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Tlatelolco, a soldier’s story

6 October 2018

We forget that while it was the old men like Díaz Ordaz and middle-aged bureaucrats like Luis Echiveirra who called the shots when the students were attacked, it was their own age peers who thrown into the fray. Mostly rural kids, convinced “communists” were about to take over the country. Kids like Francisco Moisés Salcido Beltrán, in 1968 a 19 year old soldier, who later emigrated to Texas, but was willing to be interviewed by Emir Olivares Alonso for Jornada (3 October 2018, page 4). My translation.
The officers were nervous. It was almost six in the afternoon and the Army surrounded the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco. The troop was ordered into formation. The commanders watched the clock. Suddenly, some flares illuminated the sky and a voice shouted: “Quick step”. The trot started towards the crowd. The thumping of the boots against the pavement was loud. The soldiers advanced with the rifle at the ready. When the vanguard was about to arrive at the square, the first shots were heard. “Combat ready!”the commander shouted. Then the chaos.

Baffled soldiers tried to locate where the shots came from. Some took shelter on the ground floor of the Chihuahua building, others threw themselves to the ground and some hid behind the pre-Hispanic ruins.

It was October 2, 1968, Francisco Moisés Salcido Beltrán was 19 years old. In February, he had been transferred to the army paratrooper rifle battalion and was among the first to enter the plaza; 50 years later, in an interview with La Jornada, he recalled what he experienced and reflected on that tragic episode. “I saw a comrade shoot at the crowd. I stopped him: ‘Why are you firing, if they are not criminals?’ The shots came from above. It was hell. ”

Salcido believes that Operation Galeana was a concerted plan conceived at the highest levels of power to disrupt the student movement, taking advantage of the confusion of the troops. The greatest culprit, he says, was President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.

Originally from Caborca, Sonora, Moisés considers himself as a right-wing person who in those years was hearing about the “Communist danger” to the country. “The kids were behaving badly” and the rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Javier Barros Sierra, “should not have been on their side, giving a boost to the movement. In the massacre of Tlatelolco “there were not as many dead as the left presumes, they wanted their martyrs to found their doctrine”.

– How was that year?

– I entered the battalion in February of 68. Back then it was simple: you only needed the high school diploma and be taller than 1.7 meters. During the movement they touched me from the first moments. The bazucaso1, the University City (CU) and Tlatelolco.

-What do you remember about that?

-The day of the bazucaso students, children from 13 to 17 years old, were screaming nonsense at us from the roof. Our orders were to occupy the building. They did not want to open the doors. The colonel asked for a bazooka and warned them that he would use it. He made a countdown and when he got to four, several young people came out on the balcony, but they were not from high school, they were troublemakers, older. One complained to the colonel that he could not blow the door. And he answered that he would, that if there was someone behind, it was better that he take off. He ordered fire. I saw an orange light come on and a straight jet shot out the door.

“I was among the first to enter, looking for students in the dark, I saw at least two people killed by the explosion, and there were others killed that day as well, but the government never said a thing.“

– How was the taking of CU2?

-We arrived at Copilco and waited an hour for thousands to come out. When we entered some were reluctant to leave CU. The general wanted to stop demonstrations, and climbed into a tank. I chased several people and cornered them against a wall. One one didn’t run. He was frozen with fear (laughs when he remembers it). The general told him to get the fuck out. He tried to run but could not, he moved his arms but his legs did not respond.

-October 2?

-We were in quarters and the officers were very nervous. We climbed the vehicles and went to Tlatelolco. The general did not looking at his watch; we waited on San Juan de Letrán (today Eje Central). General José Hernández Toledo – who was wounded in the shooting – was very tense. We saw the flares. We marched foreward at a rapid pace. Suddenly shots were heard from the balcony of the building (Chihuahua). We kept running and there were more shot. The commander shouted: “Combate ready!”

“I came to the foot of the building, looking for where the shots came from. And suddenly, behind me, I heard a bullet, I turned around and saw a colleague who was desperate firing into the crowd. I grabbed his gun, picked it up and yelled, ‘Why are you killing them if they’re not criminals?’ The students were about twenty feet away from us. ”

Salcido went up to the building, looked for the snipers without success. He found several students hiding in service rooms. He says he told them not to leave.

Over the years, the former soldier – who, according to files of the Ministry of National Defense, was discharged on November 16, 1969 “for not showing zeal in fulfilling his military obligations” – has its own hypothesis of the facts.

“There were too many shots and very few that fell, they were not machine gun bursts, they threw some shots to warm us up and then with loudspeakers they created confusion, as if we were at war.” Do you think a sniper was going to show up to receive a bullet? they created chaos, the soldiers came in shooting, but not all of them fired against the crowd. ”

— Yes, they fired?

-I stopped one. How many did he kill? I do not know. I did not see more. It’s a lie that there have been hundreds of deaths. I saw about 17. We talked about fallen soldiers, it was said that 12, I did not see any. There were wounded and many detained. It’s a lie that we picked up the dead and threw them into trucks. The Green Cross took them to the dead. The military trucks were only used to take the detainees.

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