It wasn’t as if the signs of social unrest had never been posted along the road to 1968. The labor troubles of the late ‘50s were a clear warning bell that the Mexican Miracle was not working milagros down at the grassroots. The slaughter of Ruben Jaramillo and his family in 1962 was a rude indicator of just how the all-powerful PRI government would respond to social agitation. On May 23 that year, Jaramillo, the last surviving lieutenant of Emiliano Zapata, was eating lunch at his home in Tlaquiltenango, Morelos, when the house was surrounded by 60 state and federal troops. Ruben, his pregnant wife and three children were thrown into army trucks and driven to a nearby archeological site where they were executed with Thompson machine guns.
Gustavo Diaz Ordaz further displayed his hard hand in breaking a doctors’ strike in 1965 after 8,000 medics walked off the job at five hospitals including the new Medical Center – doctors at public hospitals were so underpaid they had to double as cabdrivers in their off hours. Diaz Ordaz was inflexible, and the doctors were forced back to work under the threat of being summarily fired.
University campuses were restive. The military was mobilized to break a 1965 student strike at San Nicolas University in Morelia and again at the Sonora State University in 1967. The alarm clocks rang loud at the UNAM. Between 1952 and the mid-1960s, the student body had quadrupled from 22,000 to 85,000 and the battle for a place in University City triggered troubles.
The rumbling out in what sociologist Guillermo Bonfil termed Mexico Profundo, where campesinos had been diminished to second-class citizen status, was unmistakable. The murder of Ruben Jaramillo begged an answer. At dawn on September 23, 1965, a band of “subversives” led by rural schoolteacher Arturo Gamiz attacked an army fort in Ciudad Madero in the Sierra Maestra of Chihuahua – the similarities to Fidel Castro’ assault on the Moncada Barracks could not be blurred. Although all 15 rebels were killed, the date would soon be embedded in the name of the September 23rd Communist League, Mexico’s most active urban guerilla in the 1970s.
In the southern state of Guerrero, another rural maestro, Genaro Vasquez, picked up the gun in 1963. Operating in the mountains that surround the provincial capital of Chilpancingo, Vasquez’s Revolutionary National Civic Association (ACNAR) kidnapped the rector of the state university. After a 1967 massacre at a rural school in Atoyac on the state’s Costa Grande, Lucio Cabanas, another rural teacher (rural teachers were often graduates of radicalized Normal schools), rose up in the coastal sierra, and his Party of the Poor would carry on a seven-year guerrilla war against the mal gobierno.
Despite the loud ring of the social despertador, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz’s vision had tunneled in on the coming Olympic Games and he didn’t seem to hear the din.
Excerpt from El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City by John Ross