The Chinese big producton Beijing Olympics is a coming-out party for cutthroat capitalism, a feather in the cap of what used to be called “the developing world” of which the Chinese Peoples’ Republic considers itself a charter member.
But the Beijing games are not the first Olympics to be staged in the developing world. In 1968, a fast-modernizing Mexico was awarded the 13th Olympics Games. For then-president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, whose anti-communist mindset bordered on the pathological, the Games would carve his name in historyt. They did but not the way Diaz Ordaz anticipated.)
Just as in Beijing, state-of-the-art stadiums were built and a gleaming high rise Olympic Village rose in the south of the city. While most chilangos (Mexico City residents) dwelt in slum housing, new skyscrapers spired into the onrushing pollution along modern Reforma Boulevard. The first subway – the Pink Line – was inaugurated just in time for the Games and tens of millions of Yanqui dollars expended to spiff up the Mexican capital for its debut on a world stage.
Once before had the president of Mexico invested the house in such a fiesta. In 1910, dictator Porfirio Diaz (1876-1910) pumped the entire social budget into the centennial celebration of Mexico’s independence from Spain. Mexicans were so incensed that they had a revolution instead.
’68 proved another watershed in the Mexican social dynamic. The trouble began in July when youths from a “prepa” or high school of the National Autonomous University (UNAM) and a vocational school in the National Polytechnic Institute’s system, clashed in the center of the city. Police detained more than a thousand students and invaded the campus of the UNAM prepa, violating the hallowed autonomy of the university.
Disturbances continued for a week and downtown streets were barricaded. On July 26th, a march to mark the 14th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago that kicked off the Cuban revolution was brutally suppressed in the old quarter – one student was killed and Mexican Communist Party headquarters raided by Diaz Ordaz’s police. The President accused the Cubans of seeking to disrupt the Olympics and embarrass Mexico before the world.
UNAM students formed a general strike committee and boycotted their schools – the strike was quickly endorsed by the more working class Polytechnic Institute (IPN.) As summer drew to a close, clashes peaked. The Mexican Army used bazookas to smash down the great doors of the original university building in the city’s old quarter – the UNAM, constituted in 1559, is the oldest and largest university in the Americas. Tanks were parked in the Zocalo, the great plaza that is at the heart of the Mexican body politic. 200,000 silent protestors, their mouths taped up to mock Diaz Ordaz’s crackdown, marched through the capital.
With less than a month to go before the Games were set to get underway October 12, Diaz Ordaz ordered the arrest of student strike committee organizers and the military seized the university’s main campus in southern Mexico City. With their leaders locked up in the Lecumberri Black Palace prison and momentum wearing thin, strikers sought to regroup with a meeting in the Plaza of Three Cultures in the midst of the mammoth Tlatelolco housing complex near downtown on October 2.
The 1968 Olympics were Cold War Games. The International Olympics Committee had displayed an anti-Soviet bias ever since the 1920 Games in Belgium, the first since the Great War and the Russian Revolution, from which the Soviet Union delegation was barred. After World War II, London (1948), Helsinki (1952), Melbourne (1956), Rome (1960), and Tokyo (1964) had all been Cold War Games and Mexico 1968 was no exception.
U.S. intelligence agents trolled the Soviet bloc delegations for defectors. East and west spied upon each other without remit. Washington’s Mexico City embassy was its largest in the world and equipped with cutting-edge technology to keep tabs on Cuban and Soviet diplomatic missions. Both teams assembled top tier teams of spies for the Games. By the summer of ’68, Mexico City resembled a spooks’ Olympics.
Winston Scott, the CIA station chief in Mexican capital, had developed a close relationship with Diaz Ordaz and pledged his aid in quelling the student disturbances. The late Phillip Agee, a veteran Agency spook in Africa and Latin America, was brought in under cover as a “cultural attaché.” One of Agee’s assignments was to tout the U.S. Space program before university audiences but his real mission was to infiltrate the General Strike Committee and thwart Cuban influence.
In Agee’s breakaway bestseller “Inside The Company – CIA Diary”, he reveals that the agency had assets inside the strike committee. One of Agee’s tasks was to prepare a daily report on the student strike that appeared on Interior Secretary Luis Echeverria’s desk each morning – Echeverria was Diaz Ordaz’s top civilian organizer of the repression.
Some 8000 strikers and their families gathered in the Plaza of Three Cultures on the evening of October 2, a disappointing turnout. They were outnumbered by police and army units encamped on the side streets. As daylight faded, a military helicopter dropped a flare, signaling government sharpshooters on the ninth floor of the Secretariat of Foreign Relations, which overlooked the plaza. The snipers deliberately fired on army troops who had moved in to surround the protestors and cut off all escape routes from the plaza.
As the snipers’ bullets rained down on them, the mostly Indian “Olympic Brigade” opened up on student leaders who were speaking from the steps of the nearby Chihuahua apartment building. Thousands assembled in the plaza were caught in the crossfire. The corpses stacked up like cordwood on the plaza floor. Estimates of the number of dead vacillated wildly but the best count remains 257 killed, researched by a British Guardian reporter who had been trapped under a corpse heap on a Chihuahua building landing.
Thousands were rounded up and disappeared into the pens of Military Camp #1 on the western edge of the capital. The bodies of the dead were incinerated in the camp’s ovens. Those who survived still speak of the stench of their comrades’ burning flesh.
The next morning, Excelsior, then Mexico’s newspaper of reference, noted that 30 “Pro-Cuban” agitators had been slain after firing on army troops in the Plaza of Three Cultures. With the Olympics only ten days off, notice of the massacre was buried. Outspoken Italian correspondent Oriana Fallaci, who had been shot in the ass, was one of the few to make a stink. Carolyn Lippert, then working for CBS, took film of the massacre to Mexico City International Airport and persuaded a tourist to smuggle it to New York but CBS never ran the film.
Ten days later on October 12, the day that Columbus supposedly “discovered” America, the 1968 Olympic Games began in Mexico City. Thousands of white doves were released into the polluted heavens to signal the moment. God’s name was repeatedly invoked.
The 1968 Olympics encapsulated a troubled moment in the United States. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April, Bobby Kennedy in June. Urban rebellion scorched the nation’s inner cities. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was on the move and the cry for racial justice palpable. When Tommy Smith and John Carlos mounted the winners’ podium after finishing first and third in the 200 meter dash, they raised their gloved fists in a black power salute scandalizing the all-white U.S. Olympic Committee which immediately stripped them of their medals, barred them from the Olympic Village, and had Diaz Ordaz throw them out of Mexico. Years of persecution followed.
When asked by this reporter in a personal interview, John Carlos maintained that his black power salute was a protest at racial injustice in the United States and insisted he knew nothing of the student massacre at Tlatelolco ten days earlier.
Within months of the close of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Diaz Ordaz was enmeshed in a war with a dozen guerrilla bands. The student massacre proved a watershed event that altered the Mexican social dynamic forever.
The Beijing Olympics are unfolding against a similar sinister backdrop. The Games were awarded to Beijing despite the ongoing crackdown against the Tibetan independence movement and the jailing and torture of thousands of activists.
Parents who protest the deaths of 1100 children buried under the rubble of shoddily constructed schools in the aftermath of the Sichuen earthquake are hauled off to “re-education camps.” Hollywood luminaries like Mia Farrow and Stephen Spielberg continue to advocate a boycott of the Beijing Games because of China’s role in the genocide of Darfur. Athletes who protest these indignities in Beijing are guaranteed the John Carlos-Tommy Smith treatment.
All of these unpleasant events have been swept under the rug to appease the Chinese capitalist class. Any reporter mentioning the 1989 Tiennemens massacre can be assured of a quick trip home.
The Chinese brand of savage capitalism is responsible for some of the most flagrant human rights abuses in the world today. Citizens accused of minor crimes are executed en masse and their organs harvested for re-sale to the wealthy Chinese overseas community. The Peoples’ Army has even developed a morgue wagon that permits medics to extract those organs immediately after execution to keep them fresh.
Although China’s number one spot on the world’s capital punishment index has been challenged by Iran this year, the decrease is certainly due to the glare of the Olympic spotlight and not a change of heart by the dubiously Communist Party. The Chinese military still publicly executes hundreds of accused drug dealers and users in sports stadiums around the country every June 26th, United Nations Anti-Drug Day.
From Coca Cola to Adidas to McDonalds and beyond, the transnational sponsors of the Beijing Olympics who have shelled out $850 million USD to flack their merchandise at the Games have Chinese blood on their hands.
JOHN ROSS’s web site johnross-rebeljournalist.com is up and running if not yet a fait a compli. Ross is in Mexico City in the heat of writing the monstrously entitled “EL MONSTRUO – TALES OF DREAD AND REDEMPTION FROM THE MOST MONSTROUS MEGALOPOLIS ON THE PLANET EARTH.” If you have further info, please write firstname.lastname@example.org