By Luís Hernandez Navarro
In front of the offices of the Secretary of Labor, Spicer employees and their wives hold a rally. There are 600 workers demanding recognition of their union. For 120 days they shut down the company’s production line. Between August 11 and 15, 1975, they occupied the plant. It is the week of workers’ power.
The rally is part of this workers’ protest. Secretary Porfirio Muñoz Ledo refuses to receive them. Groups of grenadiers begin to surround the workers. The motorcyclists rev their machines and threaten to ram the protesters. But, when they were about to charge the workers, the union’s war band, flying the Mexican flag, began to sing the National Anthem. The uniformed men slowed down in bewilderment. But not for long. Two minutes later they hurl their machines at men, women and children. Indignant, a musician crashes his trumpet against the helmet of a motorized vehicle. The crowd disperses, angry and beaten.
Emblematic as few others, Spicer was one of the movements that fueled the workers’ insurgency during the period of Luis Echeverría. Hundreds of strikes broke out in companies throughout the country, demanding union democracy and better working conditions. As in the case of the automobile axle manufacturing company, in most cases the government response was one of closure, layoffs and violence. Without going any further, on February 14, 1974, union consultant Efraín Calderón Lara was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the Yucatán police.
In order to hide his refusal to dialogue, Echeverría used a third world style of glittering verbiage. A small example of his authoritarian mood. Near the end of his six-year term, independent unions, which were denied legal registration by the labor authorities, held a rally in front of Los Pinos to request an audience with the President. Without giving them a chance to come forward to deliver their petition, police and soldiers in civilian clothes pointed at them and threatened them until they were forced to retreat. Time and again, the president’s deafness was commensurate with his demagogy.
The social effervescence in those years went far beyond the labor movement. The countryside and the peripheries of the big cities were on fire. In 1973 alone, the peasants carried out more than 600 land seizures. In Chihuahua, Monterrey, Durango, Zacatecas and Mexico City, the former squatters occupied land and set up self-managed urban-popular camps. Indigenous peoples mobilized in defense of their natural resources, for land, health, education, against cacicazgos and in favor of their cultural rights. Movements for self-government and commitment to popular causes arose in dozens of universities.
Although he was able to handle some of them, Echeverría raged against these struggles. On many occasions, the Army violently evicted farmers, workers and settlers. The political police turned against activists committed to change the country from below. Hundreds were persecuted, imprisoned, murdered or disappeared. Over their heads hung, like swords of Damocles, countless arrest warrants.
Worse was the repression against young people, teachers and peasants who, convinced of the absence of democratic spaces for struggle, took up arms. Regardless of any legal consideration, they suffered the savage violence of the State, in a war that did not dare to say its name. They were not the only victims. The president raged against thousands of innocent people who shared territory or blood ties with them.
In his Fourth Government Report, Echeverría accused the rebels who defied him of being cowardly terrorists manipulated by obscure political interests, born in broken homes, raised in an environment of family irresponsibility, victims of the lack of parent-teacher cooperation, slow learners, maladjusted adolescents, precociously inclined to the use of narcotics, sexually promiscuous and with a high degree of male and female homosexuality. Unable to understand the roots of the revolt, his explanation paints it in full.
At the same time, however, he gave asylum (and often employment) to hundreds of leftists coming from Latin American dictatorships, especially Chileans. Its solidarity with Cuba was undeniable.
The contradictions do not stop there. In the Ejidal Houses of peasant organizations in the Huastecas, southern Sonora, Tlaxcala, Veracruz and other states, next to the flowers and images of the agrarians killed in the struggle, there are (or were) photos of Echeverría. Some ejidos even invited him to celebrate the agrarian distribution that had created or expanded their land endowment. On several occasions, his son Álvaro attended on his behalf.
Which of all the Echeverría’s should we remember? The one of the June 10th massacre and the Tlatelolco massacre, or the one who established diplomatic relations with China? The one of the death flights and extrajudicial executions in Guerrero, or the one who called on the UN Security Council to request that Francisco Franco’s regime be suspended from exercising the rights and privileges inherent to its membership? The one who orchestrated the coup against Excélsior, or the one who promoted popular culture?
The answer can only be one: he must be remembered for the women raped by public forces, the murdered, tortured, imprisoned, persecuted and fired from their jobs, which were perpetrated by his government. Luis Echeverría will go down in history, not for what he appeared to be, but for what he really was: a politician with blood on his hands.
This article was publishe in La Jornada on June 12, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/07/12/opinion/014a2pol English interpretation by Schools for Chiapas.