Luis Echeverria, Mexican leader blamed for massacres, dies
MEXICO CITY — Former Mexican President Luis Echeverria, who tried to portray himself as a progressive world leader but was blamed for some of Mexico’s worst political murders of the 20th century, has died at the age of 20. 100.
Incumbent President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed Saturday’s death on his Twitter account and offered condolences to Echeverria’s family and friends “in the name of the Mexican government,” but did not express any grief. personal sadness about death.
López Obrador did not provide a cause of death for Echeverria, who ruled Mexico from 1970 to 1976. He was hospitalized for lung problems in 2018 and has also had neurological difficulties in recent years. .
Echeverria positioned himself as a leftist allied with Third World causes during his presidency, but his role in the infamous massacres of leftist students in 1968 and 1971 made him hated by Mexican leftists, who for decades tried unsuccessfully to get him involved. test.
In 2004, he became the first former Mexican head of state to be formally charged with criminal misconduct. Prosecutors have linked Echeverria to the country’s so-called “dirty wars” in which hundreds of left-wing activists and members of fringe guerrilla groups were jailed, killed or simply disappeared without a trace.
Special prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo has asked a judge to issue an arrest warrant for Echeverria on charges of genocide over the massacre of two students, the first of which occurred while working as interior secretary, overseeing security affairs. domestic.
On October 2, 1968, a few weeks before the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, government gunmen opened fire on student protesters in Tlatelolco square, followed by posted soldiers. there. Estimates of the death toll range from 25 to more than 300. Echeverria has denied any involvement in the attacks.
According to military reports, at least 360 government snipers were stationed on buildings around the protesters.
In June 1971, during Echeverria’s presidency, students set out from a teacher’s college just west of downtown to take part in one of the first large-scale protests since after the Tlatelolco massacre. They don’t make it more than a few blocks before being caught by plainclothes thugs, who are actually government agents, known as “Halcones,” or “Falcons.” Prosecutors say that group was involved in the beating or shooting of 12 people.
That attack is depicted in the 2018 Oscar-winning film “Roma,” in which the two characters stumble across violence, which turns out to involve one of their boyfriends who is a member of the Halcones.
In 2005, a judge ruled Echeverria could not be tried for genocide stemming from the 1971 murder, saying that although Echeverria could be held responsible for murder, the statute of limitations for that crime had already been established. expired in 1985.
In March 2009, a federal court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Echeverria did not face genocide charges for its alleged involvement in the 1968 student massacre, and ordered his release. me, although opponents note that the case against him was never closed.
Echeverria never spent a day in jail, although he was under house arrest for a while.
While very few people in Mexico mourn the passing of Echeverria, Félix Hernández Gamundi – a leader of the 1968 student movement who was in Tlatelolco square on the day of the massacre, and who witnessed the events His friend was shot – again mourning what might have happened.
“The death of former President Luis Echeverría is regrettable because it happened in complete silence, because despite his long life, Luis Echeverria never decided to justify his actions,” Hernández Gamundi said.
“Of course we don’t mourn his death,” he said. the rest of his life. “
“He delayed for a long time the inevitable democratic process that began in 1968,” Hernández Gamundi said, referring to the fact that the massacre became the catalyst for activists try to end the one-party presidency. “October 2 marked the end of the old regime, but it took many years after that.”
Echeverria’s death comes at a time when his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI – which ruled Mexico with an iron fist for seven decades, before losing power for the first time in the 2000 elections – is losing power. stripped of the little power it still had, discredited and marred by scandals and internal disputes.
“Things could have been different,” he said. “PRI had a lot of opportunities to get things right and do an accounting.”
Born on January 17, 1922, in Mexico City, Echeverria received a law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1945.
Soon after, he began his political career with PRI. He later held positions in the navy and the Ministry of Education, rose to administrative director of PRI, and organized the presidential campaign of Adolfo Lopez Mateos, who led Mexico from 1958-64.
In 1964, under then-President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Echeverria was rewarded with the important position of Interior Minister, overseeing domestic security. He held that post in 1968, when the government cracked down on student pro-democracy protests, apparently worried that they would shame Mexico as the host country of that year’s Olympics. .
Echeverria left the interior office in November 1969, when he became PRI’s presidential candidate.
He won that race and was sworn in on December 1, 1970, and supported the government of Fidel Castro in Cuba and leftist Salvador Allende in Chile.
After Allende was assassinated in 1973 in a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, Echeverria opened Mexico’s borders to Chileans fleeing Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Domestically, Echeverria presided over a boom in Mexico in the 1970s linked to rising oil prices and oil discoveries. He greatly expanded the number of government-owned industries, a policy his successors later had to reverse because his ambitious public spending and construction programs made Mexico is deeply in debt.
Seeking to erase its repressive image, Echeverria later pardoned many student leaders jailed during the suppression of protests in 1968, and actively sought to recruit intellectuals with the job. and government money.
Echeverria travels the world promoting herself as a leader of the third world and a friend of the leftists. But in Mexico, he has a reputation as a suppressor of dissent.
According to Carrillo, the prosecutor who tried to charge him, Echeverria “was a master of illusion, a magician of deception.”
Juan Velásquez, the defense attorney for Echeverria, said the former president died in one of his homes, but did not specify a cause.
“I told Luis that although no one – not him, not me, not his family – wanted him to go to court, in the end it was the best that could happen,” because the allegation forced was omitted, Velásquez said.
In the last years of his life, Echeverria tried to present himself as an older statesman, and a few times – when his health allowed – showed himself uncompromisingly in front of journalists. But he mostly lived a reclusive life at his large home in an upscale neighborhood of Mexico City.