Luis Echeverría Alvarez

17.02.2012 ( Last modified: 27.05.2016 )
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facts

Luis Echeverria was born on 17 January 1922 in Mexico city.Luis Echeverría joined the faculty of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1947 and taught political theory. He rose through the ranks of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and eventually became the Private Secretary of the party President, General Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada. Echeverría was the Mexican Interior Secretary under President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz between 1964 and 1970.

He maintained a hard line against student protesters throughout all of 1968, at the time the Olympics were being held in Mexico City. He ordered the transfer of 15% of the Mexican military to the state of Guerrero to counter guerrilla groups operating there, and under Echeverría’s ministry, the air force allegedly used napalm against rural communities in Guerrero. Clashes between the government and the protesters culminated in the Tlatelolco massacre in October 1968. In 1970 he was elected President, a position he held until 1976. It was during his presidency that the Corpus Christi massacre occurred.

Tlatelolco Massacre:
The Tlatelolco massacre took place on the night of 2 October 1968 in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City. The death toll remains uncertain but most sources report 200-300 deaths. Many more were wounded, and several thousand arrests were made. The massacre was preceded by months of political unrest in the Mexican capital, echoing student demonstrations and riots all over the world during 1968. The Mexican students wanted to exploit the attention focused on Mexico City during the 1968 Olympic Games. President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz however, was determined to stop the demonstrations and, in September, he ordered the army to occupy the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico the largest university in Latin America. Students were beaten and arrested indiscriminately.

However, the student demonstrators were not to be deterred. The demonstrations grew in size, until, on October 2, after student strikes lasting nine weeks, 15,000 students from various universities marched through the streets of Mexico City. By nightfall, 5,000 students and workers, many of them with their wives and children, had congregated in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco.

The massacre began at sunset when army and police forces — equipped with armoured cars and tanks — surrounded the square and began firing live rounds into the crowd, hitting not only the protestors, but also other people, including children, who were there by chance for reasons unrelated to the demonstration. The killing continued throughout the night.

The official government explanation of the incident was that armed provocateurs among the demonstrators, had positioned themselves in buildings overlooking the crowd, and had been first to open fire by taking aim at the security forces that had no other choice but to return fire in self defence.

Corpus Christi Massacre:
On 10 June 1971, under the presidency of Echeverría, 42 student demonstrators were killed and dozens more wounded while demonstrating in Mexico City over education funding. This incident is known as the Corpus Christi Massacre after the feast day on which it took place. It is also known by the name of Halconazo – Falcon Strike – since the Special Forces involved were called The Falcons. Though dressed as civilians, the perpetrators were known to be members of the state security forces.

Various reports indicate that during the Mexican government’s”dirty war” against leftists in the late 1960s and 1970s, a total of 530 people were forcibly “disappeared”, and that the majority of them were eventually murdered.

In October 1997, the Mexican Congress set up a committee to investigate the Tlatelolco massacre. Echeverría conceded at that time that the students had been unarmed, and that the military action was planned in advance, with the goal being destroy the student movement.

Before he began his presidency at the end of 2000, Vincente Fox promised to set up an inquiry into the acts of repression committed during the Dirty War era and to bring its authors to justice by means of a Truth Commission, which was to include members of Civil Society.

Finally, in November 2001, Fox decided to appoint a Special Prosecutor –under the title of Office of the Special Prosecutor for Past Social and Political Movements.

According to a High Court Resolution of November 2003, there would be no prescription for crimes of kidnapping and forced disappearances since such cases are still considered to be under review so long as the victim has not been found.

legal procedure

On 23 July 2004 the Special Prosecutor issued a bill of indictment against Echeverría for genocide and demanded that he be arrested for the murder of 25 students as well as for the severe beatings given to dozens of others during the Corpus Christi Massacre of 10 June 1971.

The evidence against Echeverría was based on documents which would show that he was in charge of the Special Forces which committed the massacre and that he had received regular reports on the incident and its aftermath from the Chief of the Secret Police. At the time the Government claimed that the police forces as well as the demonstrators had been attacked by armed civilians who had been arrested and convicted but then subsequently released as a result of a general amnesty.

On 24 July 2004, the judge in office refused to issue an arrest warrant against Echeverría due to problems related to prescription for the crimes detailed in the bill of indictment and rejected the arguments of the Special Prosecutor with regard to special circumstances with respect to acts of genocide.

On 24 February 2005, the High Court, decided on appeal, by 4 votes to one, that the Prescription Act (30 years) had expired at the time proceedings had been opened up and that the ratification by the Mexican Congress in 2002 of the 1968 UN Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity (signed by the President on 3 July 1969, but ratified only on 10 December 2001), could not be applied retroactively, retroactivity being unconstitutional.

On 22 June 2005 however, the High Court further reviewed its decision and concluded that there was no prescription with regard to the crimes concerned, thereby quashing its own decision taken in February. A lower jurisdiction will therefore have to decide whether or not a case exists to take up proceedings against Echeverria.

An appeals court then delivered a surprise ruling that there was enough evidence to support genocide charges. On 30 June 2006, a house arrest was thus ordered against Echeverria.

But on 8 July 2006, a federal judge in Mexico set aside the charges of genocide against Echeverria for his alleged involvement in a massacre of students in 1968 ruling that the statute of limitations had been exceeded.

On 29 November 2006, however, this ruling was reversed and an arrest warrant for Echeverria was issued. Echeverria, who suffers from health problems, was placed under house arrest in November 2006.

On 12 July 2007 a Mexican federal tribunal found that the massacre of 2 October 1968 did in fact amount to genocide, since the governmental authorities had taken a premeditated and coordinated action with the intent to exterminate a national group of students from different universities.

However, the tribunal rejected the charges against Echeverria. According to the judge, the State Prosecutor had not been able to produce evidence linking Echeverria to the preparation, conception or execution of the genocide.

As a consequence, the tribunal ordered his release from house arrest.

On 26 March 2009 the Federal Tribunal decreed the total freedom for Echeverria and exonerated him from charges of genocide for the massacre at Tlatelolco.