The Mexican state showed its most brutal side in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, 1968, when troops and tanks were ordered to fire on an almost 250,000-strong student demonstration. It was the culmination of several months of student protests over the government’s social and educational policies, which the authorities were determined to subdue, with only ten days left before the Olympic Games opened in the city. Records of the death toll vary from an official figure at the time of thirty to student estimates of more than five hundred, but it seems clear today that hundreds is more accurate than tens. Mexican philosopher Octavio Paz saw the violence as part of the cycle of history – a ritual slaughter to recall the Aztec sacrifices here – but it’s perhaps better seen as an example of at least one thread of continuity between all Mexico’s civilizations: the cheapness of life and the harsh brutality of their rulers. Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s book, 68, which is available in English translation, analyzes the incident in detail.

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