Mexico’s Dirty War

The Dirty War was a seven-year period in 1970s Mexico during which successive governments – in an ostensibly democratic country – waged a campaign of severe and brutal repression against a wide range of dissidents, including workers, students, teachers and farmers. Some of the dissidents were guerrillas radicalised by the 1968 Tlaltelolco massacre of student protesters. At least 1,500 people were “disappeared” during this time, with countless more imprisoned and tortured.

As far as historical memory goes, it has been remarked that there was never any real reckoning in Mexico with this episode of its history, much like Brazil and very much unlike Argentina (which has undergone an extensive period of reckoning). There is a widespread belief that the Mexican state was merely “reacting” to dissidents’ violence, which is not really accurate (many non-violent dissidents were suppressed with the same brutality), and also that Mexico’s repression was “not as bad” as other countries like Brazil and Argentina, so therefore it’s not really worth discussing.

In 2020, the centre-left president of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed an executive order to establish a Truth Commission into the human rights abuses that occurred between 1965–1990 (so more broad than the strict “Dirty War” period, which was 1971–1978). These abuses were carried out not only against dissidents, but against the urban poor, lesbians, trans people, drug addicts, religious minorities, and speakers of minority languages. The commission has come in for some criticism from the Left as well as from the Right, with leftists criticising for example that the Secretary of Defence declared the names of soldiers who died during the Dirty War would be engraved on the Monument to the Fallen alongside the names of the victims, and some feel that the whole thing is just a “rug-sweeping” exercise, designed to shut down activists who want real justice over what occurred.

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