest was centered in Tlatelolco at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The morning of October 2nd 1968, PRI President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz gave orders to remove the students by any means necessary. The army began to open fire upon the students and their families. The PRI reported that about 30 students were dead. Ross writes, “… the best count of the dead was supplied by conscientious Reuters reporter who visited morgues, hospitals, and police lock-ups in the hours following the mass killings and totaled 337 dead”(272). The PRI sent out a clear message that peaceful social protest will not be tolerated.
The students who were involved in the movement, and were not killed or jailed, were forced to go underground. They organized the Politica Popular under the supervision of Adolfo Orive. The Politica Popular was very successful in attacking rich PRI hacienda owners who stole land from the indigenous. The Politica Popular seized the land and distributed it to the original owners. A bishop name Samuel Ruiz, who was visiting from Chiapas, was impressed with their commitment to fight against oppression from the PRI. He was previously trying to teach “liberation theology” to the Mayan Indians in Lacandon, Chiapas. Ross reports that, “The Bishop noticed the organizational advancements made by the leftists and figured they severed the Church’s purposes which Ruiz had defined as dismantling “the structures of domination””(277). Samuel Ruiz invited the members of Politica Popular to accompany him back to Chiapas. He returned to Lacandon, with twelve men from the Politica Popular, one of them would later be known as subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN.