Memory and Democracy: Close, Ongoing Collaboration among States, Civil Society, and the Inter-American Commission and Court Has Been Central to the Functioning of the Inter-American Human Rights System

Article excerpt

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In the summer of 1968. student activists in Mexico issued their first calls for democracy. On August 13, 1968 at the mass demonstration in the main plaza of Mexico City, Fausto Trejo, from the Teacher's Coalition stated: "This movement (demands) respect for the Constitution and for democratic liberties." This was one of the first explicit and direct references to democracy during the movement.

The protests grew that summer, and Mexican security forces occupied the campus of the National Autonomous University (UNAM). Students were beaten and arrested. By October 2, ten days before the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, tens of thousands of people had gathered for a protest rally at Tlatetolco Plaza. The government responded by firing on the crowd, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of people. The numbers are still in dispute. A "Dirty War" followed as political opponents of the government were rounded up, disappeared, or imprisoned.

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Over the next 40 years, former students and teachers who had formed the Consejo Nacional de Huelga [National Strike Council, CNH) during the 1968 movement began to formalize a human rights and democracy project that would eventually evolve into El Comite 68. Meanwhile, activists continued to commemorate the massacre with anniversary marches. publications, and conferences. During the 1970s. CNH members demanded the release of political prisoners and worked to transform the governing systems of the universities. The administrations of presidents Luis Echeverria and Jose Lopez Portillo addressed such demands by releasing prisoners, providing greater access to education and research funding, and offering government positions to many former militants. At the same time. activists also founded journals and newspapers that served as key opposition voices. In 1988, many supported Cuauhtemoc Cardenas for president, while others aligned with Rosario Ibarra de Piedra whose son was disappeared during the Dirty War. Allegations of fraud in the 1988 elections galvanized activists to push for greater transparency and democratic reform. In 1994, a Truth Commission made up of activists, scholars, and artists was formed. Its efforts finally led to the 2001 declassification of documents on the events of 1968, which are now housed in the National Archive in Mexico City. …