Former Mexican President Luis Echeverria, who took office in 1970 promising a democratic opening for the country but oversaw six of the harshest years of a so-called “dirty war” against dissidents, has died aged 100.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Twitter confirmed the death on Saturday, July 9th, expressing his condolences to Echeverria’s family.
As an elderly man, Echeverria escaped attempts by Mexican prosecutors to indict him for genocide for his role in two infamous massacres of student protesters in 1968 and 1971 that helped define an era of heavy-handed state repression.
Bald and bespectacled, Echeverria denied wrongdoing and said his conscience was clear. He refused to testify about crimes that have not been fully cleared up to this day.
A loyal son of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years until its ousting in a 2000 election, Echeverria believed in preserving the all-encompassing party system that reached into every sphere of public life.
His 1970-1976 presidency was tainted from the outset by accusations that he ordered troops to open fire on thousands of peacefully demonstrating students in the Mexico City area of Tlatelolco on Oct. 2, 1968, while serving as interior minister.
At the time, the government said just 30 people had been killed and injured in the massacre, carried out days before the Olympic Games opened in Mexico City. Some witnesses said many more bodies were carted off from the scene.
Hundreds of students were beaten and jailed after the protest, which occurred when student uprisings were erupting worldwide. A definitive death toll has never been given.
From 1964 to 1970, as interior minister, Echeverria led a group of top officials in crafting a response to the student uprisings, according to declassified U.S. government documents.
Keen to wipe the slate clean during his presidency, Echeverria promised a “democratic opening”. He released people imprisoned after the massacre and courted the intellectual left, promoting them to prominent positions in government.