MEXICO CITY -- Luis Echeverria was a former Mexican President who tried to present himself as a progressive leader, but was accused of some of Mexico's most brutal political murders. He died at 100.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the current president, confirmed the death on Saturday via Twitter. He sent condolences and sympathies to Echeverria’s family and friends "in name of the government in Mexico," but didn't express any personal sorrow about the passing.
Lopez Obrador didn't provide any cause of death to Echeverria who was the Mexican president from 1970 to 1976. Echeverria was hospitalized in 2018 for pulmonary issues and has also suffered from neurological problems in recent years.
Echeverria was portrayed as a left-leaning maverick who was allied with Third World causes during the presidency. However, his involvement in the 1968 and 1971 massacres of leftist students made him hated in Mexico by leftists who tried for decades to bring him to trial.
He was the first Mexican former head of state to be formally charged with criminal wrongdoing in 2004. Prosecutors tied Echeverria's arrest to Mexico's "dirty War", in which hundreds of leftist activists, members of fringe guerrilla organizations, were killed or imprisoned without leaving a trace.
Ignacio Carrillo, a special prosecutor, requested that a judge issue an arrest warrant for Echeverria in connection to genocide charges in two student massacres. The first occurred while Echeverria was interior secretary and the second when he was overseeing domestic security affairs.
A few weeks prior to the Summer Olympics in Mexico City in 1968, government sharpshooters opened fired on student protestors in the Tlatelolco Plaza. They were followed by soldiers stationed there. The death toll has been estimated at between 25 and 300. Echeverria denied being involved in the attacks.
According to military reports at least 360 government-affiliated snipers were deployed on the buildings around the protesters.
Echeverria was president at the time. In June 1971, students marched from the teacher's college west of the city centre to protest the Tlatelolco massacre. They were stopped by plainclothes thugs, also known as the "Halcones" or "Falcons," who accosted them. Prosecutors claim that they were part of a group that killed 12 people or beat them to death.
The attack was shown in "Roma," the Oscar-winning 2018 film. Two characters stumble upon the violence which turns out involve one of their boyfriends, a Halcone member.
2005: Echeverria was ruled ineligible to be tried for genocide related to the 1971 killings. The judge stated that Echeverria might have been guilty of homicide but that the statute of limitations had expired for that crime in 1985.
A federal court affirmed the lower court's decision that Echeverria was not subject to genocide charges for his involvement in the 1968 student murders. It ordered Echeverria's release. However, opponents pointed out that the case against him had never been closed.
Echeverria was never in jail. However, he was temporarily under house arrest.
Echeverria's death was not mourned by many Mexicans, but Felix Hernandez Gamundi, a leader of the 1968 student movement, who was at Tlatelolco plaza the day of the massacre and saw his friends killed -- grieved for what could have been.
Hernandez Gamundi stated that "The death ex-President Luis Echeverria was regrettable because it took place in complete silence because, despite his long life, Luis Echeverria has never come clean about his actions."
He said, "Ofcourse we don't grieve his death." We mourn his opacity throughout his life, and his decision not to make an accounting. He wanted to take full advantage of the immense political and economic power he had for the rest his life.
. Hernandez Gamundi stated that "he delayed for a long period the inevitable process of democracy which began in 1968," referring to the fact the massacre was a catalyst that helped activists to end the one-party presidential system. Although October 2 was the official start of the end to the old regime's rule, it was only the beginning. It took many years.
Echeverria's passing came as his Institutional Revolutionary Party (or PRI), which ruled Mexico for seven decades with iron might before being defeated in 2000, is now losing its power, discredited, and riven internally by scandals and disputes.
He said that "Things could've been different." The PRI had many opportunities to correct things and make an accounting.
Echeverria was born in Mexico City on January 17, 1922. She received her law degree in Mexico's Autonomous National University (Mexico) in 1945.
He began his political career shortly thereafter with PRI. Later he held positions in the navy and Education Department. He was promoted to chief administrative officer at the PRI.
Echeverria received the important position of interior secretary in 1964 under President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. In 1968, he held this position when the government reacted to student protests against democracy, fearing that they would make Mexico look bad as host for the Olympics.
Echeverria resigned from the interior post in November 1969 and became the PRI's presidential nominee.
He won the race and was sworn into office on December 1, 1970.
Echeverria opened Mexico's border to Chileans fleeing Pinochet's dictatorship after Allende was assassinated by Pinochet in 1973.
Echeverria was the domestic leader of boom times in Mexico during the 1970s, which were linked to an oil price boom and new discoveries. His expansion of the number government-owned businesses was a major accomplishment, which his successors had to reverse due to Mexico's ambitious building and public spending programs that left it deeply in debt.
Echeverria sought to get rid of his oppressive image and pardoned many student leaders who were arrested during the 1968 crackdown on protests. He also actively sought out intellectuals to be hired with government jobs.
Echeverria traveled around the globe promoting himself as a friend and leader of the Third World. He was known for his resolute opposition to dissent in Mexico.
Carrillo, Carrillo's prosecutor, said that Echeverria was "the master of illusion, and the magician of deceit".
Juan Velasquez was the lawyer who represented Echeverria. He said that the ex-president had died in one of his homes but didn't specify the cause.
Velasquez stated that he told Luis that even though no one -- not him, me or his family -- wanted him on trial, it was the best thing that could happen." The charges were dropped.
Echeverria, in his later years, tried to present himself as an older statesman. He did, however, occasionally, when his health allowed, speak unrepentantly to journalists. He lived in a quiet retirement in his sprawling, upscale Mexico City home.