Fifty Years Ago, the Cuban Government Was Silent Before the Tlatelolco Massacre

This October 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre. (EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 October 2018 — 1968 was a tumultuous year in Cuba. The Revolutionary Offensive that had swept away the last vestiges of private enterprise was followed by Fidel Castro’s support for the Soviet tanks in Prague and the complicit silence of the Plaza of the Revolution in the face of the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico, half a century ago this 2 October.

For many Mexicans who were activists on the left, this silence led them to distance themselves from the Cuban model. The disappointment was stronger among those whose admiration towards the young Revolution had prevented them from seeing the close ties that connected the Cuban Government with Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

After the massacre, the Cuban official press avoided any headlines that discomfited members of the PRI and no diplomatic condemnation came from the leaders’ lips. Nor was single report published in the Cuban press about the people who were machine-gunned, detained or disappeared through the violence of the police and the Mexican army. Long years had to pass before the universities of the Island were able talk about what happened.

The omission was full of irony if one takes into account that many of those university students took as a reference point during their youth mobilizations not only what was happening in France, Czechoslovakia, Italy or the US, but also what was happening in Cuba. Their ideology even highlighted figures such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara, who had died in Bolivia a year earlier.

With information censorship and diplomatic muteness, the island compensated the Mexican government for its support and for its repeated denunciation of the expulsion of Cuba from the Organization of American States (OAS). The Aztec nation had also used international forums to demand an end to the US embargo and continued to maintain commercial ties with Havana.

At the end of the 60s, Castroism had already entered a stage of ideological radicalization, in which many of the leftist movements that gained ground in Europe and Latin America were seen as revisionists and removed from the manuals of the strictest Marxism. The consolidation of that stage was marked by repression, with greater control and vigilance over society.

And it was precisely in 1968 when the screws of Cuban authoritarianism were tightened. The state gained hegemony and the figure of Fidel Castro accumulated much more power, sweeping away opponents within the party’s own ranks and imprisoning anyone who seemed to be a dissident. The nuances ended and one could be only a “revolutionary” or “counterrevolutionary.”

The Soviet model, marked by Stalinism, gained ground on the island. In the midst of that scenario, any show of solidarity by the Castro regime for the thousands of young students who took to the streets in Mexico demanding greater liberties, would have been like shooting themselves in the foot. By then, any university autonomy had been dismantled on the island and street protests had been banned.

That movement in Mexico, which culminated in a bloody attack and in which professors, intellectuals, workers and housewives also participated, was a terrible example for the docile society Castro sought to have on the island.

Still today, in Ecured, the official version of Wikipedia, that should explain the slaughter of Tlatelolco appears empty and the event that is only mentioned in passing in the entries dedicated to personalities related to it and in the general description about Mexico. Twelve words* seal what happened and try to repair, with their bare presence, a half century’s silence.

*Translator’s note: 13 words in English translation: “In 1968, it was the scene of the massacre of the Tlatelolco demonstrators.” 


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