Several central subway transfer stations were shut down, iconic buildings were blocked off with temporary metal siding walls, and major thoroughfares were closed to vehicular traffic. But in the end, not a single arrest was reported during the annual march in Mexico City marking the anniversary of the October 2, 1968 massacre at Tlatelolco.
The outcome stood in stark contrast to the aftermath of the Tlatelolco memorial march last year, which ended in violent confrontations between masked anarchists and riot police. Last October 2, 102 people were arrested — four of whom remain incarcerated — and human-rights workers documented 46 cases of excessive aggression against journalists covering the march.
But what stood out most to demonstrators this week was the fact the march saw virtually no police monitoring the route, or menacingly attacking civilians at random as was seen in 2013. Why the dramatic change?
Mexico City's police force initially said it planned to deploy more than 3,700 officers to patrol the march. But on Thursday morning, just hours before the first protesters began gathering at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas at Tlatelolco to march to the downtown Zócalo central square, Mexico City police chief José Rodríguez Almeida announced during a radio interview that no one "in uniform" would be covering the march's route.
Police were in fact present during the protest, but were deployed out of view of the planned path, VICE News reporters observed.
A factor that may have contributed to the government's about-face on Thursday was the growing movement emerging at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), where tens of thousands of engineering and technical students marched to demand the rejection of academic rule changes that they argued would "cheapen their education." On Friday, the government bowed to the students' demands, forcing out the IPN director.
Either way, the lack of a significant police presence during the normally tense October 2 protests had a pacifying effect. While some masked demonstrators did attack and damage bank branches, overall, there were no major disturbances or confrontations.
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October 2 is regarded as a tragic day in Mexico's modern history.
Government security forces, including soldiers and agents dressed as civilians, opened fire on demonstrators calling for far-reaching reform at Tlatelolco, killing dozens of students and civilians. To this day Mexico's army claims it has no information on the casualties of that day, and only until 2011 — 43 years after the massacre — did the federal government formally recognize the "fallen in the struggle for democracy" of 1968.
In the photo above, the aging members of the Comité 68, the committee of survivors of the Tlatelolco massacre, led the march, per the annual custom.
"We can't forget what happened, we can't forget that there has been no justice for what happened and that in general we lack social and legal justice in Mexico," one older demonstrator, Enrique Espinosa, told VICE News. He was detained during the 1968 Tlatelolco incident and has been attending the commemorative marches ever since.
Above, demonstrators are seen walking south on the Eje Central avenue, leaving the towers of the Tlatelolco housing complex behind.
"We saw that if there's no police presence, there are no damages inflicted by groups that are paid by the government or by legitimate groups with actual complaints," demonstrator Alejandro Lugo told VICE News.
Lugo was held prisoner for one month following severe police repression of protests during the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto on December 1, 2012. One man died as a result of those confrontations.
While Thursday's march had a celebratory spirit — with people dancing, juggling, singing and smoking marijuana — other marchers emphasized the current crisis in the state of Guerrero, where 43 teaching students known as normalistas remain missing a week after police opened fire on three buses, killing six people. The missing students are believed to have been delivered to the hands of organized crime.
The mayor of Iguala, the city where the shootings occurred, is missing. Authorities in the state said they were working to locate the 43 missing students.
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The troubling situation unfolding in Guerrero has brought state repression back into the spotlight, protesters told VICE News.
"It seems that we are returning to the same things that happened in those years, back in the '60s; repression, political prisoners, persecutions and injustices," Espinosa said.
Mexican police accused of brazen attacks on buses carrying students and soccer players. Read more here.