Instituto de Cultura de México
• 1968 has rightly been described as a year of “revolutionary effervescence” around the world. As such, the images and rallying cries that came from the universities and streets of Paris, Berkeley, Rome, Prague and Mexico during this momentous year have taken a prominent place in the collective memory of all subsequent generations, including my own.
• But for Mexico, ’68 marked a turning point in our contemporary history in a way that is perhaps deeper and broader than the changes triggered in other countries that also witnessed significant student protests during that year.
• I know that it is somewhat arbitrary and always dangerous to pick a date in which major socio-political changes can be said to have started, but few, I believe, would dispute that Mexico’s slow and sometimes haphazard transition to a full democracy began in 1968.
• From ‘68 onwards there was no denying the existence of a civil society that was conscious of its rights and obligations, and that was no longer willing to tolerate the lack of plurality, freedom of the press and of electoral choices. From 1968 onwards civil society would become a key political actor, exerting a permanent moral and political pressure on the system that was central to our peaceful transition to democracy decades later.
• But beyond the importance of ’68 in the history of Mexico’s transition to democracy, the past needs to be remembered for its own sake and for the sake of the country’s future, and more so when that memory is a painful one. All nations have a right to know and understand their past, and need to confront this past, wherever it may lead, whatever it may hide. It is only through such knowledge that we can avoid relapsing into old and pernicious tendencies that have their root in events in the distant past.
• The violence and repression portrayed in these photographs, terrible and inexcusable as it was, certainly does not reflect a systematic policy of repression and human right abuses in Mexico’s past, as was the case in other countries in Latin America during the sixties, seventies and eighties.
• Nevertheless, the tragedy that took place in Tlatelolco 40 years ago demands that in a spirit of reconciliation, we together re-examine what happened, for no country can move forward if it operates with a selective memory of its past and imposes upon itself a vow of silence on issues that cry out to be openly debated and resolved.
• At the same time, as one looks at the various images of this exhibition, one realizes that it also clearly speaks of how much Mexico has changed, and changed for the better.
• An authoritarian regime is no more and Mexico is today a dynamic democracy. A vibrant civil society, as well as a diverse and unfettered media have emerged, and together now operate as key counterweights to the government, making it more accountable. Our armed forces are a key contributor to the well-being and security of all Mexicans, helping those affected by natural disasters and playing a central role in the fight against organized crime. Moreover, they have emerged as a key stakeholder in Mexico’s democracy, ensuring its stability by defending it against those that would undermine it through violence.
• This exhibition put together by Mexico’s National Autonomous University is a healthy and important exercise in collective memory of a crucial year in our nation’s history that must forever be known and understood by all Mexicans.
• An understanding of such difficult periods in our country’s past will better equip us to face any and all challenges that we may have to face in the future. The lessons from ’68 are many, but perhaps the one that most clearly comes to mind after seeing this exhibition is that never again must the full force of government be unleashed against its people.
• “Be realistic, demand the impossible,” was one of the many slogans of the ’68 student movement. Forty years after Mexican students demanded and fought for the impossible, all subsequent generations have much to thank them for, as their realism helped propel Mexico in what undoubtedly is the right path as a more tolerant, plural and liberal democracy.