By: Luis Hernández Navarro
There is a divorce between the Army and an enormous portion of Mexican society. The role that the armed forces played in the repression of the student movement and in the massacre on October 2, 1968 earned them citizen repudiation. It’s participation in the dirty war of the decade after Tlatelolco deepened the animosity against it.
The rupture wasn’t new. The discontent towards the Army was fed because of its responsibility in the systematic repression of popular movements. Although they carried out orders civilians gave them, they were line soldiers that murdered the campesino leader Rubén Jaramillo, his wife and his children at Xochicalco. It was the Army that broke the 1959 railroad strikes and arrested 800 workers and their leaders. It was the Army that, in 1960, violently crushed the popular protest against the governor of Guerrero, Raúl Caballero Aburto.
Far from healing with the passage of years, the wound opened in ‘68 has become worse. The active intervention of the armed forces in counterinsurgency tasks in Chiapas and Guerrero yielded a long list of grave human rights violations and the promotion of paramilitary groups. Participation of the armed forces in police functions in the war against drug trafficking escalated citizen animosity. Their behavior during the night of September 26 and 27, 2014 in Iguala, when 43 young Ayotzinapa teachers college students were disappeared, and in the extrajudicial executions in Tlatlaya made popular distrust towards the military institution even greater.
It is not a subjective matter. The complaints presented to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH, its initials in Spanish) over alleged violations of basic civil rights by the armed forces have increased in the recent decade. Between 2007 and 2017, 10,764 denunciations were presented against soldiers and 2,790 against sailors. The same thing has happened with the number of recommendations the CNDH issued due to violations of basic rights: out of 166, there were 126 against the Army and 40 against the Navy.
These numbers are just a small sample of the degree of discontent against the troops. In many cities, towns and communities throughout the country there are many stories of abuses of military personnel against the civilian population that are not denounced because of fear or because people think it is useless to do it. The memory of the atrocities committed against the civilian population during the dirty war is alive in family members and neighbors.
The violations of basic rights that soldiers and sailors have incurred, which have been accredited in all these CNDH recommendations, are enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution (a violation of the right to life), arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel treatment, against personal integrity and security, against liberty, sexual assaults and not immediately presenting detainees to the Public Ministry.
The victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in the last elections was nourished, in part, from the memorial of grievances towards the armed forces and the hope of clarifying them, doing justice, repairing the damages and guarantying that they don’t happen again. It was also nourished by hi offer to withdraw the Army from the streets and returning them to their barracks.
That’s why it’s relevant that he used the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Three Cultures Plaza)  and a date close to October 2 (just three days before), as the scenario for fixing his position on the future of the armed forces. And for trying to impel reconciliation between that institution and those who distrust it. “You don’t have to see soldiers and marines as enemies. They are uniformed people, children of campesinos, workers and merchants,” he said.
The discourse, accompanied by the offering of “not using the Army, ever again, to repress the people” seems to be a call to make a “a clean slate” of the human rights violations committed by military personnel. It’s a species of non-explicit call to pardon in exchange for the promise that those damages to individual rights don’t happen again, guaranteed by the fact that, the now president-elect, will be commander-in chief of the armed forces.
López Obrador’s speech on Friday differs from what he said in the same place on May 21, 2012, as a candidate for first magistrate. There is a taking of distance with respect to what he said then. Six years ago he went much deeper into the role of the movement of ‘68 in the struggle against governmental authoritarianism.
It will be said that in 2012 he spoke in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas as a candidate and in 2018 he spoke as president-elect. True. However, the distrust of broad sectors of the population towards the Army is not resolved by decree. The class origin of the soldiers and marines to which he appeals as a guaranty of reconciliation does not exempt either the institution or its members of the grave human rights violations committed. And his personal promise (undoubtedly genuine) does not guaranty that it won’t happen again.
The president-elect announced a reform of the Army in Tlatelolco. “Everyone is able to do national defense. The soldiers and marines have to aid us in guarantying internal security and public security,” he said. Although we need to specify the modalities of this aid and to detail the similarities and differences of this proposal with the controversial Law of Internal Security, it is very delicate to involve the armed forces in police functions. A good part of the human rights violations that the armed forces have committed are largely the result of their action in public security tasks. And although the initiative was made in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, it doesn’t seem to be in tune with the spirit of ‘68.
 La Plaza de las Tres Culturas is the main square in the Tlatelolco District of Mexico City. On October 2, 1968, the armed forces opened fire on a group of students and other protestors that were peacefully demonstrating against the government, which resulted in a large number of dead and injured. The government says less than 100 were killed, but eyewitnesses say between 300 and 400 died. The exact number of dead is unknown. More than one thousand were arrested. This massacre occurred less than 2 weeks before the Summer Olympics in Mexico City and was part of the Mexican government’s dirty war against political opponents.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee