Home » Something unique happened in 1968

Something unique happened in 1968

Something unique happened in 1968. For the first time, the world’s most
prestigious sporting event was entrusted to a Spanish-speaking, Latin
American country. The decision by the International Olympic Committee
(IOC) to award the Summer Olympics to Mexico City not only stunned
the sporting world: it also provoked a wave of criticism from all those
foreign commentators who believed Latin America to be too inefficient, too
poor and, frankly, too ‘unsafe’ to assume such a responsibility. It quickly
became clear that international reaction to the IOC decision was only partially
concerned with sport. More substantively, it pivoted around Latin America’s
reputation within the global community. Furthermore, Mexico’s bid to host
the Games and its subsequent preparations suggest that it was willing and
able to assume the broader responsibility that the international community
had bestowed upon it. In common with all cities staging mega-sports events,
a primary motive for doing so was to elevate the international image of the
host city and nation. Yet in both rhetoric and action, the organisers of Mexico
’68 believed that it offered a great opportunity for the whole continent:
for the brotherhood of Latin American countries that shared a common
language, a common colonial heritage and, it might be added, a common
desire to correct the false image that many casual observers shared of the
Before getting carried away with the rhetoric that surrounds the Games, it
needs to be acknowledged that the Olympics means entirely different things
to different people. For the IOC, it represents a gathering of the world’s youth
in a celebration of physical achievement and fraternity. For elite athletes, it is
the ultimate competition: a chance to pitch their talents against the world’s
best. For the global television audience that now watches the spectacle, these
two often contradictory sentiments coexist as an appreciation of athletic
excellence competes with patriotic pride and, at times, jingoism. The words
of the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, that ‘the most
2 Keith Brewster
important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part’, have
long been an anachronism. While the IOC might maintain that the medal table
is of secondary importance, it remains a media and public obsession and is
taken as the ultimate measure of a nation’s success. Certainly, for the host cities
and countries, the Olympic Games is laden with symbolism, opportunity, and
responsibility. A successful Games can reinvigorate reputations, while failure
could have adverse economic consequences and might undermine a country’s
self-esteem. Yet foreign attitudes towards the hosts are rarely complex and
frequently short-lived: they often move from intense scrutiny to benign
indifference. While, for example, Beijing 2008 fostered considerable debate
prior to the Games regarding human rights issues, this quickly subsided once
the Games had begun. With almost indecent haste once the closing ceremony
of one Olympic Games is over, the attention of athletes, the media and the
public swiftly turns to the next.
Yet 2008 offered an excuse to indulge in reflection and retrospection. As
the 40th anniversary of a year that had witnessed student riots, civil rights
demonstrations and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, it stimulated
frenzied activity in the media and academia as commentators sought to mark
and/or measure the significance of those events for future generations. Being
an Olympic year, 2008 also provided a good excuse for rummaging around the
archives to trace the Olympic movement’s trajectory through the modern era
to the present day. At such times, perhaps, it is natural for commemorations
to dwell on the more familiar. A radio series broadcast by the BBC, for
example, featured a 15-minute day-to-day coverage of the developing events
from 1 March to 31 August 1968. All the usual suspects were there, including
the demonstrations in Washington, Paris, and Prague. In analysing them, the
series offered listeners a valuable glimpse of the underlying social, political,
and generational tensions of that turbulent period (1968: Myth or Reality,
2008). Yet when the series concluded, anyone with even a passing interest in
the Olympic Games might have felt a little short-changed that Mexico City
1968 was not deemed sufficiently important to warrant inclusion. To its credit,
a separate radio programme specifically dedicated to celebrating the Olympic
movement went beyond coverage of great sporting events to mention the
developing drama being played out in Mexico City. During the summer of
1968, Mexican students also took to the streets to voice their discontent with
local and international affairs. Naturally, perhaps, the commentator drew
parallels with student demonstrations elsewhere in the world during that
year. There was also mention of the events that took place at the Plaza de
las Tres Culturas, Tlatelolco, the square in Mexico City in which hundreds of
mainly student protesters were killed by Mexican security forces on 2 October
1968, just ten days before the Opening Ceremony. Unfortunately, in giving the
number of fatalities that took place during the Student Movement’s bloody
Introduction 3
conclusion, the programme merely repeated a figure that had been issued by
the Mexican government at the time; one that had been discredited almost
as quickly as it was published. Casual journalism did much to expose the
superficial interest in an event that was a mere detour from the programme’s
journey along the Olympic memory lane.
It should be recognised that Mexico ’68 is remembered less for the location
and more for a few iconic moments. As far as the sporting world is concerned
these include Bob Beaman’s giant leap of 8.90 m in the men’s long jump, which
smashed the world record and would not be bettered for 23 years. Another US
athlete, Dick Fosbury, displayed his revolutionary technique in the high-jump
to a delighted world audience. Most of all, Mexico ’68 is remembered for the
image of US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their gloved fists
in protest on the victory podium. The majority of academic studies tend to
view the Mexico Olympics as the stage upon which acts of greater significance
were played out; whether this be the civil rights movement in the United
States, the anti-apartheid struggle against South Africa, or the physiological
effects of athletes competing at high altitude. Much to the chagrin of the Mexican organisers, when attention is paid to the host city, it tends to dwell less
on the Olympic Games themselves and more on the massacre of students at
Tlatelolco. In subsequent decades, eyewitnesses, journalists, writers, sociologists, political scientists and historians have sought to understand the origins,
details and consequences of the events that led to this tragic episode in Mexican history. Indeed, to the present day, conspiracy theories regularly sustain
both academic and popular efforts to apportion blame for the Tlatelolco massacre. The result of focusing on the most dramatic sporting and non-sporting
events of Mexico ’68 is that the broader context has been lost. In effect, the
study of Mexico ’68 has become fragmented and compartmentalised, with
different disciplines and perspectives rarely engaging with one another.
With the prime objective of achieving a more nuanced appreciation of
Mexico ’68, a conference at Newcastle University in September 2008 took
advantage of the 40th anniversary to bring together a group of academics
from different disciplines working on themes connected to the Olympic
Games.1 Rather than forcing an artificial cross-disciplinary approach, the
conference papers from which this present volume has evolved reflect an
attempt to explore the significance of Mexico ’68 from hitherto neglected
perspectives. Part of this approach was facilitated by the fact that the Games
did indeed represent a step into the unknown. Mexico ’68 was different
1 I would like to thank the Society of Latin American Studies and the Faculty of
Humanities and Social Sciences at Newcastle University for their generous support of
this conference.
4 Keith Brewster
because, for the first time in the modern era, a city within a developing
nation was to act as host; different, as mentioned above, because it would
be the first time that a Spanish-speaking country would stage the summer
Olympics; and different because it marked the moment at which the Olympic
movement lost its innocence. The consequences of the Student Movement’s
bloody conclusion, the Carlos and Smith podium protest and the threatened
boycott of African nations if apartheid-stricken South Africa were allowed
to compete, all combined to burst the apolitical bubble that the IOC had
striven to protect throughout the modern era. Such precedents not only serve
to place the papers within a specific historical context; they also encourage
a broadening of horizons; to step beyond the national boundaries of the
host nation in a search for comparisons and parallels to help enrich our
understanding of Mexico ’68.
Given the objectives of the conference, the choice of John Rodda as keynote
speaker could not have been more appropriate. With a long, distinguished
career in sports journalism and an unrivalled knowledge of the Olympic
movement, Rodda’s unique perspective on Mexico ’68 alone would have
warranted his presence. Yet what made his contribution imperative is the
fact that in 1968, Rodda happened to be in the wrong place at the right
time. Then a young sports reporter for UK newspaper The Guardian, he had
specifically been sent to Mexico ahead of the Games because his editor had
a hunch that ‘something’ was happening. In endeavouring to understand
what that ‘something’ was, Rodda had the misfortune of experiencing the
horrific Tlatelolco massacre. His harrowing report of the atrocity, published
on the front pages of The Guardian on 4 October 1968, and his subsequent
efforts to ensure that the world beyond knew what had happened have been
invaluable in guaranteeing that the Mexican government’s efforts to conceal
the full extent of the tragedy have failed (Rodda, 1968b).
On 1 November 1968, after he had returned from Mexico, Rodda
summarised ‘the troubles of Mexico’ in another newspaper report in which
he astutely prophesised, ‘An accurate number of the deaths will never be
known’. Nonetheless, leading Mexican intellectuals such as Octavio Paz and
Elena Poniatowska have turned to John Rodda’s newspaper reports in order
to obtain a more reliable number of the casualties.2 Forty years later, the
authority with which he reflects on the suppression of students and the
Games themselves is beyond compare.
2 Rodda (1968a); Meyer and Sherman, (1987: 670); Paz, (1993: 38); Poniatowska (1971:
170). Meyer and Sherman quote a report in The Guardian that recorded 325 deaths.
This source was also used by Paz (1993) and Poniatowska has quoted Paz.
Introduction 5
As Claire Brewster’s chapter reveals, being awarded the 1968 Olympics
in 1963 had been both an honour and a concern for the Mexican Organising
Committee. Such was the margin of Mexico’s victory in the vote that it
appeared to have had no problem in convincing the world of its suitability as
a venue. However, it is evident that other factors were at stake in 1963 and that
Mexico City’s overwhelming endorsement was based more on political than
practical criteria. This being the case, the organisers of the Games were almost
immediately placed on the defensive, incessantly having to justify the faith
that the IOC had bestowed upon them. Staging such a major sporting event
nonetheless gave Mexico the chance to showcase its achievements on a world
stage and to dispel forever the negative stereotypes that had characterised
Latin Americans in general, and Mexicans in particular. The nature of foreign
criticism and how this affected the manner in which Mexico prepared for the
Games reveals much about foreign perceptions of Latin America, and Latin
America’s perception of itself.
While determined to rise to the challenge presented by foreign cynicism,
the Mexican hierarchy was nonetheless concerned that the majority of the
Mexican public might somehow ‘let the side down’ by revealing the less
developed aspects of Mexican society. Scepticism both within and outside
the country, then, quickly followed Mexico’s success. As my own chapter
shows, the government consequently embarked upon a huge public education
campaign designed to teach Mexicans how to behave, while sweeping aside
any aspects and elements that could not be made to conform to the elite
ideal. Although the immediate impulse for such a campaign was the Olympic
Games, the manner in which it was conducted and the message it sought to
purvey reveals something far less transitory. It goes to the very heart of the
relationship between the state and the nation in a country that, for foreign
consumption at least, purported to be at peace with itself, especially when
compared to other Latin American countries. The campaign showed a level of
paternalism that barely questioned the state’s prerogative to direct thoughts
and actions. It reveals a significant degree of mistrust, in which the state
became deeply concerned that if the ‘true’ nature of Mexican emotions were
to be revealed, it would cause untold damage to national interests. Given this
socio-political dynamic, the events at Tlatelolco assume a more macabre logic.
Mexico City’s successful gaining of the 1968 Olympic Games was at the
expense of other bidding candidates. Hugh Dauncey’s chapter considers
the effects of the 1963 vote on Lyon (France’s second city), which was
placed third out of the four candidates. In doing so, he reveals the national
disappointment; feelings that resurfaced in July 2005 when London, rather
than Paris, was chosen to host the 2012 Games. Significantly, Dauncey’s
chapter reveals the tensions that lay behind a bidding process that pitched
provincial France against its more illustrious capital. The same rhetoric of
6 Keith Brewster
civic pride and economic promise that underlay Mexico City’s successful
bid was evident in its French opponent. For the purposes of the present
volume, the chapter is most valuable in what it underlines as having been
different about the two bids. Questions of French regional identity and
political rivalry were central to the motives for the Lyon bid. The very
absence of these issues in the case of Mexico City goes beyond the fact
that it was the nation’s capital city. It reveals the extent to which Mexico’s
political system allowed minimal dissent against a centrally driven project.
While not all of Mexico City’s political leaders may have been in favour
of the Olympic project, their incapacity to determine the nature of a bid
that had national government endorsement underlines their impotence when
compared to their French counterparts. What also becomes clear is that events
such as the Olympic Games are deemed to have a disproportionate influence
on establishing, consolidating or rectifying a host’s international image. For
Lyon, the objective was to secure its position as France’s second city. In the
case of Mexico City, its primacy was never in any doubt. As Claire Brewster’s
chapter reveals, among the things that Mexico City sought to achieve was to
stretch beyond the national boundaries and establish itself as a leading light
within the continent.
Despite John Rodda’s call for the Mexico City Olympics to be cancelled
after the massacre at Tlatelolco, the Games did go ahead as planned. The
organisation, if not perfect, was sufficiently good for the Games to be
proclaimed the ‘best ever’. If the Mexican government had ensured that
national political affairs would not jeopardise the smooth running of the
Games, it was neither willing nor able to prevent the march of the civil rights
movement from reaching the Olympic Stadium. In contrast to the treatment
of its own Student Movement, the relaxed manner in which Mexican officials
viewed Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’s podium protest appeared to
vindicate decades of post-revolutionary political rhetoric that had preached
tolerance and ethnic harmony. While its own ‘successful’ civil rights record
would not bear close scrutiny, the Mexican state’s diplomatic reaction to
the podium protest suggests that it was not altogether discomforted by the
spectre of its northern neighbour’s dirty linen being washed in Mexican
public space. Simon Henderson’s chapter reveals how the same event was
viewed very much differently north of the Mexican border. In placing the
protest within the broader context of US society in the 1960s, Henderson
moves beyond usual academic treatment of this symbolic act to stress that the
protest needs to be understood as something more than the heroic gesture
of two athletes. Rather, he argues that by appropriating a space that the IOC
had assiduously endeavoured to preserve as apolitical, Smith’s and Carlos’s
protest was able to transmit, in a most effective manner, the many and varied
dissident voices that comprised the civil rights movement.
Introduction 7
It is a matter of considerable irony that given Mexico’s relaxed response
to the podium protest, its ability to stage a successful Olympics had been
thrown into peril before the Games began over the issue of race. In what
has turned out to be an interesting twist of fate, the very country whose
apartheid system threatened to jeopardise the Mexico City Olympics would
later empathise with the Mexicans’ endeavours to overcome international
scepticism regarding a developing nation’s ability to organise a successful
mega-sporting event. Chris Bolsmann’s chapter draws parallels between
Mexico’s hosting of the 1968 Olympics and the debates surrounding South
Africa’s staging of the 2009 Confederations Cup, as a prelude to the more
prestigious 2010 Football World Cup. Bolsmann argues that these major
sporting events in South Africa need to be understood against the backdrop
of a post-Cold War global political context. In doing so he reveals South
Africa’s post-apartheid developmental project, its Pan-African agenda, and its
aspirations to continental leadership. While such factors obviously locate his
focus both in time and space, there are evident links to Mexico ’68 and its proLatin American agenda. The comparative historical perspective that connects
the two countries’ plights enriches our understanding of how developing
nations are forced to confront barriers that have little to do with economic
realities and more to do with overcoming deep-rooted negative stereotypes.
The shadow of the massacre at Tlatelolco, while not completely obscuring
Mexico’s achievements in 1968, nonetheless occupies the last three chapters of
this collection. Rather than take part in the seemingly endless (and ultimately
fruitless) endeavours to apportion blame for the deaths of Mexican students,
each of the contributors deploys fresh perspectives to analyse how Mexicans
have tried to make sense of the tragedy. Chris Harris revisits some of the more
crucial literary works that emerged immediately after the massacre: more
specifically he compares Elena Poniatowska’s (1971) La Noche de Tlatelolco
with Luis Gonzalez de Alba’s (1997a) ´ Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ . For many years,
Poniatowska’s collection has been regarded as one of the most effective
attempts to collate the thoughts and emotions expressed by those affected by
the massacre. It has been translated into several languages and remains a bestseller in Mexico and many other countries. Harris’s comparative analysis,
however, suggests that Gonzalez de Alba’s work offers more promise in ´
encapsulating the ‘voice from below’ because it was borne from within the
Student Movement itself. As such, Harris argues that it should be viewed as
an important historical source for producing a new subalternist history of the
Mexican Student Movement.
The two texts that form the focus of Harris’s comparative analysis are
part of a larger genre of literature that relates to the Tlatelolco massacre.
In analysing the work of Chilean writer Roberto Bolano, Ryan Long reveals ˜
8 Keith Brewster
Bolano’s unease with the imperative of seeing the tragedy as part of a relent- ˜
less trajectory towards democracy. Bolano’s (1999) novel, ˜ Amuleto revolves
around a Uruguayan woman who went into hiding within Mexico’s national
university during its two-week occupation by Mexican troops in September
1968. In common with many witnesses of traumatic events, Bolano’s protag- ˜
onist, Auxilio Lacouture, suffers periodic flashbacks long after her ordeal is
over. Furthermore, as Long argues, the experience not only influences her
perceptions of the past, but informs her predictions for developments in the
future. Long suggests that this disruption in neat chronological progression
represents Bolano’s critique of a literary archive on Mexico ’68 that has hith- ˜
erto isolated the events of Tlatelolco from the broader context, and that has
tried to find closure through the perpetuation of a storyline that links the
students’ struggle to the ultimate triumph of democracy.
One of the final sections of Amuleto includes details of a dream in which
Lacouture hears a faint but nonetheless audible song: the song of a generation
of sacrificed Latin American youth. As Long puts it, these victims ‘remain
alive enough to sing, as ghosts who insist on the importance of the past’.
In the concluding contribution to this collection, Hazel Marsh complements
this portrayal by focusing on the lyrics of the Mexican singer/songwriter,
Judith Reyes. Already a renowned political activist at the time of the Mexico
Olympics, Reyes chose to chronicle the unfolding events of the Student
Movement through the genre of corridos; re-appropriating this ballad form
of music to reveal, as she puts it, ‘the other, hidden face of the nation’.
Arguing that Reyes’s lyrics were untainted by the opposing forces of official
and alternative culture, Marsh explores the notion that her songs present a
reliable testimony of the past.
In different ways the three studies that focus on the events of 2 October 1968
represent the underlying theme of Reflections on Mexico ’68. Marsh’s analysis
of the immediate responses to the Tlatelolco massacre through song lyrics
dovetails nicely with Harris’s comparative analysis of its immediate impact
within testimonial literature. Both insist that these instant reactions have
survived and continue to resonate. Long’s study of Bolano’s novel reveals the ˜
enduring message to be gleaned from this important time in Mexican history;
one that serves to inform future generations and helps to understand previous
deeds. In a similar way, Claire Brewster’s and my own contributions seek
to expose more than a sense of how Mexicans viewed themselves and were
viewed by others in the 1960s. They argue that such debates had their own
history; and that analysing tensions within society in 1968 gives one a better
understanding of the developments of society in the preceding decades. The
chapters by Henderson, Dauncey and Bolsmann extend the physical and
temporal parameters on Mexico ’68 in a way that is rarely attempted. The
frozen iconography of the raised fists takes on a new meaning when seen
Introduction 9
through the prism of a multi-dimensional civil rights movement that had
begun many years earlier. The focus on South Africa and France offer unique
angles for a greater understanding of Mexico ’68. The blend of anxieties and
aspirations that greeted the IOC decision to grant the Olympic Games to
Mexico would be repeated four decades later as the South Africans took on
the mantle of displaying the potential of the developing world before a global
sporting audience. While Mexico City rejoiced in 1963, Lyon despaired at
ever being able to use sport to carve out an identity on the international stage
that would distinguish itself from the centralist pull of the French capital.
What makes this collection unique, however, is John Rodda’s recollections
of Mexico ’68. Sports historians are, no doubt, aware of his endeavours to
understand the bureaucratic machinery that drives sporting institutions such
as the IOC. Yet for any historian of Mexican cultural politics during the
1960s, John Rodda’s name is also synonymous with one event more than any
other: the Tlatelolco massacre. A hapless coincidence of time and place that
resulted in Rodda’s witnessing the massacre meant that his career took on
a new dimension. Paul Fitzpatrick was in The Guardian’s Manchester office
the night that Rodda filed ‘that extraordinary report from the Square of the
Three Cultures’ and recalled that although Rodda was already held in ‘the
highest regard before that terrifying experience, he assumed heroic status
afterwards’.3 John was one of those who survived the massacre. He lived
to tell the tale from a unique perspective: that of a professional journalist
equipped with the appropriate skills and, above all, the determination to
bring what had happened to the world’s attention.
The supreme bravery and determination that John displayed that night
were again apparent when he accepted my invitation to deliver the keynote
speech at our conference. Although diagnosed with a terminal illness, John
was determined to override his debilitating condition in order to fulfil the
commitment he had made. Typical of the practical approach that all seasoned
journalists possess, John suggested that we pre-record his address just in
case his illness should prevent him from attending the conference or from
delivering his speech. It was that same bravery and determination, matched
by that of Yveline Rodda, that ensured that John did indeed make the long
journey north. It was a privilege and a great pleasure to all those at the
conference that he was able to attend and his presence converted a good
occasion into one that was truly memorable. John eventually succumbed
to his illness on 2 March 2009. Tributes from former athletes reveal the
high regard in which he was held. He was ‘quite simply, the doyen of
athletics writers’, and ‘an incredibly knowledgeable man who was very
3 Yveline Rodda, email to Keith Brewster, April 2009.
10 Keith Brewster
much respected by his peers and athletes alike’.4 Although various sources
have suggested that his commitment to our conference was something that
helped him sustain his battle against illness through 2008, I would rather offer
a different perspective. It was John’s vivid accounts of the events at Tlatelolco
that helped to sustain the spirits of all of those who survived the experience,
but who were written out of history by the Mexican state-controlled media. It
was John’s vivid accounts that have sustained, and will continue to sustain,
generations of writers and intellectuals who have struggled to overcome state
censorship in search of the truth about the massacre. Like the lyrics of Judith
Reyes, the words of an English sports journalist have a resonance that reaches
far beyond the life of the newspaper within which they were printed. They
stand as a stubborn, unyielding testimony that will continue to assist and
inform future generations in their endeavour to understand the past.
4 Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram quoted in Guardian (2009b).
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
‘Prensa, Prensa’: A Journalist’s
Reflections on Mexico ’681
Forty years on I still get a trembling hand and mild palpitation when I watch
the final shots of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). For those of
you who missed this classic film, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were a
couple of cowboys who turned to train and bank robberies. After one raid
on a bank they were holed up in a Bolivian peasant’s hovel, to pick off the
sheriff’s men. But when they peered from their hide-out they saw that instead
of a few locals with rifles they were surrounded by half the Bolivian army,
bristling with weapons. It was a hopeless position but bravado had marked
their style throughout the film; they decided to make a break out shooting
their way to freedom, knowing full well that this was the end. When they
made the dash the cacophony of rifle fire was identical to the noise I heard
as I lay face down on a balcony of the Square of the Three Cultures, Mexico
City on 2 October 1968. The reminder was even more emphatic since the film
finished with several stills showing dust and gun smoke rising as our heroes
fell to the earth. I saw the Butch Cassidy film for the first time in a Croydon
cinema in December 1969, a year after it was made, and that final scene set
me off shaking violently, which was even more embarrassing, for in those
days when the programme ended the screen curtains closed and most of the
audience stood for the national anthem. I remember trying to hold one arm
with the other against my body to curb this involuntary action.
Anyway, what was a reporter in Mexico to cover the Olympic Games doing
lying face downwards on a balcony? 1968 was, of course, the year of student
discontent in Europe, in Paris, Prague, Berlin, London, and when there was
student action in Mexico many thought it was part of the continuing theme.
The verbal protest was originally linked to the Games. Why in a country of
such vast poverty was the government lavishing so much money on the event,
was the simple question that the students, perhaps in more florid terms, posed.
1 This is a transcription of J. Rodda’s speech given at the September 2008 ‘Mexico ‘68’
conference in Newcastle, UK.
12 John Rodda
That is how it seemed at first, but when tanks arrived outside the university
and two students were killed, The Guardian, at least, took it seriously. The
Guardian’s news editor Jean Stead, who was not the first Guardian woman
to hold that position in the 1960s, called me in and told me to get out there
quickly – like tomorrow. This was a bit unsettling, since sporting journalists
work to the calendar and rarely did one have to react so sharply – particularly
to the prime event, the Olympic Games. A couple of days later I was in the
office of Reuters in Mexico City collecting background material and contacts.
I learned that while the Olympic Games was the immediate cause, the action
went much deeper and the Games was just a very convenient platform to get
some international coverage of the country’s plight. Other universities around
the country were mounting the cause and, in Toledo, they had their own local
objective, which showed me that this was more about the ‘haves’ versus the
‘have nots’ of Mexico rather than the Olympics. In a village not far from the
town there had been a serious bus accident, several people were killed and
many injured when a local bus careered off the road and into a steep gully.
It was nothing more than mechanical failure in a clapped out vehicle. The
bereaved and dependants sought help – some form of compensation from
the bus owner – and were told to clear off and not bother the company; the
students picked up on this, coordinated the group of dependants who really
needed help and sought out the bus owner. He told them to clear off too,
but thought better of it when the students pointed out that more buses in his
creaking fleet might topple down mountainsides, this time empty, if he did
not provide some help for those affected by the accident. I am not supporting
such action, merely reporting what happened.
Back in Mexico City, vendors were ordered out of the Cathedral Square
on orders from the police as part of the Olympic clean-up. The students
went to the police station to point out that these people, particularly at
the time of the Games, were what tourists wanted to see. By all means
control the numbers, but don’t spoil something that is part of the City’s
fabric as well as helping the economy of the poor; so the vendors were
reinstated. These and other incidents showed the influence that the students
had, which increased in strength as the academics joined them. I covered
several meetings, interspersed with a flow of Olympic copy and at each one
there was normally a platoon of the blue-uniformed militia – but not the army
and no tanks, which is what I had expected to see.
Normality seemed to be returning, until 2 October, ten days before the
Opening Ceremony of the Games, when the students organised a huge
meeting in the Square of the Three Cultures. This was bordered on three
sides by blocks of flats and a polytechnic, and open on the other side with the
high-rise Foreign Ministry building across a road. I arrived just before 5.00
in the evening and found the main balcony where the leaders were showing
A Journalist’s Reflections on Mexico ’68 13
signs of excitement at the size of the crowd. My interpreter said that this was
the largest gathering they had attracted and there were cheers and applause
when it increased as a file of several hundred people entered the square from
the back with banners at their head. It was the trade unions: ‘the first time
we have had their support’, one of my contacts said. By the time the first
speaker began it was estimated that nearly 10,000 people were packed into
that square, which gave the operation a huge lift. One of the speakers had just
started delivering his message when a green Very light soared up behind the
Foreign Office block; it caused immediate agitation in the square below and
tension on my balcony. My interpreter went white and said, ‘we must leave,
it’s the military’, and I was saying that this was exactly what I had come to
see. I think she disappeared down the stair-well, and when people started to
drop to the floor I thought I might go somewhere else too. As I turned there
was a man in an open-neck shirt and slacks with a white glove on his left
hand and a gun in the other that was pointing at me. I said the magic word
a couple of times, ‘prensa, prensa’, which is Spanish for ‘press’, but he was
unimpressed and indicated that I should get on the floor. I repeated the rank
I held; he was unmoved but instead of pulling the trigger he deftly flicked
the gun over, grasping the barrel and raised it to hit me on the head – I was
quicker, turned and flopped down among the bodies already prone. I had
only been on the ground a few seconds it seemed, when the firing began. It
was so deafening that I could not immediately make out from where it came.
But from the cries and screams it was clearly having an effect in the crowded
square below. It lasted it seemed for minutes; then came relative quiet before
another lead onslaught was unleashed.
To say I was in shock was putting it mildly. After about an hour of this, the
lights went out and water started pouring from the floors above – punctures
in the water tanks at the top I assumed – and I became saturated. I did work
my way a little closer to the balcony wall, which seemed safer. But I could
not be sure what was happening. I realised that there must be opposition
because, after a short burst of rifle fire, there was a response by a different
sort of gun, or guns, in a less disciplined style. What had happened to the
man with the white glove? Was he in some way trying to protect those on the
balcony by ordering us down?
At this point I thought that the men with guns who had come up the
staircase were student supporters, for they were all in civilian clothing,
and I believed that we were under siege from the military. These were my
horrifying thoughts: that someone would toss a couple of hand grenades or a
tear gas bomb into our area or that the military would come up the stairs and
just flush out all these bodies lying on the floor. But then I thought there must
be students holding the bottom of the staircase, but for how long could they
hold out? I took a couple of peeks up and kept saying the word ‘prensa’, but
14 John Rodda
there was only one man around me who could speak English – and he had
only a few words – but turned out to be a Mexican journalist. There was a
tremendous amount of shouting up and down the stairs, periods of quiet, and
then periods of fierce gunfire all round the square, with bullets embedding
themselves into the walls and ceiling. My lowest point came when a machine
gunner who I thought was located on a higher level, raked the metal ledge
of the parapet top just above my head; it brought a shower of sparks and a
reminder of something my father once told me. He spent over three years
in the First World War trenches in France and while he talked little of his
experiences, I recall him saying that the worst type of shot was the ricochet,
which ripped open the body and was far more agonising than a direct hit.
During periods of quiet, I heard vehicles apparently trundling into the
square; they seemed to have wheels and tracks. They halted; someone started
shouting and then came the crump of bazooka or mortar fire, an explosion
and several times the sound of fire burning. They seemed to be picking off
flats and open balconies, I surmised, and this confirmed there were two
parties involved in combat. I also thought it was only a matter of time before
they got round to our spot. I prayed to God to look after my family and make
my death instantaneous. I thought, this is going to be it; when they come
to our balcony we will just be wiped out. There were only a few of these
incidents, but the wait between each seemed to get longer. By then I was
sopping wet from those punctured water tanks.
Someone was hit and there was terrible groaning across the balcony floor.
A girl was slumped and I saw blood that appeared to be at the side of her
temple. I prayed; I put my arm round the Mexican journalist next to me. I
kept asking him what was going on and I still had it firmly fixed in my mind
that I was with the students who were fighting against the militia.
After about an hour and a half (it was dark by now and I couldn’t see my
watch) there was a long period of quiet; no firing but a lot of shouting up and
down the staircases. The lights went on again and after a while I turned my
head to see there was more empty floor space and the man with the white
gloved hand was also lying on the floor; they were moving people about.
Eventually it was my turn; if you can imagine I was flat on the floor looking
ahead and opposite me was this man; we were face to face and not far apart
and he had a hand gun pointing at my forehead indicating that I should move
across the floor. The idea that I should get to the open side did not appeal
because it was so vulnerable; I managed to pull my press accreditation card
from inside my blazer pocket, but it had little effect. He motioned that I should
go to the staircase and this I did, sliding down the stairs to the relative safety
of the mid-floor landing where there was a small group of people. The white
gloves seemed to be doing some sorting out, and for the first time in about
three hours I began to relax. I heard the word ‘prensa’ mentioned several
A Journalist’s Reflections on Mexico ’68 15
times. When I say it was quiet, there was always the background noise of
water gushing from the floors above onto our balcony and down the staircase.
The men about me, I now realised, were not students. They were mostly
too old and their dress, if it was ragged, was not the raggedness of students. In
this little area were other journalists including a man named Dancey of NBC,
the American radio and TV broadcaster. I discovered that his interpreter was
one of those shot in the back. They got him across the floor and down the
stairs to an ambulance.
We were herded into the kitchen of a flat where there were two Germans,
one of whom had a tape recorder. A man with a gun made him run the tape.
There was nothing on it for, as the German indicated, when the shooting
started he had flung himself to the floor and forgot to turn on the tape. I
now realised that these men were military and probably wanted to take the
tape away. Yet there were several cameramen in our group of nineteen, but
there seemed to be no attempt to take their films. We were then ushered into
another room of the flat where I saw several bullet holes in the windows,
and marks on the ceiling and walls and the highly polished and obviously
treasured dining table. By now it was about 8.30 pm and the shooting was
only sporadic. We occasionally heard a vehicle driven up and the whine of
an ambulance.
Dancey and I had a few words, and I said, ‘it’s a good thing there are a
lot of us here because they can’t get us all run over by the cars’. Finally we
were told that we were going, and honestly I didn’t know what to expect.
When we reached the bottom of the staircase the surrounding area was full
of troops who stood around shivering. If you examine the few photographs
of the soldiers involved in this operation and see the glaze of their eyes, this,
together with their shivering, supports the suspicion that they were high on
Finally one of the white-gloved gunshots, whom by now I suspected were
plain clothed militia, told Dancey and me we should leave. He ushered us
down the stair-well to the ground, and the first thing I noticed was a pile of
bodies, I think between six and twelve, stacked against a wall on my right.
Our usher waved us on indicating a pathway through the blocks of flats. I
hesitated and said ‘No’ to Dancey. ‘They can just pick us off with a couple of
bullets in our backs.’ He seemed to agree, and after much gesticulating our
minder, bemused at our mistrust, came to the main road, where the traffic
was flying through both ways in normal hair-brained Mexican manner – it
was uncanny. We hailed a cab and, as one halted, a third person wanted to
join us. He turned out to be a Mexican journalist who had little English, but
Dancey and I pressed him with the same question. ‘How many do you think
have been killed?’ ‘Hundreds, hundreds’, he kept repeating.
16 John Rodda
When we reached the Maria Isabel Hotel I realised what a tramp I looked,
dishevelled, soaking wet and wild-eyed. People skirted round me as I went
directly to the lift to head for the press centre on the first floor. As the lift doors
opened and I went to step out, I came face to face with very man I needed
to meet. It was Don Saunders, senior sports writer on the Daily Telegraph. I
blurted out that I had been involved in the carnage about which some news
had filtered through to the press centre. Don was just the person to help me.
He never seemed to be a very well man and was sympathetic to other people’s
plight. He was known as ‘Saunders of the liver’. In my circumstances, he was
just the man I required. He was the next best person to a medic and there
he was ushering me to his room. I discarded my wet clothes and stretched
on the bed, relaxing for the first time in about six hours. He called the front
desk for a doctor giving a brief reason for the requirement. Within minutes
there was a tap on the door; it was not a doctor but an assistant manager.
He talked with Don in the doorway about my health and I clearly heard the
word ‘exaggeration’ and it was not Don who said it. A few minutes later a
doctor arrived, took a look at me, felt my pulse and then said to Don that he
would give me an injection to calm me down. My response was immediate,
and I think I ranted a little, saying no way was I going to have an injection.
Cynicism is a trademark of journalists and I now had it in abundance towards
anything lawful in Mexico; I needed to get on to paper what had happened
to me in that square. Don quickly caught on to the nature of my protests
and, politely as he could, ushered the doctor from the room suggesting the
alternative medication of a whisky or two to make me sleep. The assistant
manager was still outside the door.
I needed to get things written and I was in no state to sit and write.
Don picked up the phone and within a few minutes Jim Coote, the athletics
correspondent of the Telegraph, a colleague but a rival, came into the room
and sat before a typewriter and bashed away as I poured out the words.
Another tap on the door; it was a posse from the British press concerned
about my health. They trooped in, crowded round the bed and after the
usual pleasantries there was disappointment on every face when I told them
that I was not saying a word about what happened until after it had been
published in The Guardian; they knew that, but they had to try. More words
for the typewriter jumbling the chronology a bit. Eventually the dictation was
finished and I slept.
When I read my piece the next morning I acted in what today might be
regarded as an unprofessional manner. First, I needed to dictate the words
to my Manchester office – then I went to the Competitors’ Village to seek out
Sandy Duncan, the British team commandant and tell him briefly what had
happened. There were lots of stories and rumours flying round the camp and
I suggested that when The Guardian arrived along with all the other British
A Journalist’s Reflections on Mexico ’68 17
papers in a couple of days, the copies of The Guardian should be removed.
I think the attitude to competitors by journalists has shifted. In 1968, the
participants were there for the honour to be top of their event; it was a
competition for amateurs, many struggled just to get on to the Olympic stage
with no real hope of a medal. They were dedicated and doing it because they
believed the word ‘Olympic’ raised their status; it was not their job. In that
atmosphere, I did not want to be accused of damaging British chances by my
dramatic and frightening revelations. An experienced news reporter would
have provided a more incisive and rounded report but was unlikely to value
the Olympic ethos. Soft, perhaps, by today’s standards but that was my view
40 years ago.
I cannot recall whether it was Sandy Duncan or Arthur Gold, a team leader
who on my trip to the Competitors’ Village suggested I see the BOA (British
Olympic Association) Medical officer Dr Peter Massey. That was fortuitous
because I spent the best part of an hour with him as he questioned me
on every aspect of the previous night’s exploits; his probing helped me to
remember more and get things into a tidier chronological order, but as I came
to realise later, this was what today we call counselling. I met him again on a
couple of occasions and remember giving my belated thanks for his services
over some Pimms at Henley Regatta.
My first reporter’s task was the follow-up, which took me to the Hotel
Camino Real where the International Olympic Committee Executive Board
was in session. These meetings are held in private. I sent in a message to
speak to Lord Killanin who was then Chef de Protocol and a former Fleet
Street journalist. He saw my state and asked me to send a note to Avery
Brundage (president of the IOC). I did so in brief terms and concluded with
the view that the Games should be cancelled. The following morning, by
which time my tome had been published, I did a live interview on the BBC’s
World at One programme with William Hardcastle. I could see the $64,000
question looming: ‘Do you think the Games should go on?’ ‘No’, I said. I was
not surprised that the IOC ignored or rejected my similar recommendation
and instead issued a statement that this unrest had nothing whatsoever to do
with the Olympic Games. It was only a couple of years later that I learned
that this statement purporting to come from the Executive was only under
the name of Brundage because several other members did not concur.
By now the rumours were piling up. There were plenty of figures: 35 killed,
the official one, to 500, just guesswork, which was closer to the estimate of
the Mexican journalist we encountered in the square. Then there were the
repeated stories of the large pieces of paper bearing a daubed red cross stuck
on the doors or windows of houses. They were apparently indications that
if some one was missing from this address don’t bother the authorities with
your enquiries. Two young girls who were missing never to be seen again,
18 John Rodda
were members of small corps of press stewards in the Media Centre. Most
of the missing were university students and pretty well all of them from
middle-class and wealthy families. I had always heard that life was cheap in
Latin America and here was an example straight in front of my face.
As I ploughed into my Olympic reporting, there were constant reminders
of the square. The rumours about paper fixed to a front door or window
daubed with a red cross hardened with evidence of sightings. The number of
my contacts dwindled from about half a dozen to two. Some may have been
killed, others imprisoned. More rumours, too, about planes flying out over
the Gulf of Mexico to dump weighted bodies. When the athletic programme
of the Olympic Games began, next to my seat writing a column for The Times
was the athlete Roger Bannister, by then the only four-minute miler who
was also a specialist in neurological malfunction. He was interested in the
violence of my jerking body every time the starter fired his gun, an affliction
that only diminished after about four days of athletic competitions.
I kept in contact with my remaining Mexican links on my return to London
and was told that through a slow and careful operation some form of valid
figure for the dead and injured of 2 October would be reached. In the following January or February, I published a short piece in The Guardian giving
the number of deaths at 267 and the injured at around 1200. These figures
were compiled through doctors and staff at the City’s hospitals who had
been presented with bodies and those who died in their care. The Mexican
Ambassador in London, acting on behalf of a government sticking to its original figure of 35, was incensed; he had to be. The original Mexican figure was
pathetically wrong; mine, too, was inaccurate but closer to the truth because
many bodies were disposed of without the aid of hospitals or mortuaries.
I prefer to use my figure, as it is a calculation by professionals involved in
the carnage. But the guesswork of the Mexican journalist who shared the cab
taking us away from the square – 500 – was probably closer to reality.
This was 1968, 40 years ago, when it was a rare occurrence that journalists
were involved in such risk; in fact one of us, an Italian woman reporter (Oriana
Fallacci) was injured on my balcony. Since then, many of my profession and
that of radio and television have been killed, injured or taken hostage. We
tend to hear only about the British, but there are others – from our allies and
the other side. In 2007 worldwide, 171 journalists were killed because of their
job, only six less than the previous year.
Looking back, I suppose I should have returned to Mexico to gather
material for a book. But I was athletics, boxing, rowing and Olympic
correspondent for The Guardian as well as throwing in some coverage of
rugby football. I was too busy and frankly did not have the confidence,
I suspect, to change course in my career. Anyway, my output from this
Mexico memory dwindled to an occasional anniversary piece – about every
A Journalist’s Reflections on Mexico ’68 19
five years. Of course, in one respect my instant judgement was wrong.
Had the Games been cancelled then, they may not have survived – they
would have been halted in Munich four years later after the Israelis were
assassinated in the Competitors’ Village, the Moscow boycott 1980 would
probably have succeeded, and that in Los Angeles four years later would have
had greater impact. Its dogged resilience in the face of political interference,
demonstration and intimidation is the bedrock of Olympic survival – but
that’s another story.
One of the rumours circulating around the IOC hotel in the days after
the shootings was the suspicion that Brundage had sent a message to the
country’s president, Gustavo D´ıaz Ordaz about the consequences of the
student troubles spilling over into Olympic arenas. It was suggested that
Brundage told the president that the Games would be halted in such an
eventuality. Only nine years ago did I have confirmation that this was a
fact – and, in my estimation, a crucial one. I helped a man called Arthur Takac
write his life story. Takac was a significant figure in the backrooms of the
sporting world. He had been a Yugoslav Davis Cup tennis player, ran the
800 m on the track internationally and was the country’s team manager at
the 1948 Olympic Games in London. He was sometime coach to Red Star
Belgrade soccer team and was the country’s top athletics official. He moved to
the IOC headquarters in Switzerland and then on to the organising committee
of the Olympic Games in Montreal, and was a key witness in the subsequent
corruption trials. He also worked for twelve months to train and put together
the team of officials that operated at the athletics programme of the Games
in Mexico. During the Games, he was an aide to Brundage and told me
that he delivered the message to the president of the country, a message in
which Brundage said that should there be trouble on any Games site, the
celebration would be cancelled. Apparently this was sent around the middle
of September and it strengthens my suspicion that the government cooled its
attitude to protests, which thus mounted, and when the big rally was held
on 2 October that was the time to smash them. From the government’s point
of view, it was a successful outcome; the brutality of that night snuffed out
any possible further action; there was not even a shout of protest, just the soft
sound of weeping.
Ten years ago, the Paris correspondent of the Mexican magazine Proceso
came to my home, just outside Taunton, together with a photographer to
interview me about 2 October 1968. She had combed through newspaper files
in several European cities and found my piece in the British Library at Hendon. She was very excited about it and wanted to quote large chunks and add
some of my reflections. Her magazine, a weekly, had a circulation of 25,000
and they were planning to lift this to 30,000 because this seemed to be a subject
very few people knew much about, including those who might have been
20 John Rodda
affected by the loss of a relative; they had always wanted to know more. On
the Thursday they published, the entire print was sold in four hours and they
only stopped reprints on the Sunday when they had passed 100,000. It had, she
subsequently told me over the phone from Paris, lifted the cover off a piece of
Mexican history that until then had, not surprisingly, been largely suppressed.
Apart from the initial shock and horror of the Square of the Three Cultures
on 2 October 1968 was my bemusement that with a vast contingent of the
world’s media, not all of it sporting, the story disappeared so easily. Forty
years ago there was no 24/7 reporting, satellite broadcasting was in its infancy
and we were a long way from laptops and mobile phones. In part, I regret
lacking the skill of a Norman Mailer or Alistair Cook who surely would have
made the world sit up and take more notice.
About five years earlier, the late Chris Brasher writing in UK newspaper The
Observer quoted a Swedish coach saying ‘There will be those who will die …’
referring to the Games. No, this was not foresight of brutality but an opinion
of what might happen when Olympic sportsmen pitch themselves against one
another on a track 7000 feet above sea level.When the Games were awarded to
Mexico City at the IOC session of 1963 in Baden Baden, some members asked
questions about the effect of altitude and were assured, during Mexico City’s
presentation, that after a couple of days you would become acclimatised.
The question was about the athletes; the answer probably referred to the
effect on IOC members, though at their age they should have taken greater
caution. In fact, the problem of altitude only unfolded slowly when those
with experience made their point. Ultimately the IOC acknowledged the
difficulty when they called on the British Olympic Association to send a
team of athletes to Mexico City in 1965 to undertake some scientific research.
Sadly, this was only a cursory stab at the problem, for the team included a
lot of expertise: the majority of the guinea pigs were international athletes of
experience and the scientific input was led by Griffith Pugh who had taken
part in Edmund Hilary’s successful conquest of Everest in 1953. The team
came up with the recommendation that a period of acclimatisation should
be undertaken well before the Games and, after considerable debate and
opposition from Avery Brundage, who thought any suggestion of training
camps had a professional smell, it was announced that Olympic teams could
train at altitude for a period of six weeks a year before the Games and arrive
in Mexico City a little earlier than would be normal. This turned out to be
wholly inadequate as the results indicate, and there were painful and bizarre
scenes in the arenas. Death came close: four Swiss oarsmen, who collapsed
at the end of their opening race, were taken to hospital and flew home before
the end of the Games seriously ill. One British competitor suffered similarly.
Maurice Herriott, one of the world’s leading 3,000 m steeplechasers who had
taken the silver medal four years earlier in Tokyo, ran his heat over a minute
A Journalist’s Reflections on Mexico ’68 21
slower than his normal time and collapsed needing oxygen, like Ron Clarke
of Australia, a world record breaker at 10,000 m. Herriott returned home
and stayed in hospital for about six weeks while his blood, which had been
severely damaged, was washed out and replaced. This was an event I failed
to cover properly in Mexico, but many years later I caught up with Maurice
Herriott, who unfolded the experience. Fortunately the Olympic Games in
Mexico was the penultimate one of Brundage’s straightjacket twenty-year
reign as president.
If awarding the Games to Mexico is regarded as a mistake, the aftermath
fulfilled the spirit of the Olympic Movement in another way. Altogether
Kenyans, Ethiopians and Tunisians won twelve medals in the track events,
which was a resounding triumph because they had won in these events only
four medals in all their previous games. Prior to the Games, Kenyans had
begun to make an impact in distance running accompanied by newspaper
stories that the key to their success came from their early school years when
they ran to and from school every day. The tabloids occasionally embellished
the story by having the runner fleeing from wild animals. That daily running
played a key part as it had done for Spiridon Louis, winner of the first
Olympic marathon in 1896. He was a multi-faceted Greek, being a postman,
shepherd and water carrier. Every day he went the 2.5 miles from his village
to Athens taking fresh water in barrels strapped to the backs of a couple of
donkeys. Therefore, on the inward journey to town he had to run alongside
the animals, but he could, if he wished, ride home again. Doing this every day,
twice, presumably on Sunday as well, was a good base on which to run 40 km.
Prior to Mexico, sea-level distance runners never had it so good. The
men from the mountains have since been catching up, as the results of the
post-Mexico Games indicate, in events on the track from 5000 m upwards
and the way they have scooped up the cash in international events of these
distances. Sea-level competitors have cottoned on too, and many now live or
spend a lot of time training at altitude.
While running any distance over 400 m at the Mexico Olympic Games
became a pain for the sea-level athletes, there were records in all the
explosive events; the most emphatic advantage that the thin air provided
came, of course, in the long jump where American Bob Beamon leapt to
a world record, a performance in which he obliterated the previous mark
by more than a metre. He was hailed worldwide for this phenomenal leap,
including by his fellow Americans. Not all Olympic champions were feted
and the event that at the time achieved the widest publicity was in absolute
contrast – that of Beamon’s US team mate Tommie Smith, winner and world
record breaker in the 200 m. His time of 19.83 was another jaw dropping
sensation in Mexico’s thin air. It was eleven years before his world record
was surpassed – on the same track. But there was greater newsworthiness to
22 John Rodda
come. At the medal ceremony, Smith and his colleague, bronze medal winner
John Carlos, stood on the podium with one hand in a black glove, their bare
feet a symbolic reminder of America’s treatment of its black population. The
demonstration produced an angry response from the IOC whose Executive
Board ordered the US Olympic Committee to take action; the athletes were
promptly sent home. Smith and Carlos, both students at San Jose College, ´
California, were members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an
organisation demonstrating the way in which US athletes treated their black
competitors. Smith and Carlos were sent home and suffered. It was not until
1984, in Los Angeles, that Smith came back to the Olympic family – as an
official at the Los Angeles Games. This was, of course, not the first time that
American Olympic competitors suffered from being coloured. Jim Thorpe, a
Native American, was welcomed home a hero after his victories in the 1912
Olympic Games in Stockholm with a ticker-tape parade in New York, but the
following year an investigative journalist discovered that Thorpe had, prior
to the Games, been paid about $25 a week for playing in junior baseball.
He was stripped of his medals and disqualified from athletics. It took the
Native American community years of campaigning before his medals were
officially restored in 1983. I saw Muhammad Ali win his gold in the light
heavyweight division in the Rome Olympic Games of 1960. But he quickly
became a disillusioned young man when, soon after arriving back home in
Louisville, he and a friend were thrown out of a restaurant that did not serve
blacks. Realising that being winner did not change his life, he stood on the
Ohio River Bridge and threw his gold medal into the water below.
In spite of the fundamental principle ‘No discrimination … is allowed
against any country or person on grounds of race, religion or politics’,
the IOC had a long and uncomfortable relationship with apartheid, but
the sentence they effectively delivered on Smith and Carlos was extreme.
However, earlier in 1968 they had withdrawn South Africa’s invitation to
take part, under pressure from the Mexicans who feared a boycott by many
countries because of South Africa’s apartheid policy. Two years later, the IOC
kicked out South Africa from the Olympic Movement, which was to help, in
a small way, the ending of that country’s divisive policy.
That however is another story. In the history of the Olympic Games, there
is still much to be unearthed in the chapter ‘Mexico ’68’. But this weekend,
when some of the questions will be put and some answered, may come to be
remembered as the time when the events of 2 October in the Square of the
Three Cultures took on their full shape and meaning within Mexico’s past.
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Changing Impressions of Mexico for
the 1968 Games
Newcastle University, UK
In October 1963, Mexico City was chosen as the first venue in a developing
nation to host the Olympic Games. Not surprisingly, perhaps, almost
immediately afterwards a wide range of concerns were voiced about its
ability to stage such a prestigious event. Avery Brundage, president of the
IOC, gave an indication of the extent of the apprehension on 7 October
1968, just five days before the Olympic Games opened. Addressing an IOC
meeting, he stated: ‘When the Games were granted to Mexico City … in
Baden-Baden, there was a flood of criticism from all over the world.’ He then
listed the main concerns:
Why were the Games awarded to a city at an elevation of 7349 feet above
sea level?
How can Mexico, with its limited experience, organise properly an event
of the size and complexity of the Olympic Games?
Latin America is the land of ‘manana’: how can one expect that the ˜
facilities will be ready on time?
What about the ‘curse of Moctezuma’?
Will there be adequate protection against the numerous Mexican bandits?
What about sunburn from solar radiation at such an elevation?1
The obvious question, then, is why was Mexico City chosen? In this
chapter I consider the motives of the leading figures who were instrumental
in putting together Mexico City’s proposal and argue that the decision to bid
for the Games was a top-down, elite project in which members of the Mexican
Organising Committee had a firm idea of the image of Mexico they wanted
to present to the world. I also explore some of the issues behind the Olympic
selection process that acted in Mexico’s favour in 1963. Having gained the
vote, I examine how the prospect of staging the 1968 Games was reported
1 Archive of the International Olympic Committee (hereafter IOC/HA): Box 246. Folder,
IOC, 67th International Olympic Committee session, Mexico City, 7 October 1968.
24 Claire Brewster
within Mexico; I then assess the role that Mexico intended to adopt as the
host country and how it sought to confound its critics.
The Men Behind the Bid
Mexico City’s success in obtaining the 1968 Olympics was largely due to the
efforts of three men who enjoyed considerable political influence and who
had for some time been pushing for Mexico’s increased profile in international
sports. The first was Adolfo Lopez Mateos, president of Mexico from 1958 ´
to 1964 and a keen sportsman in his youth. The second, Jose de Jes ´ us Clark ´
Flores, had become a member of the IOC in 1952; he also led the Mexican
Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1965.2 The third, Marte R. Gomez, had been ´
elected to the IOC in 1934. Both Clark Flores and Gomez were respected, ´
influential members of the IOC. In particular, Avery Brundage saw Clark
Flores as one of his more loyal supporters.
Ties with Brundage were extremely important in the early 1960s.
Christopher Hill describes him as ‘a man of ruthless authoritarian and
reactionary opinions, [who] ran the [IOC]… almost as a private hobby
from 1952 until his retirement at the end of the Munich Games’ (Hill,
1996: 61). There can be no doubt that Brundage was favourably disposed
towards Mexico as a venue for the Games. Back in 1950, as president of
the United States Olympic Association (USOC), Brundage had suggested
holding an IOC meeting in Mexico City ‘to help boost sport and also let IOC
members appreciate how developed Mexico City now is’.3 Brundage had
also been president of the Pan-American Games Association, which had its
headquarters in Mexico City. This gave him the opportunity to see Mexico’s
sports administrators in action, and a strong working relationship flourished
between them. In 1955, Mexico City had hosted the Pan-American Games
and Brundage would have witnessed first-hand its ability to stage a major
international sports competition. By the time of the Baden-Baden vote in
1963, Brundage had been president of the IOC for eleven years and it is clear
that his opinions carried considerable weight with the IOC executive board.
In turn, the opinions of the executive board played an important part in
influencing committee members to favour one bid over another. This being
the case, any bid with Brundage’s unofficial backing stood a good chance of
2 Roberto Casellas suggests that Clark Flores was the main instigator of the drive to win
the Olympic Games for Mexico City (Casellas, 1992: 18–19).
3 IOC/HA: Notice no. 0099075 Correspondence NOC for Mexico and IOC 1932–1972.
Letter dated 13 March 1950 from Brundage to Taher Pacha.
Changing Impressions of Mexico 25
Indeed, a letter from Brundage to Clark Flores in August 1962 suggests
that the IOC president had been central to Mexico City’s decision to launch a
bid for the 1968 Games:
As you know, Mexico has already applied for the Olympic Games …
and I think [that] if the city authorities are interested, another invitation
should be submitted at our meeting next year … So far as I know, the
situation is wide open with no one city having a priority. Even if you are
not successful it … will increase your chances of getting the Games in
the future.4
After unsuccessfully bidding for the 1956 and 1960 Games, the discouraged
Mexicans had not attempted to obtain the 1964 Games. Secure in Brundage’s
private backing, however, in 1963 they decided to put forward a third bid.
After the vote, Brundage reflected: ‘I understand that I have been criticised
in certain quarters for leaning too far in the direction of Popocatepetl, but
I don’t think any harm was done’ (cited in Zolov, 2004: 164).
The Baden-Baden Vote
During the first half of the twentieth century, the Western world dominated
the IOC. In 1963, the only cities from the developing world to have made a
bid for the Olympic Games were Buenos Aires and Mexico City.5 Moreover,
with the exceptions of Melbourne, Tokyo and Sapporo (all of which would
eventually host the Games) these two Latin American cities were the only
candidates outside of North America and Europe to make a bid during the
modern Olympics era. This indicates the difficulties developing countries
have experienced when competing with wealthier nations in making a
credible bid. Indeed, it could be argued that little has changed: Mexico City
remains the only city from the developing world to have hosted the Olympic
Given the widespread concerns voiced immediately after Mexico City was
awarded the Games, it is surprising that such had been the margin of the
city’s victory over its rivals in the first round of voting in Baden-Baden that
a second was not needed. As Brundage reflected: ‘I must say that there are
4 Avery Brundage Collection (hereafter ABC): Box 139. Folder COM 1961–1969. Letter
from Brundage to Clark dated 2 August 1962.
5 Buenos Aires had shown much interest in hosting the Olympic Games throughout
the twentieth century, but this was only the second time that the city had reached the
election stage. For a discussion of the many efforts made by Buenos Aires to stage the
Games, see, Torres (2007).
26 Claire Brewster
many who are … stunned… at the success of Mexico’ (cited in Zolov, 2004:
164). Mexico had certainly enjoyed Brundage’s support, yet although he was
undeniably influential within the IOC, were other factors at play in Mexico’s
success? In considering this issue the complex procedures behind the choice
of venue for major international sporting events are revealed.
The overwhelming endorsement for Mexico City’s bid makes remarkable
reading. The result of the first round of votes was as follows:
Mexico City 30
Detroit 14
Lyon 12
Buenos Aires 2
To judge the strength of Mexico City’s bid more accurately, it is necessary
to consider the quality of the opposition. Counting slightly against Lyon,
perhaps, was the fact that the Olympics had already been held twice before in
France, albeit in Paris. As Hugh Dauncey’s chapter in this volume explains,
the result of the failed bid for the 1968 Games had a considerable impact in
France. Similarly Detroit, which had tried unsuccessfully to gain the Games
on several occasions, could have been penalised because the United States
had already hosted the Games in St Louis and Los Angeles. Yet the wide
margin of Mexico City’s victory nonetheless suggests that more fundamental
issues had gone against the competing bids.6
Details of the way in which each IOC member votes are unsurprisingly
shrouded in secrecy, but contemporary international events might help to
shed light on their deliberations. As IOC members gathered in Baden-Baden,
the Cold War atmosphere was distinctly frosty, especially as it pertained to
Latin America. The Cuban Revolution had triumphed on 1 January 1959;
in April 1961, the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion had occurred, while a
few months later, the Berlin Crisis led to the construction of the Berlin
Wall; in October 1962, the two superpowers came to loggerheads during the
Cuban Missile Crisis. These tensions were reflected in the sporting world
when US and French officials refused to issue visas to East German athletes
and prevented them from competing in their countries. Within such an
environment, IOC members from the Soviet bloc were extremely unlikely to
support any bid from a NATO country. Certainly, if newspaper reports of
Soviet reactions to the Baden-Baden vote are accurate, the visa issue was a
major factor against Lyon; while, officially at least, Detroit was disregarded
6 ABC: Box 71, Minutes of Meeting of Exec Board 5 June 1963–Lausanne. Two other
cities, West Berlin and Vienna, also submitted bids but they were received after the
deadline and were not considered.
Changing Impressions of Mexico 27
because the United States had already hosted the Games (El Universal, 1963).
Yet this rationale does not explain why Grenoble, France, was chosen to host
the admittedly less-prestigious 1968 Winter Games. Ideological tensions may
well have been a significant factor, but other issues must also have been at
One aspect could have been Mexico’s position as a developing nation and
the stated aim of the IOC to encourage the expansion of sport in Third World
countries. President Sukarno of Indonesia was among those who were far
from convinced of the latter, and in 1962, in retaliation for what he viewed as
the discriminatory pro-Western practices of the IOC, he announced a plan to
host the world’s first Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO Games)
in Jakarta.7 With the financial and moral backing of China, the Games were
promoted as an act of Third World solidarity against imperialist oppressors.
The inaugural GANEFO Games was held in Jakarta from 10 to 22 November
1963. Teams from 48 out of a possible 68 countries attended, which made
these Games a credible threat to the IOC monopoly of world athletics; in
particular competitions concerning Third World countries (Guttmann, 1984:
227–229). Was it merely a coincidence that IOC delegates voted for Mexico
City to host the 1968 Olympics just one month before the first GANEFO
Games began? While there may not have been any overt link, the looming
spectre of a Third World rival to the Olympics may have swayed some IOC
members to avoid a possible split within the organisation by choosing a host
from the developing world.
If the IOC was concerned about encouraging participation from developing
and Third World countries, the Baden-Baden voters were left with just two
possibilities: Buenos Aires and Mexico City. On sporting criteria alone,
Buenos Aires should have been a strong contender. It had only narrowly
lost the bid to host the 1956 Games to Melbourne and had hosted the first
Pan-American Games in 1951. But its position was severely weakened by
7 Indonesia had been temporarily suspended from the IOC in 1962 after President
Sukarno moved to prevent Israel and Taiwan from attending the IV Asiatic Games
held in Jakarta in September 1962. This took place against a background of Arab
diplomatic pressure against Israel, and the People’s Republic of China’s boycott of
the 1956 Olympics due to the inclusion of a nationalist Chinese team from Taiwan.
Although the Indonesian Olympic Committee explained that President Sukarno’s
intervention was a political decision and not the work of sports administrators, the
IOC ruled that the committee had transgressed rules concerning free access to all
nations. That the IOC was being unduly harsh on Indonesia is underlined by the
fact that it made no sanctions against the US and French Olympic Committees for
refusing visas to East German athletes and thus preventing them from competing in
their countries during that same year.
28 Claire Brewster
the state of Argentine politics during the period leading up to the BadenBaden vote. If ever confirmation of negative Latin American stereotypes was
needed (such as political instability, high inflation and military dictatorships),
in 1963 the IOC needed to look no further than Argentina. In the preceding
year President Arturo Frondizi had been overthrown by the military and
replaced by Jose Mar´ ´ ıa Guido. Factionalism within the armed forces led
to heated conflict in September 1962 and in April 1963 the navy rebelled.
Presidential elections were held in June that year, bringing the minority
government of Arturo Illia to power. This latest Olympic bid from Buenos
Aires representatives could not have been more badly timed; they left behind
them a country in considerable political and economic turmoil. Furthermore,
as far as the Eastern bloc was concerned, Argentina’s staunch support of
US foreign policy towards the Cuban Revolution would have made Buenos
Aires an unpalatable choice as host for the forthcoming Games.
There were therefore several issues behind the overwhelming endorsement
for Mexico City’s bid. Selecting Mexico City was not necessarily a vote of
confidence in the Mexican nation, nor in its people. Cold War politics and the
need not to isolate non-aligned countries made Mexico City a more expedient
option. I would argue that rather than being a willing choice, most IOC
members felt compelled to make history by selecting Mexico City. And, if this
assessment is correct, it helps to explain why there was so much scepticism
about Mexico’s ability to deliver immediately after its landslide victory.
Mexico ’68: International Concerns
What were the origins of the widespread pessimism regarding Mexico City’s
ability to stage a successful Games and were such sentiments valid? Indeed,
in many respects, such attitudes seem unfounded: the city had already hosted
international sporting events; moreover, most cities that host the Olympic
Games do so for the first time and thus have no direct prior experience.
Yet as the first Latin American host, Mexico City was the target of multiple
prejudices regarding the perceived lack of organisational skills in Hispanic
countries. Despite the organisers’ best efforts to allay fears and to provide
reassurance, as Brundage’s statement quoted at the beginning of this chapter
reveals, a general attitude persisted that their plans were way behind schedule
and that the lives of sportsmen and women would be at risk by competing in
Mexico City. Mexico was not the only recipient of such anxieties: members
of the IOC had voted for Mexico City as a venue and needed to defend
their decision. Brundage consistently pressured the Mexican Organising
Committee to develop a more efficient communications system that would
send out regular ‘good news’ stories to counter the negative rumours.
Changing Impressions of Mexico 29
Among the most commonly expressed concerns regarding Mexico City’s
hosting of the Games were the hazards of competing at high altitude and its
dangerous levels of pollution.8 In order to counter such views, the Organising
Committee9 offered scientific evidence to demonstrate that competing at
7400 feet would not cause damage to competitors and it invited international
scientists to conduct on-site tests to confirm this. Several bodies, including the
British Olympic Association, took up this offer and undertook physiological
investigations in Mexico City (Killanin and Rodda, 1979: 160). Despite these
measures, international newspaper coverage continued to use the altitude as
an excuse to question the wisdom of holding the Games in Mexico City. In
1966, Brundage was still having to deal with questions from critical journalists,
including one who ‘wanted to transfer part of the Games to Montreal because
of the great danger due to the altitude’.10 Brundage clearly believed that
the Organising Committee needed to do more to transmit positive messages
to the international media. As a partial response, perhaps, the president of
the Mexican Federation of Sports Medicine, Dr Gilberto Bolanos Cacho, was ˜
commissioned to undertake specific tests on pollution levels in Mexico City
and to assess the possible danger to athletes. Among his findings was that:
‘Smog (the fusion of fog and gases) does not exist in Mexico City. What does
exist is atmospheric pollution.’ In concluding that this atmospheric pollution
would neither cause damage to health nor adversely affect the performances
of athletes, Bolanos Cacho underlined that Me ˜ xico City’s pollution levels
were not as high as those of London, Tokyo and Los Angeles, all of which
had successfully hosted the Games. Moreover, he explained, the setting of
Olympic Villages in the south of Mexico City was beyond the pollution zone.11
Yet concerns over the altitude could not be so easily abated. There was
no shortage of critics who raised fears for the safety of athletes; an attitude
that would continue throughout the duration of the Games. Indeed, as John
Rodda’s chapter in this volume testifies, the experiences of Ron Clarke,
Maurice Herriott and the Swiss oarsmen vindicate these misgivings. In
defence of the IOC decision to use Mexico City, Brundage emphasised: ‘the
Olympic Games belong to the world – North and South, East and West, hot
8 IOC/HA: P. V. Sessions 1964–1966, CIO session in Baden-Baden 16–20 October 1963,
pp. 5–6.
9 ‘The Organising Committee’ refers to the Mexican Organising Committee that was
established to plan and coordinate the 1968 Olympic Games. It was a separate
committee from the permanent Mexican Olympic Committee.
10 IOC/HA: File 0100624, Correspondence 1966. Letter from Brundage dated 26 July
11 Archivo General de la Nacion, Comit ´ e Organizador de los Juegos Ol ´ ´ımpicos (hereafter
AGN, COJO): Caja 128, 7 August 1967.
30 Claire Brewster
and cold, dry and humid, high and low’.12 The British Olympic Association’s
scientific report on the effects of competing at altitude concluded that
provided a period of acclimatisation took place there should be no danger
to athletes. The IOC then circulated the following guidelines to all national
Olympic committees:
To achieve fairness as far as possible between competitors, no athletes,
other than those who usually live or train at such heights shall specially
do so at high altitudes for more than four weeks in the last three months
before the opening of the Games. The IOC points out that to break this
rule would be a gross breach of good sportsmanship and it is sure that
no-one connected with the Olympic Movement would wish in any way
to be guilty of taking an unfair advantage over the other competitors.13
Several countries nonetheless invested considerable money in giving their
athletes a period of training well in excess of this prescribed limit. Yet even
so, most of the endurance events at the 1968 Olympics were won by athletes
from the poorer countries of Africa – all of whom lived at altitude.
The most vociferous criticism levelled at the Mexican Organising
Committee, however, were charges of incompetence and disorganisation. In a
vicious cycle of rumours, unease voiced by international sports administrators
led to increased media speculation, which in turn put more pressure on the
Organising Committee. Were these fears justified or merely being fuelled by
the prevailing derogatory stereotypes? One of the major sources of negative
foreign press coverage was the plan to construct rowing lanes in Xochimilco
on the southern outskirts of Mexico City. This episode reveals the cultural
differences between Mexico (and, perhaps, much of Latin America) and the
Western world. The original scheme had been to remodel the existing canals
to a standard suitable for Olympic competition. An IOC report from July
1966 confirms approval of this proposal.14 This was in spite of the fact that
the President of the International Rowing Federation, Thomas Keller, had
proclaimed the water in the lanes to be dangerously contaminated (Casellas,
1992: 27). Yet in late 1966 the plan to use Xochimilco was abandoned in favour
of a new purpose-built rowing venue in nearby Cuemanco.15 Appalled by
the lack of progress, Keller wrote to Brundage predicting that the installation
12 Frederick J. Ruegsegger Papers, 1928–1978. Folder 22: September to December 1967.
See drafts of speech made by Brundage.
13 ABC: Box 71. Circular from Westerhoff to NOCs dated 27 May 1966.
14 ABC: Box 71. Letter from Brundage to IOC members, NOCs and Federations dated 4
July 1966.
15 IOC/HA: Brundage Microfilm Collection, reel 101, box 178. Letter from Ram´ırez
Vazquez to Keller dated 22 December 1966. See also letter from Ram ´ ´ırez Vazquez to ´
Changing Impressions of Mexico 31
could not possibly be built in time for a trial that had already been scheduled
for October 1967. He went on to point out that construction work on the
regatta course for the Munich Games in 1972 was already more advanced
than Mexico’s.16 Although one might sympathise with Keller, his attitude
reveals a widely held misconception regarding Mexico’s preparations for the
Games. In Munich the process of planning permission, appeal procedure,
possible industrial disputes, and then the preparation of the site might
well have meant that six years was a necessary construction period. In
Mexico City, however, other customs and practices were at play. As Pedro
Ram´ırez Vazquez, chairman of the Mexican Organising Committee, pointed ´
out to Keller, comparisons with Munich were false because ‘the construction
industries of Mexico and Germany differ greatly’.17 With wages in Mexico
low, huge numbers of labourers were set to work on the construction project
ensuring that the facilities at Cuemanco were ready for the trial regatta in
October 1967.18 As Ram´ırez Vazquez later underlined: ‘German engineers ´
said that if they had 2000 workers, they could build the rowing lanes at
Cuemanco in two years. We did it in eight months, using local labourers’
(Alvarez del Villar, 1968). The point to be taken from this example is not ´
so much that the Mexicans did produce the goods on time, but that in the
years leading up to the Games few beyond Mexico were willing to accept the
reassurance of the Organising Committee.
Yet the question of Mexican competence went much deeper than that of
leadership. In March 1967, an article in the Auckland Star quoted a US citizen
living in Mexico who maintained that the Olympic Games were ‘doomed and
destined to be a dismal failure’.While the credentials of the ‘special correspondent’ and the veracity of these claims were immediately challenged, the article
contributed towards the generally pessimistic assessment of the Mexicans’
ability to deliver.19 In a more sinister vein, an article by Siegfried Kogelfranz
in Der Spiegel in early 1968 caused an outcry in Mexico (El Nacional, 1968;
Zea, 1968). Drawing on themes reminiscent of Social Darwinism, Kogelfranz
Brundage dated 9 January 1967 in IOC/HA: Brundage Microfilm Collection, reel 102,
box 178.
16 IOC/HA: P. V. Sessions 1964–1966, CIO session in Madrid 6–9 October 1965, 9;
IOC/HA: file 0100624, correspondence COJO 1963–1967. Letter dated 7 December
1966 from Keller to Brundage complaining about lack of preparation for rowing lanes
and suggesting a switch of country for the trial regatta to be held in October 1967.
17 IOC/HA: Brundage Microfilm Collection, reel 101, box 178. Letter from Ram´ırez
Vazquez to Keller dated 22 December 1966. ´
18 IOC/HA: file 0100624, correspondence COJO 1963–1967. Letter dated 28 November
1966 from Brundage to Ram´ırez Vazquez; see also Casellas, 1992: 29. ´
19 AGN, COJO: Caja 403, 154. Letter dated 21 April 1967 from Charles Guptill discussing
this article.
32 Claire Brewster
referred to the mixed race of Mexicans and questioned both their capacity
to organise the Games and their ability to win medals. While Mexicans
dismissed Kogelfranz as a racist, his comments struck a raw nerve. Thirty
years earlier, Mexico’s own sports administrators had pointed enviously
towards the widespread enthusiasm for sports in Western Europe (including
Germany) and concluded that only by embracing such an ethos would Mexicans develop the necessary characteristics to improve their racial stock and
thus help the country to advance.20 That such racial inadequacies were still
being identified in 1968 would have done little to quell Mexican self-doubts.
Mexico ’68: National Celebrations and Concerns
As the reaction to Kogelfranz’s article indicates, scepticism about Mexico’s
ability to stage a successful Olympic Games was not confined to foreign
observers. Winning the bid to host the Olympics was a massive coup, but it
was also a tremendous challenge for Mexico to prove that it was as advanced
as the elite believed or, perhaps more accurately, wanted others to believe
their country to be. For them, Mexico was on the brink of obtaining First
World status and was hence fully capable of competing with the Western
world on equal terms. During Mexico’s so-called ‘economic miracle’ years of
the 1940–1960s, industrialisation had taken place largely funded by revenue
from Mexican oil and huge US investment. But it created an unequal society:
Mexico was, and remains, a polarised society of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
While the Mexican elite may have had confidence in themselves, from the
time that Mexico City won the bid to host the Games, the Mexican elite
displayed a distinct lack of trust and confidence in their countrymen.
On hearing the news of its successful bid, theMexican nation as a whole was
nonetheless euphoric. The national press reflected this joy. Journalist Alejandro Campos Bravo declared that staging the Olympics, ‘confirms, yet again,
the international prestige of our country’. He directly cited President Lopez ´
Mateos, who underlined: ‘It is world recognition of the effort of the Mexican
people, … in having elevated its international position not only on the sports
field, but also through its economic and political stability.’ To this a delighted
Minister of Internal Affairs, Gustavo D´ıaz Ordaz added: ‘Mexico is going to
be a great amphitheatre for sportspeople throughout the world. … It will be
a magnificent testing ground for Mexico. The campaign will be important for
both tourism and the economy.’ Campos Bravo’s article also included supporting sentiments from other leading figures in the political and economic
20 AGN: Lazaro C ´ ardenas 532.2/1. Document dated September 1935. See details of the ´
speech made by Senator David Ayala.
Changing Impressions of Mexico 33
spheres, all of whom expressed their pride and underlined the economic benefits of staging the Games (Campos Bravo, 1963). Yet beneath such jubilation
was the very real fear in some sectors of Mexican elite society that with the
eyes of the world upon them, the behaviour of some of their compatriots
would reveal Mexico’s aspirations to First World status to be fraudulent.
Preparations for the Games were also adversely affected by the fact that
there was a presidential election in Mexico within a year of securing the
bid, an occurrence that traditionally instigates a change of personnel at most
levels of bureaucracy. Reflecting on the events in an interview published
in Detroit News in January 1965, the executive secretary of the USOC, Art
Lentz, cast serious doubts over Mexico City’s readiness to stage the Games.
Referring to the election of the incumbent president, Gustavo D´ıaz Ordaz,
Lentz warned: ‘The problem this time, like it is so often when you try to count
on Latin-American countries, is a shift in the government. Mexico has a new
president and from what we can gather, the guy who was promoting the
Olympics in Mexico, Gen. Jose Clark Flores, is now out in left field someplace ´
and things are really messed up.’21
Initially, however, the change of presidency did not unduly affect
the Organising Committee. In recognition of Lopez Mateos’s personal ´
commitment to the project, President D´ıaz Ordaz appointed him as chairman
of the Organising Committee in June 1965. Yet in November 1966, Lopez ´
Mateos was forced to step down because of ill-health and D´ıaz Ordaz
appointed Pedro Ram´ırez Vazquez to replace him. In many respects, this was ´
a logical appointment as Ram´ırez Vazquez, an architect of world renown, had ´
held the position of vice-chairman of the committee with responsibility for
overseeing construction projects. His expertise had already led to numerous
prestigious new building projects around the world. As Lentz had predicted,
and much to Brundage’s chagrin, there was no place for Clark Flores in the
new-look Organising Committee. In a telephone conversation with Marte
Gomez, Brundage voiced his anxieties reg ´ arding the turn of events, privately
describing the departure of Clark Flores as ‘a catastrophe for Mexican sport’.22
But in public, in the interests of presenting a calm facade perhaps, Brundage
bowed to the inevitable and endorsed the change of leadership to the IOC as
follows: ‘Architect Ram´ırez Vazquez has an international reputation and is an ´
excellent organiser. We can expect that the facilities will be adapted and ready
21 IOC/HA: Brundage Microfilm Collection, reel 102, box 178. Letter from Brundage to
Flores Clark dated 20 January 1965 enclosing copy of Lentz’s article.
22 IOC/HA: Brundage Microfilm Collection, reel 131, box 52, 1, Clarke Flores, Gen. Jose´
de C; details of telephone call from Brundage to Gomez quoted in letter dated 25 ´
October 1966, from Gomez to Cristina M ´ ujica, secretary and translator for Brundage. ´
34 Claire Brewster
in time’.23 Having chosen Mexico City to host the Games, the IOC had to
adhere to its decision and give its full backing to the Organising Committee.
The Public Image of Mexico ’68
The Organising Committee, now led by Pedro Ram´ırez Vazquez, comprised ´
a microcosm of elite society who paradoxically liaised with foreign experts
in a project that was designed to portray the ‘true’ face of Mexico and its
people; a face that had fundamentally elitist features. One of the underlying
principles guiding the Organising Committee was that the Olympic Games
should present a positive, lasting impression of Mexico. Yet precisely what
image of Mexico should this be? One that emphasised its indigenous roots; its
rich colonial heritage; or the confident, modern nation that Ram´ırez Vazquez ´
and his colleagues wanted to promote?
The logo for the 1968 Games perhaps offers the best and certainly the most
fitting symbol of the vision of Mexico that the Organising Committee intended
to promote. Ram´ırez Vazquez decided that the emblem needed to represent ´
a combination of past and present. He singled out the pre-Columbian artistic
designs of the Huichol ethnic group for particular attention (Figs. 1 and 2).
Its stark black and white patterns engage directly with the Op Art movement
that was sweeping across the Western World during the late 1960s. The
concentric lines were harnessed by the Organising Committee and became
the internationally-recognised logo ‘Mexico 68’. It is made clear in the Official
Report of the Organising Committee that this symbol was also deliberately
intended to be a visual portrayal of the country’s successful integration of
its ethnic past to the modern world (Ram´ırez Vazquez, 2001). ´ 24 Yet as far
as Ram´ırez Vazquez was concerned, there were strict limits to the extent to ´
which Mexico should be seen to be drawing on its history. The remodelling
or the construction of the various sports installations made no concessions
whatsoever to the pre-Columbian or colonial past. In inviting tenders for the
designs of the new stadia, he emphasised the need for innovation, creativity,
and, conscious of possible criticism, economy.
From the outset, the underlying tenor of official messages was that the
Games would add to the Mexican treasury rather than drain it. In his first
annual presidential report after the Olympics, D´ıaz Ordaz emphasised that
the overwhelming majority of the 2.2 billion Mexican pesos of government
investment in the Games had been spent within Mexico and, hence, ploughed
23 AGN, COJO: Caja 401, ‘Comite Ol ´ ´ımpico Internacional’, Letter from Brundage to all
members of the IOC and National Olympic Committees dated 22 November 1966.
24 See also, Rivera Conde (1999).
Changing Impressions of Mexico 35
Figure 1. Huichol Artistic Design
Source: AGN COJO (unnumbered box). Official Report of the Organising Committee of the XIX
back into the domestic economy for the benefit of all citizens (D´ıaz Ordaz,
1969). Evidence of economic constraint can be seen in the decision to use
existing stadia wherever possible rather than embark on an unnecessary
construction programme. For example, the National Stadium situated within
Mexico City’s university campus, built in the early 1950s, was chosen to hold
the athletics competitions. The facilities were updated and for the first time
36 Claire Brewster
Figure 2. Logo of the 1968 Olympic Games
Source: IOC/HA Official Report of the Organising Committee of the XIX Olympiad.
in Olympic history, a Tartan synthetic track was laid. Mexico City’s Aztec
stadium, designed by Ram´ırez Vazquez, in which the football matches would ´
be played had already been under construction when Mexico City won the
Olympic bid and was inaugurated in May 1966. The new buildings that had
to be constructed were deliberately modern in design. For example, the sports
palace in which the basketball competitions were held was constructed with
an inventive use of steel and concrete (Fig. 3). The competitors’ apartments
in the Olympic Village were based on contemporary designs used in Europe
(Fig. 4). In the interests of recovering some of the costs, after the Games these
were converted into residential complexes and sold on the open market.
The project for Mexico ’68, then, was well defined: to forge a lasting
impression that Mexico was a modern progressive country that was
comfortable with its past. In May 1968, the Organising Committee’s public
relations director, Roberto Casellas, underlined this imperative in an address
to the British/Mexican Society:
Changing Impressions of Mexico 37
Figure 3. Palacio de Deportes (Sports Palace), Mexico City
Source: Author’s photograph.
Figure 4. Competitors’ Apartments in the Olympic Village, Mexico City
Source: Author’s photograph.
On this occasion [the Olympic Games] Mexico wishes to show its true
image to the world. We want to do away with the picture of the Indian
sleeping his eternal ‘siesta’, and with the dramatic representation of a
country plagued by revolutions. While both of these images may have
been representative of Mexico’s past, they are no longer true in the
present. We want to make known our progress in the fields of science
and technology. We want to show the inspired works of our artists, the
38 Claire Brewster
charm of our cities, the great natural beauty of our countryside and our
achievements in modern architecture.25
This quote amply illustrates Mexico’s preoccupation with correcting its
international image and that the Organising Committee was on a mission
to change forever the negative stereotype. Hence, as illustrated in Keith
Brewster’s chapter in this volume, the beautification of the capital city would
include the removal from sight of any elements of society that were deemed to
be undesirable, and the Mexican government sponsored public information
campaigns to teach basic standards of civility and decency to Mexican citizens.
Mexico also intended to use the 1968 Olympics to underline its position
within the Spanish-speaking world. As Ram´ırez Vazquez pointed out in 1967: ´
Our responsibility in hosting the Olympic Games is one we share with
Latin America and the entire Spanish-speaking world, because we know
that the rest of the world will judge the Spanish-speaking world by how
the Olympic Games proceed. But with the full cooperation that we are
receiving from all Mexicans, we are confident that we will be able to meet
our great responsibility.26
In June 1968, a series of 100 ‘radio chats’ was broadcast throughout the
continent with the explanation:
Mexico’s commitment is, in reality, a commitment made by all countries
who speak Spanish, especially those in Latin America. That’s why the
committee wants as many Americans as possible to give a demonstration
of what they can do through Mexico. Hence, the Olympic committee
wants American radio stations to take a few minutes to inform their
listeners about what’s happening in Mexico and thus to show the
organising efficiency and capacity of Latin Americans.27
It is clear both from Ram´ırez Vazquez’s words and the opening address of the ´
radio series that Mexico was using the Olympic Games to assume the role of
leader of the Spanish-speaking world. Such an attitude had extra significance
because at that time Mexico had no diplomatic relations with Franco’s Spain
and had offered asylum to many Spanish refugees, including the Republican
25 AGN, COJO: Caja 403, 154, tomo IV, 14 May 1968. Roberto Casellas to the
British/Mexican Society.
26 AGN, COJO: Caja 300, 40, Co-presidencia. See text of speech by Ram´ırez Vazquez to ´
the Society of Architects, 15 November 1967.
27 AGN, COJO: Caja 403, Charlas Radiofonicas, Nos 1–104. ‘American’ in this sense ´
refers to all countries of the American continent.
Changing Impressions of Mexico 39
government (Ram´ırez Vazquez, 2001). ´ 28 A dominant theme in the radio
series was the fraternity among Latin American countries, a brotherhood that
the Mexican Ministry of Sport reinforced by offering training facilities and
financial support to help less wealthy Central American countries prepare
and compete in the Games.29 In keeping with its promotion of the Spanish
language, after the Games a Mexican delegation proposed (without success)
that Spanish should be adopted as the third official IOC language.
Another way in which the Mexican Organising Committee carved out an
international identity for itself was by using the Olympic Games to underline
Mexico’s foreign policy of neutrality and non-intervention. During a period
in which the Cold War conflict was affecting all corners of the globe, the
Organising Committee chose reconciliation as the theme for the Games. The
white dove of peace appeared on all official publications. These were to be
the ‘Peaceful Games’ and the Mexican national congress passed a motion
that 1968 would be designated the ‘Year of Peace’.30 As the chapters by John
Rodda, Chris Harris, Ryan Long and Hazel Marsh in this book reveal, the
students of Mexico City would experience the bitter irony of this slogan (see
also Hellman, 1983 and C. Brewster, 2005: 35-68).
There are several possible motives for Mexico wanting to make the most
of its non-aligned, international position. At face value, it made sense to
emphasise the Olympic Charter’s apolitical ethos within a context of global
conflict. Beyond this symbolic message, however, was the very practical
aspect that the Organising Committee wished to avoid any chance of the
Mexico City Games being marred by the Cold War. The emphasis on peaceful
coexistence also spoke directly to the nations of the Non-aligned Movement,
the majority of which were from developing and Third World countries. This
was particularly important because following the wave of de-colonisation,
the 1968 Games were the first to which many of the newly formed African
nations were invited. Ironically, this aspect of international politics forced
the Mexicans to abandon their role as welcoming hosts when the inclusion of
South Africa threatened to instigate a widespread boycott by other African
nations. Faced with this situation, President D´ıaz Ordaz added considerable
28 The cooperation of the Spanish Republican government in exile proved to be crucial
in averting an awkward issue concerning Spain’s participation in the Games and the
possible hostile reception by the Mexican public. In the event a team from Spain
did attend the Games and suffered no adverse consequences. See correspondence
betweeen the Spanish delegation, the IOC and Ram´ırez Vazquez in late 1967: AGN, ´
COJO: Caja 403, 152, tomo III, Control of Installations.
29 AGN, COJO: Caja 142, 39–200. See details of interview between Ram´ırez Vazquez ´
and Julio A. Millan of La Prensa Grafica ´ of El Salvador.
30 Carlos Armando, ‘A la Comision de Relaciones Exteriores’, ´ Diario de los Debates, ano I ˜
tomo, 27 December, 6.
40 Claire Brewster
weight to the Mexican Organising Committee’s demand that the invitation
to South Africa be withdrawn.
Given its lack of experience on the world stage, it is perhaps surprising that
Mexico chose to make such a determined stand. It was certainly a high-risk
strategy by Mexico, as almost all Western countries were adamant that the
Olympic Charter demanded South Africa’s right to participate. As Douglas
Booth points out, during the 1960s, South Africa relied on its old ties with
white-dominated international sports bodies to support its stance regarding
racial segregation (Booth, 2003: 477–493). The IOC was no exception and
displayed considerable support for South Africa. After a long debate, it was
eventually agreed that the IOC would withdraw South Africa’s invitation
because of ‘the international climate’.31 The wording deliberately avoided
any direct reference to apartheid. South Africa’s exclusion from the 1968
Games averted a major catastrophe for the Mexican organisers, and probably
for the Olympic Movement itself.32
Mexico’s unwavering stance and its intense lobbying in support of South
Africa’s exclusion lent much credence to its image as a defender of the
dignity of Third World countries. Yet was this sufficient reward for the
Mexicans to have gambled so much by supporting the nascent African
nations? One reason may well have been a genuine sympathy with their
situation. The Mexican government portrayed its own revolution (1910–1917)
as a movement through which the country had banished all forms of colonial
racism; hence it would not want to be seen to condone such attitudes
elsewhere. More pragmatically, if up to 32 African nations had boycotted
their first Olympic Games, it would have been a considerable blow to Mexico
City’s reputation as a host (Excelsior ´ , 27 February, 1968b, El Nacional, 29
February, 1968a).33
A more speculative reason for Mexico’s defiant attitude relates to the
thoughts of Octavio Paz, that Mexicans believed themselves to be inferior to
other races. In his assessment of pachuquismo (Mexicans who had settled in
the United States), Paz noted that although ‘they have lived in the [United
States] for many years, wearing the same clothes, speaking the same language
as the other inhabitants, … they feel ashamed of their origins…. They act
like persons who are wearing disguises, who are afraid of a stranger’s look
31 For an overview of the debate, see: Quick (1990).
32 IOC/HA: Commission Executive 1968. See minutes of Executive Board meeting dated
20–21 April 1968. It is not possible to ascertain how influential Brundage’s Mexican
secretary, Cristina Mujica, was in making him take a more conciliatory posture ´
regarding the Organising Committee’s pleas. Casellas suggests that her influence may
have been crucial (Casellas, 1992: 144).
33 See reaction to the vote on 26 February 1968, by the African Supreme Sports Council
to boycott the Games.
Changing Impressions of Mexico 41
because it could strip them and leave them stark naked’ (Paz, 1961: 5). While
Paz may not have included himself among such people, his findings help to
explain the paradox facing Mexican society after being awarded the Olympic
Games. Despite the genuine wish by the organisers to host a major world
sporting event, the fear that some of their compatriots would be exposed as
somehow lacking when under the critical glare of close foreign scrutiny was
never far from the surface. The need to prove themselves on the international
arena weighed heavily on the Mexican elite. Mexicans had already blamed
the failure of their 1956 Games bid on an ‘English-speaking’ voting bloc. In
addition, as criticisms of Mexico City’s preparations increased in the Western
media, US officials had suggested that one of their cities would be ready
to take over the hosting of the Games if it proved to be ‘too much’ for the
Mexicans. The United States had joined other English-speaking delegates to
demand South Africa’s inclusion in the 1968 Games. As the nations of the IOC
marshalled their forces on either side of the apartheid issue, Mexican pride
perhaps took over and the Organising Committee determined that it would
not allow Mexico’s Games to be hijacked by international heavy-weights
(Ram´ırez Vazquez, 2001). ´ 34 If this supposition is correct, Mexico’s hosting
of the 1968 Games can be seen to have a sub-plot: to defend the dignity of
nations from the developing and Third World and by doing so to attempt to
uphold Mexico’s credibility.
This same philosophy of championing nations from the developing world
can be seen in Mexico’s decision to resurrect the Cultural Olympics: a yearlong programme of events that were designed to emphasise the rich cultural
heritage that each country could offer through its ancient and contemporary
folklore. It is fair to acknowledge that the Cultural Olympiad did indeed
provide a celebration of the world’s diverse traditions of art, music and
dance, and its technological and scientific achievements. The full extent
of the cultural programme fills a complete volume of the Official Report
of the Organising Committee of the XIX Olympiad (see Mexican Organising
Committee, 1969: Vol. IV). In fact, Mexico’s plans soon became so extensive
that some IOC members began to doubt the wisdom of re-introducing this
element to the Games. Ignoring the non-competitive dimension that the
Mexicans so emphatically stressed, the president of the British Olympic
Association, Alexander Duncan, expressed fears that the programme would
turn into a mini-Olympics in which each country tried to outshine the rest.35
34 In this important matter, Latin American countries showed their fraternity by rallying
to Mexico’s position.
35 IOC/HA, file 0100677, Correspondence 1965–1971. Letters between Duncan and
Johann Westerhoff, Secretary General of the IOC dated 15 July 1968 and 19 July 1968.
42 Claire Brewster
Even Brundage, who had initially been a keen supporter of the cultural
events, admitted, ‘Mexico is going a little too far’.36
The Cultural Olympics was clearly an extensive undertaking, but Ram´ırez
Vazquez defended its resurrection precisely because so many poorer nations ´
would be attending the Mexico Games. Unlikely to win many medals
because of their inferior training facilities, he maintained that each and
every competing country, no matter how impoverished, would be able
to make a valuable contribution through its unique, rich cultural heritage
(Ram´ırez Vazquez, 2001). These worthy aims should not be dismissed and, ´
indeed, it is clear that such aspects were an integral part of Mexico’s overall
plan to highlight the achievements of the smaller nations of the world. Yet
the emphasis on culture may also have been a defence mechanism that
reflected Mexico’s own position in the sporting world. One of the major
domestic criticisms levelled at Mexico after it had won the bid to stage the
Games was that its national team would be ridiculed when competing against
the sporting world’s elite. So worried were Mexican sports administrators
that they made excuses for the poor showing expected of their athletes
before the Games.37 This was a realistic prediction; after all, Mexicans had
hardly distinguished themselves at previous Olympic meetings. So weak
had been their performance at the 1948 London Olympics that one Mexican
politician had offered the explanation, ‘Mexicans are not athletes, they’re
poets’ (Velasco Polo, 1978). Similarly, after the 1964 Tokyo Games, officials
rationalised Mexico’s meagre performance by suggesting that the republic
was ‘a nation of artists’ rather than sportsmen and women (Siempre, 1964).
Hence, the realisation that Mexicans might not win many medals but could
‘do culture well’ was, in itself, a valid reason for resurrecting the Cultural
Olympics. Moreover, it would be of great financial benefit to the tourist trade
as the Cultural Olympics took place throughout 1968, rather than the two
weeks of sporting competitions.
36 IOC/HA, file 0100624, Correspondence COJO 1963–1967. Letter from Brundage to
Lord David Killanin dated 17 July 1967. This largely accounts for the scaling-down of
overseas contributions to the Munich Cultural Programme and its concentration upon
diverse aspects of German culture.
37 El Universal, 20 March 1965 reports on the findings of the trainer Bud Winter, who
blamed an inadequate diet and a consequent weak physical condition for Mexico’s
expected poor performance at the 68 Games. AGN, COJO: Caja 401, 18 December 1967.
A report given by Dr Josue Saenz, the president of the Mexican Olympic Committee, ´
underlined that Mexicans were ‘not a strong race’.
Changing Impressions of Mexico 43
Mexico ’68 – The Test
When asked what he felt had been the main failures of the 1968 Olympic
Games, Ram´ırez Vazquez highlighted just two areas: inadequacies in ´
transport had led to delays in getting the public away from events; and
technical difficulties had prevented results from being transmitted to the
foreign press as quickly as he would have liked (Suarez, 1968). After the ´
Closing Ceremony, Brundage, in keeping with Olympic tradition, declared
the Mexico City Games to have been the ‘best ever’; and it should be said that
there were few dissenters. There were neither any further student protests,
nor brutal acts of repression by government forces for the duration of the
Games. Moreover, contrary to all expectations Mexico won nine medals (three
gold, three silver and three bronze) and was by far the most successful Latin
American country at the XIX Olympiad.
In contrast to the dire predictions of Mexico’s inability to stage a successful
Games criticism of Mexico was far more muted afterwards. Peter Wilson
of the Daily Mirror drew attention to the lack of organisation and reflected
that, ‘Mexico, despite colour and exuberance and a determination to prove
that it had truly come of age, was not properly geared up to staging this
modern unwieldy extravaganza of sport’.38 An article in The Honolulu Star on
22 October 1968 noted that things were going badly in Mexico, and predicted
that the student riots would resume once the Games had finished. It stressed
that there were many reasons for Mexico’s failure; primarily that it could not
afford the expense. It pointed out that foreign visitors were unimpressed by
what they had seen and that the anticipated boost in tourist trade would not
happen. It underlined the economic disparity between the high-tech facilities
for the athletes, and the dirt tracks and decrepit transport that most Mexicans
had to endure.39
Not all foreign reporters were so disparaging. One Spanish publication
refuted each of the previous criticisms of Mexico in turn. First, it pointed out
that concerning the one aspect that was beyond the Mexicans’ control – the
high altitude – they had done all they could to ease the problem by laying
on successive competitions in the years leading up the Games to enable
athletes and trainers to analyse the effects of the thin air. Regarding the
threatened African boycott, the article praised the Organising Committee’s
swift actions in pressuring the IOC to resolve the issue. In respect to the
38 The comments of both reporters were highlighted by an unidentified US newspaper.
IOC/HA: Brundage Microfilm Collection, reel 102, box 177: US Press Clippings.
39 AGN, COJO: Caja 403, 154, tomo V, Relaciones Publicas – copy of article dated 22 ´
October 1968.
44 Claire Brewster
African-American podium protest, the article stated that although the general feeling was that it had not been the right thing to do, the Mexican
press had refrained from criticising the athletes and had treated the affair
with understanding and respect. Most significantly, the article argued that
despite the many fears voiced concerning Mexico’s ability to stage the event,
the organisation had been excellent and that not one sporting event had
been delayed because of any lapse in administration.40 J. L. Manning of
the Daily Mail was equally encouraging, concluding ‘the Games overcame
unprecedented problems of size, numbers, organisation and competition.
They defeated continuous political onslaught and withstood cruel defamation. That must be considered a remarkable success for Mexico and the
Conclusion: A Transformation of Mexico’s International Image?
In considering the choice of venue for the 1968 Games, a good case can
be made for arguing that the decision of IOC members in Baden-Baden to
endorse Mexico City was both logical and supportive of a new climate of
inclusion within the Olympic Movement. Questions may have been raised
about the wisdom of staging the Games in a developing country, but if
this step were not taken then the Olympics would be destined to remain
in the First World in perpetuity. As one of Latin America’s strongest and
most stable countries, Mexico was a fitting destination for facilitating the
IOC’s step into the unknown. Yet, as has been illustrated, there is sufficient
circumstantial evidence to propose that the success of Mexico City’s bid was
more to do with global and regional politics than with Third World solidarity
or Mexico’s deliverance from it. The level of international scepticism aimed
at Mexico immediately after the selection process implies that the developed
world was unconvinced by Mexico’s professed maturity.
Paradoxically, given the confident public announcements of the Organising
Committee and the Mexican government, many members of the Mexican elite
were still unsure where their nation really stood on the international stage.
The politicians, diplomats and international sporting officials behind the bid
frequently travelled abroad and understood the customs of the international
circuit. Yet they knew less about the culture and people of their own country.
Few of them had much experience of the lives of ‘ordinary’ Mexicans, as
40 IOC/HA: Articles de Presse 1968–1968, Notice no. 0105829. ‘Una sorpresa para
muchos: la perfecta organizacion’. ´
41 The comments were highlighted by an unidentified US newspaper. IOC/HA:
Brundage Microfilm Collection, reel 102, box 177: US Press Clippings.
Changing Impressions of Mexico 45
their paths barely crossed: they lived in exclusive neighbourhoods, had been
educated in private schools and many had never travelled on public transport.
Although such people might shrug off international stereotypes of Mexicans,
these images could not be fully dismissed from their own consciousness.
Within their protestation that Mexico had achieved modernity and prosperity
and hence should be respected internationally, lay a deeper unease concerning
the true character of the Mexican people. As Keith Brewster’s chapter
in this volume shows, the degree of international scepticism concerning
Mexico City’s suitability to host the Olympics would have direct domestic
The Mexican Organising Committee wanted to use the 1968 Games to
showcase its cultural, political and economic progress; to stand before the
world as a nation very much in development; to promote Mexico as a great
location to visit; a viable place in which to invest; a model of Latin American
achievement and stability; a champion of Third World, non-aligned countries;
the representative of the Spanish-speaking world; and, above all, a peaceful
country that was at ease with itself. That the members of the Mexican
Organising Committee were able to confound all the dire predictions made
from Baden-Baden onwards was a credit to their organisational abilities,
the support they received from political and sports authorities, and the
goodwill of their own countrymen. In an effort to make sure that Mexico’s
international image not only remained untarnished but actually improved as
a result of hosting the Games, the Organising Committee deployed everything
at its disposal to stage-manage all aspects. Mexico had made considerable
advances in the twentieth century. Certain sectors of society could, with
some truthfulness, claim to have achieved First World status. Provided one
did not dig too deeply, Mexico could claim to be a country that enjoyed
good race relations; especially when compared to its Northern neighbour.
Mexico City undoubtedly put on a good show for the duration of the Olympic
Games. International impressions of Mexico did change, albeit only while
the Olympic flame was burning in the national stadium. But as John Rodda
has testified, the brutal suppression of the Student Movement revealed that
the portrayal of Mexico as a peaceful country at ease with itself was nothing
more than a thin veneer.
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Teaching Mexicans How to Behave:
Public Education on the Eve of the
Newcastle University, UK
The imperative for Mexicans to put on a good show was at the heart of all
policy decisions regarding Mexico City’s preparations for the 1968 Olympics.
Yet as is noted in Claire Brewster’s chapter, the degree of international
surprise following Mexico’s success at Baden-Baden was swiftly matched by
international scepticism over the city’s ability to stage a successful Games. At
its most optimistic, the Mexican response to such misgivings was a bullish
confirmation that its efficient hosting of the Games would leave no doubt that
Mexico was well on the way to accomplishing its transition to a First World,
modern country. This chapter explores the notion that, simultaneously,
a more pessimistic sentiment took hold that provoked Mexico’s elite to
question whether the image of modernity that they had created could actually
withstand close scrutiny. If it could not, the imperative would be to shore it
up sufficiently to prevail during the two weeks of international competition
and, thereby, to save Mexico’s face on the international stage.
In analysing the ways in which Mexico sought to sustain its positive
image, it is vital to understand the dynamics within Mexican society. This
chapter suggests that despite decades of social reforms, the Mexican elite had
fundamental doubts about the capacity of their ‘socially inferior’ compatriots
to uphold an image of modernity and sophistication. By sustaining this
argument, I revisit a recent historiography of post-revolutionary Mexico that
generally accepts that an ongoing process of negotiation and compromise
between the state and nation over the fundamental issues of nationhood and
national inclusion produced a relatively stable and unified Mexican society.
While I do not call into question the existence of such processes nor query the
consequences for society that are ascribed to them, I argue that the current
emphasis on bottom-up perspectives has had the effect of deflecting attention
from the concerns of the very group that initiated the process of state – nation
dialogue; namely the Mexican elite.
Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics 47
What I intend to offer in this chapter, therefore, is a close analysis of the
elite project to stage a successful Olympic Games in order to obtain a better
impression of how members of the elite viewed their compatriots in 1968.
After more than 40 years of socio-cultural reforms that had been designed
to incorporate all Mexicans beneath the civilising, unifying umbrella of
patriotism, to what extent did elite actions in 1968 portray a measure
of confidence in the success of these projects? Obtaining an insight into
the psyche of the Mexican elite is notoriously difficult because patriotism
demanded that all official rhetoric needed to underline the success of the
Revolution in creating a unified people. Certainly all official publications
and utterances coming from the Mexican president, politicians and the
Olympic Organising Committee presented a united front in projecting
Mexican confidence in the commitment it had made to the world. It is for
this reason that I supplement more ‘traditional’ methodological approaches
with one that rarely troubles the historian, namely public broadcasting.
Specifically, I analyse a series of television propaganda films sponsored by
the Organising Committee featuring the famous Mexican comedy figure,
Cantinflas. In doing so I consider them from a historian’s perspective rather
than that of a cultural critic. This is partly because of my own training, but
mainly because any analysis devoid of historical context risks presenting
a partial, and thus potentially false, interpretation. In following a cultural
history approach, my focus is less on ‘those from below’ and more on what the
actions of their ‘superiors’ shows us about the relationship between different
social groups.
It is this underlying objective that helps to link the present focus on 1960s
Mexico to the developing social dynamics of other countries of Latin America.
The wide disparity of wealth that contributed to the Mexican elite’s sense
of isolation from its own people was (and still is) a common phenomenon
in many countries of Latin America. As Latin America’s disparagers would
swiftly rush to point out, such isolation did not result in any lack of control:
repression, electoral fraud, corruption, and patronage were tools commonly
deployed to steer a country in the desired direction. The use of culture, in this
case the humour of Cantinflas, offered an alternative, more subtle, option.
While recent historiographical trends suggest that the potential of cultural
politics is now firmly in our sights, the analysis that follows aims to expose
how rich, and sometimes quirky, this potential can be.
An ‘Age-old Humility’
As Claire Brewster points out in this volume, Octavio Paz was the Mexican
who most famously commented on Mexico’s sense of inferiority in its relations
48 Keith Brewster
with the rest of the world. For the purposes of the present chapter, it is
fruitful to dwell on his belief that Mexico’s peculiar history has meant that it
lacks confidence in its own roots. He suggests that being dominated by the
descendents of European colonisers, Mexicans have found it hard to embrace
origin narratives that are rooted in pre-Columbian history. Simultaneously,
the nationalistic political rhetoric of post-revolutionary Mexico has made it
equally difficult to embrace its Spanish colonial ties. As such, Mexicans have
engaged in a constant search for a definition of what it means to be Mexican,
borrowing foreign cultural values and ideas in an attempt to sustain an
element of civilisation that moves beyond the country’s indigenous roots.
This lack of self-identity, Paz continues, has fostered an innate sense of
subordination in Mexico’s dealing with the rest of the world, especially the
developed nations of Western Europe and North America.
It should be noted that Paz’s notion of inferiority was written over a
decade before preparations for the Mexico Olympics began and there is scope
to suggest that this pessimistic reflection on Mexico rapidly became out of
date. In his own study of Mexico City’s preparations for the Olympic Games,
for instance, Ariel Rodr´ıguez Kuri uses a range of official publications to
argue that Mexico went into the Games as a nation that was comfortable with
its place within the international community and confident in its ability to
sustain such an image during the two-week celebration of sporting prowess
(Rodr´ıguez Kuri, 1998: 108–129). Certainly, two decades of unprecedented
economic growth had done much to support the view that Mexico was indeed
emerging from the shadows of underdevelopment and was taking its first
tentative steps towards first world status. In his study of Cantinflas, Jeffrey
Pilcher’s portrayal of Mexico and its people in the 1960s falls largely into
line with that of Rodr´ıguez Kuri. Moreover, Pilcher questions the findings
of commentators such as Samuel Ramos who, in 1967, reiterated Paz’s belief
that Mexico was still suffering under the weight of an inferiority complex in
the area of international relations (Pilcher, 2001: 39–41).
Yet the evidence to sustain this new, confident image of Mexico is far
from conclusive. As Rodr´ıguez Kuri admits, the limitations of any analysis
that uses official rhetoric for its evidence is that it is intrinsically laced
with patriotic boosterism. Pilcher refers to, but does not cite, ‘numerous’
authoritative voices that dismiss the notion of a Mexican inferiority complex
(Pilcher, 2001: 39–41). Newspaper editorials at the time Ramos was making his
observations, however, reveal that such confidence was not as embedded as
Pilcher suggests. In May 1967, for example, the editor of the daily newspaper
El Nacional published a piece entitled ‘A Mature People’ in which he referred
to the humble posture that Mexicans had previously adopted in their dealings
with the rest of the world. In suggesting that Mexicans were now coming of
age the article concluded by affirming:
Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics 49
The Olympiad will confirm to us that we are now young adults; that it
is now time to abandon our short-trousers mentality. This is not only
because the world is not as terrible as we thought, but also because we
have matured, and that it is good to make ourselves aware of this and
the responsibilities that it brings. (El Nacional, 1967)
An article in Excelsior ´ one year later followed a similar line by pointing out
that for too long, both foreigners and Mexicans had been content to designate
Mexico as under-developed:
Worse still, our patience, our terrible age-old humility, has produced an
innate lack of confidence which has meant that we automatically question
our ability to comply with the responsibilities [that staging the Games]
confers upon us (Alvarez del Villar, 1968). ´
It is highly significant that such rallying cries of reassurance were issued
at that time. A superficial reading would appear to corroborate Pilcher’s
depiction. Yet if Mexicans were so confident of their own abilities, why
was it necessary to issue such reassurances? By July 1968 most of the major
construction projects had been completed and there was little danger that
Mexico City would not be ready to host the Games. Yet this retrospective
sigh of relief gives a sense of the strains that had enveloped the nation in
the preceding years: strains that had been borne through an innate lack of
confidence. Even as Mexico prepared for the football World Cup in 1970,
President Gustavo D´ıaz Ordaz chose to reflect on how the Olympics had
confirmed Mexico’s serene self-assurance:
We have moved away from the timid provincialism that fostered an
inferiority complex; but we have not moved to the vain glory shown
by those who feel themselves to be superior to others. Mexico displays
its enthusiasm for sport in a discreet, but resolute manner (El Nacional,
Given that such comments were made well after the relatively successful
Olympic Games, the fact that D´ıaz Ordaz nonetheless felt it necessary to
refer to a past in which ‘timid provincialism’ had created a sense of ‘national
inferiority’ underlines how deeply pervasive this sentiment must have been.
I believe that this reveals a more complex outlook than has previously
been suggested. I have no doubt that the social and political elite were totally
confident in their ability to hold their own in the developed world. There is
certainly little evidence that they viewed themselves to be inferior. However,
it is far less clear-cut that the elite shared the same degree of confidence
in their compatriots. Decades of state paternalism that had, at its heart, an
50 Keith Brewster
assumption that Mexicans needed to be directed and guided meant that on the
eve of hosting the world’s premiere sporting event in Mexico, many members
of the elite were concerned that if left to their own devices, their compatriots
would fall short of the standard expected of ‘civilised’ behaviour. Ensuring
the readiness of installations for major sports events was a demanding task,
but one towards which the elite’s organisational skills could be channelled.
Ensuring the readiness of the Mexican people for such events, however, was
an entirely different proposition because much of the success of this project
was out of the hands of the elite: it demanded the cooperation of the rest
of society. There is convincing evidence to suggest that not only did such
a scenario raise considerable alarm among the elite, but that it governed
the way in which the Organising Committee prepared their country and
countrymen for the arrival of visitors.
It should be acknowledged straight away that any host of the Olympic
Games engages in an enormous amount of window dressing. In this respect,
Mexico City was no exception. As Ron Butler, a correspondent for the Seattle
Post Intelligencer, reflected:
Apart from the Olympic sites, Mexico City itself, always impressive, has
been remarkably spiffed up and polished in preparation for the Games.
New fountains and plazas have been built, baroque palaces and churches
have been restored. French and American hippies have been tossed out
of the country as public nuisances. (Butler, 1968)
Yet if one were to take the Official Report of the Organising Committee at face
value, then it was not only the physical landscape that had changed:
In the not too distant past, a great variety of peddlers, hawkers, and
pitchmen – never difficult to spot because of the large crowds they
attracted – made their living in Mexico City’s many plazas and parks.
These elusive itinerants are now only found at small town fairs and
circuses, and today people fill the plazas and parks in search of
public attractions of a different nature: plays sponsored by the National
Institute of Fine Arts, poetry readings, concerts, ballets, recitals, painting
exhibitions, and lectures – things that enrich the cultural life of Mexican
people (Mexican Organising Committee, 1969: Vol. I, 189).
The important question here is that if these changes actually had taken
place, was it through popular demand or an imposition from above? If it
was the latter, it suggests that there was still a niggling doubt that Mexicans
could measure up to the cultural sophistication the elite wished to bestow
upon them. As John Rodda’s contribution to this volume makes clear, the
‘great variety of peddlers, hawkers and pitchmen’ had not disappeared
Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics 51
because of public apathy; rather it was as a result of official attempts to rid
the cityscape of elements that did not ‘enrich the cultural life of Mexican
people’. My argument for insisting that an inferiority complex did play into
Mexico’s preparation for the Games relies on more than evidence gleaned
from national newspaper editorials. It stems from the actions of the elite as
seen through the Organising Committee; more specifically, the actions that
reached above and beyond those expected of any host city or nation when
staging an international sporting event of such prestige.
Why might the Mexican elite have felt particularly nervous about the
behaviour of their compatriots in 1968? There are several reasons, of which
the most obvious was the fact that the Olympic Games would attract the
largest influx of foreigners into Mexico City in the republic’s history. Equally
important, however, was that the state’s prerogative to guide Mexican
thoughts and actions had, for over a decade, been challenged by a rebellious
youth. While the more detailed consequences of this challenge in 1968 will
be explored in later chapters, its relevance at present is that it placed another
pressure upon those who were concerned about the type of image that
Mexico would project during the Games. Third, the portrayal of Mexico
City as a sophisticated modern metropolis had been undermined by recent
mass migration from the countryside. As observed by Oscar Lewis, with
such migration came an influx of rustic customs and practices, practices that
contradicted elite portrayals of the city and its people (Lewis, 1964). My
objective in this chapter, therefore, is to focus less on attempts to improve the
physical landscape and more on the nature of a public education campaign
that was designed to improve the human landscape.
Making Mexico Fit for Foreign Consumption
A year before the Games began, the Mexico City government passed bylaws prohibiting street selling in certain parts of the city, predominantly
tourist and sports locations. The mollifying aspect of this policy was that the
authorities aimed to find vacant stalls in existing market places for those who
were temporarily displaced by such measures.1 John Rodda’s observation
that students were still protesting against the removal of such individuals
only days before the Olympic Games began suggests that official attempts
to compensate those affected had been either inadequate or incomplete. For
those Mexicans who simply could not be taken out of sight, another approach
was adopted. Back in 1965, a report from the Confederacion Deportiva ´
1 Archivo historico del Distrito Federal (hereafter AHDF): Memoria del depto. del DF ´
(1967–1968); AHDF: Gaceta Oficial del Depto del DF. 20 October 1967.
52 Keith Brewster
Mexicana (Mexican Sports Confederation) proposed that the Organising
Committee should use all modern means of communication at its disposal
to accomplish the ‘difficult and arduous task’ of educating Mexicans to
become good hosts (Confederacion Deportiva Mexicana, 1965: 203). This task ´
would call for the combined efforts of national and local governments, sports
bodies and the Mexican Organising Committee, which deemed it necessary
to launch a huge media campaign designed ‘to establish a sense of national
responsibility’ and ‘to awaken the natural hospitality of Mexicans towards
foreign athletes and visitors’ (Estrada Nunez, 1965). ˜
Soon afterwards, newspaper articles reflected on stereotypical weaknesses
among Mexicans. In June 1966, the daily newspaper El D´ıa expressed hope
that ‘in the two years we have left before the Olympics, there will be an
intense campaign to instil within the public a sense of punctuality, so that
by the time the Games begin it will have become a habit’ (El D´ıa, 1966). At
around the same time, an editorial in El Universal suggested that although the
world might falsely believe that all Mexicans ‘leave things until tomorrow’,
it would be equally wrong to deny the fact that there is ‘much talk and little
action among us. Whether it be in construction projects, training our athletes,
or providing sufficient hotel spaces, we need to make progress now – it is a
question of honour for all Mexicans to get this right’ (El Universal, 1966).
A sense of the scale of this programme can be gleaned from local
government documents. In the final year of preparations alone, the Mexico
City authorities spent 24 million pesos renovating squares within the city.
200,000 leaflets were distributed offering advice on various aspects of being
good hosts, while 700 radio broadcasts and 144 television broadcasts pushed
the message home.2 Similar efforts were being conducted by national and
state government authorities. If, as has been suggested, Mexicans were
completely confident of their own abilities, it seems strange that so much
effort and money should have been invested in modifying their behaviour in
preparation for the influx of foreigners. In order to understand more about
this apparent contradiction, I will now focus on one particular aspect of the
Organising Committee’s own campaign. It helps to bear in mind that this
took place within the context of an unprecedented challenge to decades of
state-driven paternalism: a challenge provoked by growing concerns that new
influences (both from overseas and migration from the Mexican countryside)
were changing the social dynamics within Mexico City in ways that the
authorities could not determine.
What follows is an analysis of four two-minute television broadcasts that
were sponsored by the Mexican Organising Committee. By scrutinising the
2 AHDF: Memoria del depto. del DF (1967–1968).
Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics 53
choice of situations depicted and the demeanour of the characters involved,
these clips reveal much about persistent tensions within Mexican society.
Before doing so, it may be useful to offer a few words about the main character.
Cantinflas was one of most enduring, popular characters played by the actor
Mario Moreno. By the 1960s, a generation of Mexican cinema-goers had
grown up with comical exploits of Cantinflas. Studies on Cantinflas suggest
a common theme; one in which the pelado (a bumbling innocent) stumbles
his way through life, but with quick wit and an even quicker tongue he
nonetheless manages to point out the absurdity and pomposity of officialdom.
Cantinflas is simultaneously subversive and compliant, as he is seen to be the
critical voice of the people while never channelling such criticism in a way
that might threaten the system. Yet John Mratz suggest that by the 1960s an
important change had taken place in this public image. Cantinflas (reflecting
the politics of Moreno himself) had become more of an establishment figure,
less critical of bureaucracy and more supportive of attempts to re-establish a
sense of order in an increasingly rebellious society (Mratz, 2001: 43). Indeed,
as Pilcher points out, by the early 1960s Cantinflas’s political and professional
ambitions coincided as he appeared in an increasing numbers of films in
which his screen image represented a man who sought to uphold a nostalgic
sense of national ideology, professional probity, and social responsibility in
the face of a counterculture of non-conformity manifest in foreign imports
such as The Beatles and Che Guevara (Pilcher, 2001: 195–197). Cantinflas’s
deployment by the Organising Committee, therefore, represented a further
step along the line of conformity; espousing elite and middle-class values
from within the personification of working-class Mexico. There can be no
doubt that the spectre of the Mexican people being placed under foreign
scrutiny on an unprecedented scale meant that the frivolous, even childish
antics of the pelado needed to change. As the article in El Nacional underlined
‘it is now time to abandon our short-trousers mentality’ (El Nacional, 1967).
The broadcasts sponsored by the Organising Committee portray Cantinflas
in the guise of Patrolman 777, a character who had been given a first outing
in the film El gendarme desconocido in 1941, and one who had been revived in
another film Entrega inmediata in 1963 (Pilcher, 2001: 191). Thus, Patrolman 777
was already established in 1960s contemporary culture, but he also stimulated
nostalgia for older generations. It is certainly the case that in Patrolman 777
the Organising Committee was depicting a version of Cantinflas that no
longer exposed the absurdities of the middle classes but the failings within
the poorer classes. Almost without exception, the targets of Cantinflas’s often
pompous admonishments were to be found among the popular classes. In
54 Keith Brewster
some cases adapting scenes out of El gendarme desconocido (Pilcher, 2001: 81),3
Patrolman 777 brings into the local police station a series of characters and
situations that foreign visitors should not have to encounter during the
Olympic Games: a taxi driver who has overcharged an attractive female
tourist from the United States; hooligans caught fighting at a football match
in the Aztec stadium; a housemaid who has thrown rubbish onto the street;
and a hippy who has caused a nuisance in a tourist area. In each case, the
message was clear: Mexicans needed to modify their behaviour to create a
good impression, to present Mexico in the best possible light, and to lend
dignity to the Mexican nation.
Before going into the detail of these shorts, it is worth making a few general
comments. It is important to note that the original public education campaign
envisaged by the Organising Committee had not contained humour and
was more formal and direct, in line with the tone adopted by many official
broadcasts of that time. Pedro Ram´ırez Vazquez, president of the Organising ´
Committee, claims that he was able to persuade colleagues that humour
might be a more effective way of convincing people to accept the campaign’s
underlying messages (Ram´ırez Vazquez, 2001). ´ 4 This, in itself, shows a level of
sophistication and confidence by those devising the nature of the campaign.
They were able to move away from the straight, serious posture often
associated with Mexican officialdom to reveal a more relaxed approach. Even
so, this was nonetheless picking up on a trait within Mexican humour that
had been associated with Cantinflas for many decades. The vital difference
in these shorts is that those who were on the receiving end of Cantinflas’s
tongue were not the bureaucrats but the masses. There can be little doubt
that the result was a top-down imposition of values that exposed the nature
of elite concerns.
A second general observation is that the shorts ostensibly portrayed a
familiar social dynamic. Upon conveying various characters to the police
station, Patrolman 777 brings them before a suited bureaucrat in the form
of a police chief. The advancing age and slightly unprofessional manner
of the latter (depicted by his tendency to eat his lunch behind the public
3 Pilcher describes a scene in Gendarme Desconocido in which Patrolman 777 exudes a
breathtaking gasp of cold steel: a consequence not only of not possessing a holster for
his gun, but of having no underpants. The same scenario is included in the short of
the housemaid discussed below.
4 Original footage of the Cantinflas shorts can be viewed at the Filmoteca Nacional,
Mexico City. The degree to which Ram´ırez Vazquez can claim sole credit for this ´
more humorous approach to public education is debateable. As early as February
1965 (before he became chairman), it was reported that Cantinflas was considering
a request to become involved in the Organising Committee’s campaign. See Segura
Procelle, 1965.
Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics 55
desk) suggests that the police chief has limited abilities and, perhaps, limited
ambitions. Nonetheless, this representative of Mexican officialdom contrasts
starkly with the fast talking, scruffy Cantinflas, whose often dishevelled
appearance is obviously meant to identify with the majority of the Mexican
working class. Yet from the way that Cantinflas addresses his subjects, it is
clear that any supposed empathy is used to re-establish the state’s prerogative
to modify and correct behaviour. For a character such as Cantinflas, renowned
for sending confused messages, this takes on different meaning as he attempts
to act simultaneously as the people’s fool and the people’s teacher.
The short concerning the taxi driver overcharging a foreign tourist goes to
the heart of official concerns regarding Mexico City’s hosting of the Olympics.
As Patrolman 777 admonishes the taxi driver for trying to cheat his attractive,
young passenger, he uses comedy to reiterate the message being promoted by
the Mexico City authorities (who had launched huge campaigns designed to
ensure that all taxi drivers and bus drivers were registered and aware of their
patriotic duty to create a good impression).5 The taxi driver, suitably ashamed
of his actions, offers no defence and simply stares at the floor, submissively
accepting his reprimand. Yet even as he implores the taxi driver to be honest
so that foreigners will think of Mexicans as ‘gentlemen’, Patrolman 777 deftly
slides his hand down the tourist’s back towards her backside. Cantinflas
then deploys his famous play on words by stressing that the tourist is from
Dallas. This is an overt reference to the Mexican expression ‘da las nalgas’
which means ‘to offer oneself’ or ‘to be licentious’. The actress playing the
tourist in this short had been voted Miss California 1964 and during the
mid 1960s she appeared in several Mexican films as a sexy dumb blonde.
In broken English, Cantinflas then offers to make amends by showing her
some of the city’s sights: ‘I would like to show you the Mexico City, the
cathedral and something else if you don’t mind, eh …’. His gestures and the
obvious sexual innuendo of his parting remark confirms that machismo was
alive and well in Mexico and certainly not seen as a failing to be corrected.
Would it be too far to suggest that the short also takes a slight dig at Mexico’s
northern neighbour? In emphasising the vulnerability of a North American
visitor who is inappropriately dressed and neither speaks Spanish nor knows
Mexican ways, there may be at least a hint that the sophistication of the socalled developed world is lacking. Certainly, the compliant, smiling way in
which the young woman accepts Patrolman 777’s invitation suggests naivety
and/or promiscuity.
5 See for example AHDF: Memoria del depto. del DF (1966–1967); AHDF: Memoria del
depto. del DF (1967–1968).
56 Keith Brewster
The short concerning the arrest of hooligans at the Aztec Stadium reflects a
familiar story: legitimate passions concerning crucial decisions on the football
pitch become inflamed by excessive alcohol and lead to fighting among rival
fans. Patrolman 777 explains to his boss that as he intervened to restore order,
he was drenched by the contents of a beer glass ‘that didn’t smell of beer, jefe’.
Undeterred, the urine-soaked agent of law and order forcefully conducts the
miscreants to the police station to be punished for their unruly, uncivilised
behaviour. In reporting the facts to his superior, Patrolman 777 alludes to
an accusation made by one of the men that he had stolen money from the
accuser’s pocket. His explanation is as simple as it is feeble: believing the
pocket bulge to be a gun, Patrolman 777 had ‘confiscated’ the contents. On
finding it to have been a wad of peso notes rather than a gun, Cantinflas
defends his actions by suggesting that the hooligan could have bought a gun
with the money involved. A conspiratorial glance between Patrolman 777
and his boss suggests that few questions will be asked and that the money
will later be shared between them.
Showing a demeanour similar to that of the taxi driver, the two hooligans
offer no explanation for their behaviour. Rather they stare at the floor as they
receive a verbal onslaught from the self-righteous preserver of decency and
decorum. Patrolman 777 expresses the underlying concern ‘If this sort of thing
can happen at a local football match, what’s going to happen at the Olympic
Games?’ Such disquiet was not merely rhetorical. In 1966, the president of
the IOC, Avery Brundage, had written to the Mexican Organising Committee
sending copies of Associated Press articles reporting fighting and rowdiness
in the crowd during a boxing match in Mexico City. Brundage sought
and received assurances that such behaviour would not happen during the
Olympics.6 Within this context, the use of Cantinflas in this short can be seen
as one of the practical steps taken by the Organising Committee to ensure
that their promises to Brundage would be honoured. Yet, at another level,
the admonishment of drunken behaviour is tempered by the confiscation
of money; tacit recognition of the popular perception that Mexican police
were corrupt. As in the previous scenario where Mexican machismo was
unofficially sanctioned, in trying to mask or to rectify certain aspects of
Mexican behaviour, the creators of the shorts appeared to acknowledge that
some things were beyond their powers to change.
Concern regarding hippy culture reflected a trend that began in the 1950s
in which Mexican adolescents had begun to question the right of the state to
control their lives. This challenge found form in the adoption of alternative
6 IOC/HA: File no. 0100624, Correspondence COJO 1966. See letter dated 28 November
Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics 57
cultures (Zolov, 1999). Part of this was a direct import, manifest in the
popularity of such ‘corrosive elements’ as Elvis Presley, The Beatles and
The Rolling Stones. Yet, as Hazel Marsh explains in her chapter in this
volume, some was home-grown, as perceived by the way in which Mexican
hippies sought an affinity with rural indigenous cultures that offered a more
appealing range of values and world views. For the Mexican authorities, this
alternative youth culture represented a serious challenge to the paternalistic
pattern of the past, a challenge they viewed as imported, un-Mexican, and
that would lead to decadence and disorientation. The Cantinflas short of the
hippy illustrates all these concerns.
A hippy is brought into the police station for the apparently tame excuse
of making a nuisance of himself in the Zona Rosa, a commercial tourist
area of Mexico City. The physical appearance of the hippy reveals several
significant factors. His long curly hair and round-rimmed glasses cannot
mask the fact that he is pale-skinned. In contrast to the distinctly mestizo
characteristics of all the other miscreants previously considered, the hippy
could be taken for a foreigner or, more likely, the son of an elite family.
The hippy’s dress, too, suggests recognition of overseas fashions: his glasses
and multi-buttoned tunic are reminiscent of the attire donned by The Beatles
during this period. Drawing his boss’s attention to the youth, Patrolman 777
refers to the latter as ‘a hairy being’, evidently at a loss as to how best to
describe him. This confusion continues as Patrolman 777 reports that the
youth describes his nationality as ‘hippy’. Cantinflas proffers the thought
that he might be from the Mexican town, Jilotepec (an obvious confusion
with ‘hippy’) but that he might equally be Comanche or Chamulan. In each
case, this appears to allude to the rural, non-urban affectations of someone
who is clearly not indigenous, and who might not even be Mexican. Indeed,
the ‘hippy’ nationality suggests the influence of an imported culture and the
feared loss of Mexican identity. The other significant issue raised in this short
is Patrolman 777’s interpretation of the hippy’s attempt to give him a flower
as being a bribe. When his boss states that such a gesture was not a bribe,
Patrolman 777 assumes it to be a love token, ‘which is even worse’.
It is important to emphasise that the inclusion of this scenario with the
collection of shorts was not a response to the Mexican Student Movement.
The making of these shorts predated the movement and adds weight to
Zolov’s claim that the movement was merely the latest symptom of longstanding tension caused by a generational challenge to state paternalism.
The importance of the short is more in the way in which Patrolman 777’s
preoccupations and preconceptions reflected those shared by authorities and
parents concerning recent developments within Mexican youths. Patrolman
777 voices sympathy for the hippy and states that he believes he has the
potential to be a good Mexican citizen: ‘I want to state that deep down
58 Keith Brewster
he is a good person, but how can you see deep down when you can’t
get beyond his eyes?’ In an obvious allusion to the clouded, wayward
gaze of the drug addict, it is clear that this hippy, like so many of his
peers, seems to be intent on wasting his potential on decadent, un-Mexican
behaviour. Patrolman 777 warns his boss against getting too close to the
hippy because of the smell. For a generation of Mexicans brought up on
government campaigns that emphasised personal hygiene as an essential
aspect of civilised behaviour, the fact that this hippy evidently prefers not to
wash would not have gone unnoticed to the viewing audience. In common
with all other shorts, it concludes with a monologue from Patrolman 777
in which he berates the hippy’s demeanour and reminds him of his duty
as a Mexican in the forthcoming Olympics. Yet the hippy obviously has a
large degree of self-confidence. In stark contrast to the mestizo taxi driver
and drunken football fans, when being admonished he looks straight at
Patrolman 777. The seemingly confident manner of the youth again suggests
an educated, middle or upper-class background and can be seen as a reflection
of the growing willingness of this sector to challenge old structures of respect
and control.
As with the other shorts, the hippy episode represents a plea for decorum,
decency and respect. Perhaps more than any other, however, is the endeavour
to return Mexican youths back to a righteous path. It might be slightly
misleading to suggest that this rebellious confrontation between authority
and Mexican youths was universal. For the most part, Mexican youths, both
in Mexico City and beyond, had not embraced what authorities viewed as
the excesses of a libertine life. They remained, by and large, respectful of their
parents and diligent in their studies and work. The thing that most vexed
authorities, and indeed parents, was the example that an influential element
within Mexican youth society might set for the country’s younger generation
as a whole. For several decades, a much more desirable role model had come
in the form of youth groups such as the Pentathlon. ´ 7 A quasi-military youth
group, the Pentathlon was a common sight in patriotic celebrations. With an ´
emphasis on clean living, physical fitness and respect for the family, authority
and the flag, the Pentathlon appeared to uphold a sense of discipline and ´
worthy Mexican values. At a time when youths appeared to be rejecting the
paternalistic control of the state, the Pentathlon offered a familiar hierarchical ´
structure that would prevent them from being led astray. Its emphasis
on masculinity and physical vigour contrasted starkly with the effeminate
portrayal of hippy culture.
7 The author would like to thank the British Academy for funding the research that
informs the study of the Pentathlon. ´
Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics 59
Figure 3.1. Rebels without Helmets
Source. Pentathlon Deportivo Militar Universitario (PDMU) Archive, unidentified newspaper ´
As can be seen in the cartoon by Pamanes (Figure 3.1), the Pentathl ´ on could ´
be seen as a beacon of hope during a time when society was desperately
searching for solutions to counter the disaffection of its youth (‘Rebeldes
sin casco’ – ‘rebels without helmets’ – is an obvious allusion to the 1955 US
film, Rebel without a Cause).8 No doubt reflecting a greater debate concerning
state – youth relations and how best to curb wayward behaviour, Pamenes ´
suggests that persuasion rather than coercion would be more likely to achieve
8 PDMU Archive: unnumbered file, circa 1965. The cartoon appears with neither details
of the newspaper nor the date on which it was published. The depiction of rebellious
youths, however, reflects the rise of youth culture during the 1950s and 1960s.
60 Keith Brewster
positive results. Cantinflas’s exchange with the hippy can be seen as one more
attempt to persuade Mexican youths not to follow the ways of the ‘rebeldes
sin casco’. The events of 2 October 1968 would represent a more forceful
method of removing the role model.
The fourth short of an indigenous housemaid reprimanded for throwing
household rubbish onto the street caused great indignation when I recently
showed it to a Mexican audience. After escorting the housemaid to the police
station, Patrolman 777 admonishes her for treating the street outside her
employer’s home ‘as if it were her own pigsty’. At one level, the message
is clear: ‘don’t throw litter onto streets’ – ‘keep Mexico City tidy’. As such
this was no different from similar campaigns in Britain during this time.
However, the indignation of my Mexican audience was partly brought
on by a shared sense of embarrassment at the language used by Cantinflas.
Specifically they were shocked by the disrespectful, intrinsically racist manner
in which Patrolman 777 addresses the maid. The maid’s clothes and skin
colour combine to affirm her indigenous roots. The fact that she is seen to
close her eyes while being admonished reflects a sign of embarrassment,
awkwardness and subordination when faced by a person of authority. At one
point, Patrolman 777 refers to her as a ‘gata sicodelica’. A literal translation ´
would be ‘psychedelic cat’, a phrase commonly used in 1960s. This is one way
of interpreting it, but the demeanour and appearance of girl do not reflect this.
‘Gata’ or ‘gatita’ were (and sometimes still are) used among members of the
white, upper and middle classes to refer to servants and/or housemaids. The
full force of the meaning is not easy to express. Rather than ‘cat’, the nearest
English terms to conveying the correct sentiment might be ‘dog’ or ‘mongrel’.
Certainly it is a term of casual disrespect by one class to another. Similarly,
admonishing her for being lazy also fits a common dominant-class perception
of the so-called lower orders. ‘Sicodelica’ (psychedelic) is more problematic ´
and my thesis here is more speculative. It obviously does not refer to the maid
as psychedelic in the hippy sense. Rather it might be alluding to the maid’s
short fringe, that is out of keeping with the central-parting usually associated
with indigenous hair styles. It may, therefore, be a jibe that although she is
trying to be modern and trendy, by adopting an inappropriate culture she
can never escape the fact that she is an innocent ‘Indian’ in the big city. That
she is berated for throwing rubbish onto the street and treating it as if were
her own pigsty, overlooks the basic truth, of course, that the rubbish she
has discarded is not her own but comes from the middle-class household in
which she is employed.
Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics 61
Broader Implications
What can we make from a study of Cantinflas’s participation in the Olympic
preparations? In earlier decades the ‘lovable fool’ that Cantinflas often
played was allowed to adopt the role of people’s champion, albeit on the
understanding that his threats against the established order were frivolous,
light-hearted and restrained. Yet the years of encouraging the act of pelado
had a price to pay in the relative immaturity of the Mexican people (at least
in the eyes of the state). By the 1960s, however, the ‘lovable fool’ had become
the system’s voice; one who conveyed the message that Mexicans had to
change their ways. The impending Olympic Games gave new impetus to this
initiative. No longer could Mexican society act the pelado in the knowledge that
a paternalistic state would set them back on the right path. In October 1968,
this convenient, fundamentally domestic arrangement would be interrupted
by the close proximity of a critical foreign gaze. In these circumstances, it was
imperative that irresponsibility or unreliability were replaced by cordiality
and efficiency.
The salient messages evident in all these shorts are the need for cleanliness,
dignity, patriotism, honesty and good manners. In this respect, they are
consistent with the messages coming from other forms of communication.
Exactly how such qualities were to be instilled among the Mexican population
reflects the time-honoured system of carrot and stick. This can be seen in the
demeanour of Patrolman 777 towards the various characters. In the case of the
housemaid and the hippy, the police officer shows considerable compassion
and leniency. Rather than roughly escorting the housemaid into the station
by the arm, he guides her by the elbow. Similarly, while pointing out the
hippy’s obvious deficiencies, Cantinflas is at pains to stress his basically
good character. In addressing both characters, his tone is conciliatory and
measured. In the case of the taxi driver and drunken hooligans, however,
a much more robust approach is taken to crimes of drunkenness, violence
and dishonesty. He is much more aggressive in bringing them into the
police station and admonishing them. Indeed, his frustration with one of
the hooligans provokes him to hit out at the man. In both these cases, he
suggests that they should be fined and/or detained for their actions ‘so that
they can be taught a lesson’. The one approach suggests persuasion, the
other imposition. While it might be a slightly glib observation to make, in
clearing Mexico City’s streets of undesirables, the authorities showed both
approaches. ‘Peddlers, hawkers, and pitchmen’ were encouraged to move on
with the promise of temporary market stall locations in other parts of the
city. When protesting students showed no signs of heeding calls for rational
responsible behaviour, a much more robust and, eventually, tragic solution
was found.
62 Keith Brewster
What I believe this reveals is a fundamental lack of trust by the Mexican
elite concerning the capacity of their own people. It shows a reversion to a
form of state paternalism reminiscent of social reforms from the 1930s to 1950s
during which the ‘lower orders’ were deemed to be unclean, drunken, violent
and unpatriotic. At this time, schools, cultural brigades and other state actors
had been sent out into the provinces to wrest the wayward peasants from their
perceived superstitious and slothful ways. In their stead, lessons of personal
hygiene, suitable forms of physical activity and instructions on morality were
deemed as the most effective way of bestowing an air of urban civility on
all Mexicans.9 That such lessons were continuing to be made in the run-up
to the Mexico City Games suggests several things. Importantly, it implies
that the elite were less than confident that the decades of revolutionary
reforms had achieved their underlying objectives, and that such attempts
may count for nothing if the Mexican people were placed under international
scrutiny. Class tensions, fuelled by the inward migration of rural Mexicans to
the capital city, had underlined the considerable gaps that still lay between
different sectors of Mexican society. It exposed the fact that the elite were
deeply concerned that when the world came to Mexico, their depiction of
the country as modern and sophisticated would be exposed as fraudulent;
that instead of a refined society, foreigners would focus their attention on
the Third World squalor that was a daily reality for many of those living in
Mexico City. Above all else, it exposed an elite that were torn between two
irreconcilable emotions. Patriotism and pride demanded that they should
defend Mexican honour and contribute towards making the Olympic Games
a success. Class-driven prejudice, however, meant that they were not only
aware of derogatory foreign stereotypes of their country and its people, but
that many of them shared such views of their compatriots.
9 For fuller discussion of this thesis see K. Brewster (2004, 2005); K. Brewster and
C. Brewster (2010).
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Lyon ’68: The Games that Weren’t,
or the Intermediate Event-zone
of a Non-Olympics
Newcastle University, UK
Although the French press and French academics interested in sport have
contributed to the interest shown worldwide in the 40th anniversary of the
Mexico Olympic Games, underlining the significance of the first Olympics
held in a developing country, analysing the politics of the Black Power protests
and of the staging of the Games themselves, and celebrating the enduring
athletic achievements of competitors, 2008 also marked an important sporting
anniversary for France, namely that of the 1968 Winter Olympics held in and
around Grenoble! As the editor of this volume has demonstrated elsewhere,
the Summer Games of 1968 were staged by a country with an uncertain
national identity and about whose abilities to organise an event of this
scale there were significant doubts (C. Brewster and K. Brewster, 2006), but
France, a ‘First World’ nation in the full flush of Gaullist modernisation and
confidence only succeeded in hosting the Cinderella competition of theWinter
Games. ‘The Games that weren’t’ of Lyon ’68 show how French politics and
French attitudes towards sport undermined a bid that was doomed to failure
in Baden-Baden in 1963.
France’s Olympic Bids
France in the late 1960s was strongly marked by the Winter Olympics of 1968,
which were successfully hosted by the French provincial city of Grenoble and
the surrounding Rhone-Alpes region. National ˆ self-confidence in sport and
in general was boosted by the organisational abilities demonstrated by the
city and by the Games management, and the skier Jean-Claude Killy (now a
member of the IOC) became a national hero by winning three gold medals.
The 1968 Winter Olympics were a success story for France, illustrating the
country’s ability to be ‘la France qui gagne’ (France as Winner) on the
sports field and in the international system: President de Gaulle’s ambition
to restore French grandeur through stable domestic politics, strong foreign
64 Hugh Dauncey
policy and pride in French culture found a convenient illustration in the
Grenoble Games, as the new Fifth Republic (created in 1958) emerged from
the aftermath of bitter disengagement from Algeria and the years of political
instability suffered under the post-war Fourth Republic.1
The Rhone-Alpes region again organised the Winter Games in 1992, this ˆ
time around Albertville, and these two sporting ‘mega-events’ form a strong
thread in France’s narrative of sporting excellence during the Fifth Republic.
What is much less celebrated and well-known is obviously the French failure
to win the honour of running the 1968 Summer Olympics, Lyon’s bid being
eventually quite lowly placed in the final decisions made in 1963 at BadenBaden. The principal focus of this volume is, of course, the Mexico Games
themselves, but this present chapter hopes to provide something of a counterpoint to considerations of how and why Mexico won the right to organise
the Games and how the Games reflected and changed Mexican society and
politics. Despite the obvious contrasts between France and Mexico in the
1960s in terms of socio-economic development, standing in the international
system and even athletic/sporting prowess, the ambitions behind Lyon’s
unsuccessful campaign to host the 1968 Summer Games and the mechanisms
of the bid’s elaboration shed intriguing comparative light on why and how
cities and countries stand as candidates to stage sporting ‘mega-events’.
This chapter sets out the sporting and political complexities of what still
remains a little-known episode in France’s Olympic history, discussing the
failed bid for the 1968 Summer Games within the context of the strong (but
sometimes confused) encouragement given to sport (elite and/or mass) by
governments of the early Fifth Republic, rivalries between Lyon (France’s
second city) and the capital Paris, which also hoped to bid at one stage of the
selection process, and the contemporary infrastructure-development issues of
Lyon and the Rhone-Alpes region. What this st ˆ udy attempts to do is to throw
some light on the domestic politics of ‘Lyon ’68’, placing the unsuccessful
candidacy of France’s second city within the framework of government perspectives on sport, as well as locating these ‘official’ attitudes within the wider
field of social and cultural attitudes towards sporting activities as leisure and
competition. It is also important to understand some of the ways in which the
bid for Lyon ’68 inter-related with agendas of economic modernisation and
regional development in the rapidly changing context of France in the 1960s.2
1 De Gaulle’s famous and repeated assertion that ‘France is not herself without
Grandeur’ found expression in a wide range of policy fields during the 1960s. A
classic interpretation of the concept of ‘grandeur’ in de Gaulle’s primary field of
interest – foreign policy – is given by Cerny (1980).
2 France during the 1950s and the 1960s was undergoing a period of rapid socioeconomic modernisation aptly described by Jean Fourastie as ‘les trente glorieuses’ ´
Lyon ’68: The Games That Weren’t 65
France, the Olympics and Sports ‘Mega-Events’
The initial starting point for any analysis of Lyon’s bid to host the 1968
Summer Games has to be an understanding of France’s (special) relationship
towards the Olympics and to other sporting mega-events such as the football
World Cup. French involvement with the International Olympic movement
has of course always been strong, since the central importance of Pierre de
Coubertin in the creation of the modern Olympics in the late nineteenth
century, and France has similarly been a key player in the running of other
international sporting organisations such as the Fed´ eration Internationale de ´
Football Association (FIFA). Unlike countries such as Mexico, for example,
France exercised a founding influence on the development of international
sport, and France has thus traditionally enjoyed strong representation within
the international management structures of sport. In part because of the
privileged role played within these organisations by French personalities
and officials, from the running of Universal exhibitions to the staging of
international sporting competitions, the French state from the nineteenth
century onwards, has been keen – almost ‘exceptionally’ keen – to use the
power of world trade fairs or sports contests to showcase France, French
abilities and French values to the world community.3
Building on Coubertin’s catalysing role in the mid 1890s, which led to the
1896 Games held in Athens, it was France that staged the 1900 Olympics as
a ‘hybrid’ games held in conjunction with the famed Exposition Universelle.
In 1924, France played host to the Summer and Winter Games, organised
in Paris (interestingly enough at the expense of Lyon) and in Chamonix
(which later was involved in the 1968 Winter Games), but since this early
period, although France and French cities have repeatedly been candidates
to host the Summer Olympics, they have always lost out to competitors more
favoured by the IOC: Parisian hopes to host the 1992 Barcelona Games, the
2008 Beijing Games and, most recently and most bitterly, the 2012 London
Games have all been crushed, leaving France with only the memory of the
1924 Summer Games and the ‘consolation prizes’ of the 1968 and 1992 Winter
Games. In contrast, Britain hosted the London Summer Games of 1908 and
1948 (Dauncey, 2004, 2008) and is currently preparing the Games of 2012,
which many in France feel was ‘stolen’ from Paris by British chicanery in
(the 30 glorious years of economic growth between the end of the Second World War
and the onset of the oil crisis in the mid-1970s (Fourastie, 1979)). ´
3 The notion of French ‘exceptionalism’ is often used to describe how France either
‘does things differently’ or simply ‘is different’. Often tied to the nature of French
‘Republicanism’ or to the Gaullist desire to maintain independence of all forms in
the international system, it has recently been thought to be evolving (Chafer and
Godin, 2009).
66 Hugh Dauncey
the bidding process. French interest in the hosting of the Olympics has been
matched by her keenness to organise the football World Cup as a showcasing
of France to the world, both in 1938 (Tumblety, 2008) and in 1998 (Dauncey
and Hare, 1999), and the 2007 Rugby World Cup similarly came to France, but
repeated failure to secure the Summer Games has led to feeling that France
is unlikely to be a candidate again in the foreseeable future for the Olympics,
although in March 2009 the French Olympic Committee selected Annecy as
France’s candidate for the 2018 Winter Games.
Just as in Singapore in 2005 when Paris lost out to London 2012, the failure
of the Olympic bid by Lyon for the Games of 1968 in Baden-Baden in 1963 was
also taken badly; for a variety of reasons the Gaullist state of the new Fifth
Republic was particularly keen to harness the prestige of the Olympics and the
developmental impetus of preparations for the Games to the transformation
of French society and infrastructures. When the Winter Olympics were
awarded to Grenoble for 1968 (in January 1964 in Innsbruck) it seemed almost
a consolation prize for losing out to Mexico, and these Winter Games were
soon to be described by the then sports minister Maurice Herzog as ‘les Jeux
de la France’ (the Games of France), who was told by President de Gaulle that
he could have a billion Francs to make the event a national and international
success. However, various studies have subsequently assessed the ‘balance
sheet’ of the Grenoble Games (and, comparatively, those of Chamonix ’24
and Albertville ’92), progressively revising initial impressions and municipal,
regional and national propaganda about their success in accelerating the
development of Grenoble and its region (Terret, 1990; Arnaud and Terret,
1993; Kukawka, 1999). Were Lyon to have hosted the 1968 Games instead of
Mexico City, similar doubts might have been raised in following decades, but
the decision in Baden-Baden in 1963 came as a heavy blow both to the coalition
of decision-makers and stakeholders in Lyon itself and in government.
So, despite her early leading role in the renaissance of the Games in the
modern era, France’s relationship with the Olympics in the contemporary
period since the Second World War has been somewhat unsatisfactory. It is
perhaps an example of France’s difficulty in coming to terms with a world in
which – for all her influence – she is no longer a prime-mover of international
sporting organisations and competitions, as she was in the late nineteenth
century, and with an international system in which Europe no longer has any
unquestioned right to privilege, for example in hosting ‘mega-events’ such
as the Olympics.
Lyon ’68: National Pride, Regional Development and Sport
A key moment in France’s post-war development came ten years before
Mexico ’68, when in 1958, the ailing Fourth Republic (born in 1946) was
Lyon ’68: The Games That Weren’t 67
replaced by de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic. The new regime, with a Constitution
providing for more effective government, and ultimately the presidential
style of government that has characterised French politics since the election
of de Gaulle as President in 1965 by universal suffrage, brought a radical
transformation of the state and of French attitudes towards France’s ‘place
in the world’. Gaullism attached high importance to French ‘grandeur’ and
independence in all fields, and elite sport soon came to be seen by the new
Gaullist administration as an instrument of French national prestige. It was
as part of this new emphasis on sport as an element of French ‘grandeur’ that
Lyon’s unsuccessful rivalry with Mexico City was played out. Lyon as well
as France during the late 1950s and early 1960s was undergoing a period of
political change, as a ‘generational shift’ occurred among key personnel such
as the mayor, the prefect and the president of the regional council, facilitating
new thinking and supporting ambitions to accelerate the development of
the city and its region (Benneworth and Dauncey, forthcoming). The new
drive at the level of the state to instrumentalise elite sport in support of
national prestige coincided with new networks of new agents of governance
in Lyon that were keen to meld central-government ‘sports policy’ and
municipal/regional development.
The institutional history of French ‘sports policy’ is complex and tortuous,
as various studies attest (Callede, 2000; Chifflet, 2005), but one date is `
always prominent in any analysis of the meanderings of state interest
in sport, leisure, physical exercise, youth and health: in September 1958,
the new Gaullist government of Michel Debre created a junior ministry ´
of Haut Commissariat a la Jeunesse et aux Sports (High Commission for `
Youth and Sports), headed by the famous mountaineer, Maurice Herzog
(he conquered Annapurna in 1950, becoming a minor national hero of a
France that was lacking in confidence). Throughout the little-loved Fourth
Republic (1946–1958), state interest in sport had been somewhat dormant, as
governments had struggled with other priorities in rebuilding the economy,
decolonising France’s Empire and managing the often painful processes
of socio-cultural modernisation that accompanied the first decade or so of
France’s ‘30 glorious years’ of prosperity from 1945 to 1975. However, the
renewed preoccupation with sport of early governments of the Fifth Republic
actually continued institutional initiatives that had first appeared in 1936
under the Popular Front, when the Left had promoted sporting activities for
all, as part of a drive to provide a right and access to leisure for the working
classes. It also echoed and built upon more problematic government attitudes
and structures that had been developed by the collaborationist Vichy Regime
between 1940 and 1945, when sport and physical exercise had been harnessed
to the reactionary social and political goals – ‘Travail, Famille, Patrie’ (work,
family, homeland) – of the Etat Franc¸ais. Between the Liberation and 1958,
68 Hugh Dauncey
French sports policy remained in the doldrums, partly because government
intervention in sport was tainted by memories of Vichy, and partly because
the parlous situation of public finances during the Fourth Republic did not
really allow the significant expenditure that would have been needed. Plans
for improving the country’s sporting infrastructures within the framework
of the five-year national planning system came to nothing, as priority was
repeatedly given to education rather than sport and leisure. Any desire
governments of the Fourth Republic had to promote sport were vitiated by
these problems of finance, conflicting understandings of ‘sport’ as elite or
mass, professional or amateur, and a reticence to ‘direct’ civil society.
For sport to be taken seriously by government again, it needed the change
of regime in 1958 and a new Gaullist emphasis on sport as necessary both
for ‘le prestige de la Nation’ (national prestige) and for ‘la sante de tous’ ´
(the health of all), which attempted to resolve the elite/mass dichotomy by
suggesting that success in international competition would foster grassroots
fitness. Thus, it was only the Fourth Plan (1962–1965) – preparation for which
was ongoing as Lyon’s Olympic bid was being drawn up, and that was to
have helped lay some of the bases for Lyon ’68 – that really began to address
the needs of sport and physical education, with an ambitious programme
of infrastructure development intended to encourage mass participation in
sport and, crucially, the production of an elite group of sporting champions
who would represent France in international competition. Emphasis on elite
sport was the defining feature of thinking in the late-1950s and early-1960s
and, arguably, it has been interpretations of sport as contributing to the
‘prestige of the nation’ through success in international competitions – the
Olympics especially – that have come to dominate the French state’s attitude
towards sport during the Fifth Republic. This created much resentment
amongst those politicians of the Left and left-wing analysts of sports policy
who see the emphasis on success in medals tables as a detraction from
investment in ‘sport for all’ as leisure and health for the masses, in the
tradition of earlier French thinking on ‘education physique’ creating a fit and ´
healthy population.4 France’s bid – through Lyon – for the ’68 Games was an
instrument of national prestige through the staging of a sporting mega-event,
glory through anticipated sporting victory, and (for Lyon) the creation of
sporting infrastructures for the general public.
This ‘Olympic turn’ in French state thinking on sport appeared most
strikingly after the 1960 Rome Olympics, when the French team returned
4 The foremost French critic of the Olympics has been the sociologist Jean-Marie
Brohm, who over a period of many years has produced a number of scathing
analyses – academic and more polemical – of how the Games distort sporting activity
(see for example Brohm, 1981; Brohm, Perelman and Vassort, 2005).
Lyon ’68: The Games That Weren’t 69
home humiliated by a meagre haul of medals. In the new climate of national
pride and confidence engendered by the decisive, dynamic and active Fifth
Republic, and in the context of an ideology of ‘French grandeur’ developed by
President de Gaulle, representatives of French sport were required to perform
successfully in international competition, in contribution to the hoped-for
Gaullist ‘rayonnement’ (radiation, like the rays of the sun) of French culture
and expertise in the international system. France’s total tally in 1960 was only
five medals and not a single gold, prompting one of the most famous of all
newspaper cartoons (drawn by Jacques Faizant for the newspaper Le Figaro)
involving a sullen General de Gaulle, incongruously attired in tracksuit and
plimsolls setting off to compete himself, under the grumbling caption ‘Dans
ce pays, si je ne fais pas tout moi-meme ˆ …’ (Do I really have to do everything
myself in this country?). This satire underlined just how much the athletes and
the organisational structures in place to identify and support them seemed to
have failed the nation, or at least Gaullist interpretations of how sport could
be used to shore up France’s ‘prestige’.
The Olympic debacle of 1960 reinforced the Gaullist state in its view
that government needed to be as dirigiste (interventionist) in sport as it
was inclined to be in other fields: in 1961, a special General Delegation
responsible for preparing France’s participation in the Olympics was set
up under Colonel Marceau Crespin (Laget and Mazot, 2000: 29–32), and
Herzog’s ‘High Commission’ was – in June 1963 – transformed into a minor
ministry, administering closely the relations between the state and French
national sporting organisations in all sports (known as sports federations) in
the French model of sport as ‘service public’. Against this ideological and
organisational backdrop, the first programme-law developing sporting and
educational infrastructures invested some 600 million Francs in public and
private sports facilities between 1961 and 1965 as part of France’s Fourth
National Plan. Between 1960 and 1965, 1,000 swimming baths and 1,500
stadia and playing fields were created, and this significant investment was
continued in the second programme-law of 1966–1970 with the construction
of some 2,000 more sports grounds and 1,500 gymnasia.
It was also during the early 1960s that debate resurfaced about the need,
in Paris, for a ‘national’ sports stadium, capable of seating 100,000 spectators
and suitable for hosting the largest national and – crucially – international
competitions. This need was only finally answered during France’s
infrastructural preparation for the 1998 World Cup, with the building of
the famous ‘Stade de France’ in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris (Dauncey,
1997) as the central, capital element in the renovation of stadia across the
country (Dauncey, 1998). But the timidity with which Paris and successive
governments approached the vexed dossier of the ‘national stadium’
during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s contrasted with the overall success of
70 Hugh Dauncey
infrastructural improvements achieved in the 1960s by the state in partnership
with municipal authorities and private sports clubs (about 30–40 per cent of
costs were subsidised by central-government funding). France in the 1960s
was in full ‘modernisation’, as volontarist, dirigiste policies attempted to catch
up on the perceived failures of the Fourth Republic in adapting French socioeconomic structures to the realities of the modern world, and sport, in various
ways, but perhaps most noticeably in terms of ‘equipment’ (and discourses)
was at the forefront of the process. This, in outline, was the ‘politics of sport’
that formed the backdrop to Lyon’s ambitions to host the Games of 1968.
Maurice Roche (2000, 2006) has developed a theoretical framework for
the analysis of large-scale sporting and other festivals (what have come
to be termed, mainly following Roche, as ‘mega-events’), in other words
Trade Expos, World Cups, Olympics Games, and so on. ‘Mega-events’ have
become a focus of much study in recent years (Horne and Manzenreiter,
2006) and can help inform this study of ‘Lyon ’68’, even as a ‘failed’ bid.
Sociologically, Roche’s analysis hinges on three distinct temporal dimensions:
event core, intermediate event zone and event horizon. Analysis of the event
core involves examination of the dramatological content, that is to say, the
various ‘ritualistic and theatrical features which contribute to the charisma,
aura and popular attraction’ of the mega-event. The intermediate event zone
includes the pre- and post-event processes; for all intents and purposes, local
and national politics and national and international economics. The event
horizon investigates the long-term causes, motivations and effects of megaevents; here the focus for Roche is more generally the structural conditions
of modernity. Other chapters in this volume focus variously on different
aspects of the ‘event core’ of Mexico ’68, the ‘intermediate event zone’ of the
Games and indeed their ‘event horizon’, but here, in this analysis of how
France failed in her ambition to stage the Games, we are trying to build an
understanding of Lyon ’68 as a case-study of an ‘intermediate event-zone’,
both in terms (principally) of pre-event processes and also (although this is
work that will be developed in further publications, for example, Benneworth
and Dauncey, forthcoming) post-event changes in urban governance.5
As well as the ‘politics of sport’ during the early years of the Fifth
Republic, discussed in outline above, another crucial contextual element
of a proper understanding of the ‘pre-event processes’ of Lyon ’68 is the
5 This work uses the concepts of ‘governance capacity’ and ‘urban festivalism’ to
investigate how far and in what ways failed bids to host mega-events also impact
on the cities that elaborate them. Studies of mega-events and festivals have always
tended – quite naturally – to focus on the processes around, and results of actual
competitions, expos and other happenings, but attention paid to ‘non-events’ can also
be instructive.
Lyon ’68: The Games That Weren’t 71
relationship between Lyon and Paris. Lyon is France’s second city, vying
with Marseille for the silver medal in the French urban hierarchy. Provincial
cities in France have traditionally entertained a strained relationship with the
capital, in France’s highly-centralised, concentrated, ‘Jacobin’ administrative
and territorial system. Lyon in particular has always struggled to maintain
its identity and ‘independence’ in the face of Parisian dominance, but until
1977 at least, when President Giscard d’Estaing allowed Paris to regain
full municipal existence with a mayor, Lyon benefited from the advantage
of a strong tradition of local/regional politics, and made the most of the
advantages brought by strong mayors, often important national politicians,
who were able to defend Lyon’s interests in, and against, Paris. When the
French candidate for the 1968 Games was being chosen, Parisian ‘identity’
was thus somewhat diffuse because of the lack of an elected mayor, and
the movement to present Paris as the proposed host, although making
the most of links with central government, lacked the advantages of tight
municipal/regional definition and backing, a precise geographical identity,
and strong, experienced ‘champions’ to lobby for it. In contrast, Lyon’s
principal champion of the Olympic bid was the Radical mayor Louis Pradel,
a surprise victor in the municipal elections of 1957 and 1959, who succeeded
the extremely long-serving and nationally famous mayor Edouard Herriot,
also a radical, three-times Prime Minister in the 1920s and 1930s, and minister
under the Fourth Republic. Herriot was mayor of Lyon from 1905 until
the Second World War, then again from 1945 until his death in 1957, and
did much, during his long tenure, to attempt to develop the city’s sporting
infrastructures and traditions. Pradel, as well as having a strong interest
in sport, was ambitious to redevelop Lyon’s urban infrastructures. It was
under Herriot in the late 1940s and 1950s that the Municipal Council set
up a committee responsible for the encouragement of sporting and leisure
activities, ultimately headed by Pradel before his elevation to the mayorship
in 1957, and as early as the First World War, Herriot had used his visibility and
influence at the national level to lobby in favour of Lyon’s sporting interests.
Pierre de Coubertin visited Lyon during the First World War, inspecting its
sporting facilities in general and, particularly, the major omni-sports stadium
being built on the insistence of Herriot in the Gerland area of the city (now the
Stade Gerland of the football club Olympique Lyonnais). In what amounted
to more or less a private correspondence with Coubertin6 Herriot negotiated
that Lyon should be considered for hosting the 1920 Games (if Antwerp
should decline) or the 1924 Games (eventually awarded to Paris, after Lyon
6 Archives Municipales de Lyon, reference 1 II 0249 1, Edouard Herriott, Personal
Correspondence with P. de Coubertin.
72 Hugh Dauncey
withdrew). Thanks to Herriot’s political acumen, he was able to increase the
‘visibility’ of Lyon; Lyon’s bid for the 1968 Games was thus – as for Mexico
City – its third attempt, even though the pre-eminence of Paris (as evidenced
by the attribution of the 1924 Games to the French capital) was still obvious.
The new-found political enthusiasm at national level for sport that arose
during the very early years of the Fifth Republic provided welcome catalysing
support to initiatives that had already been put into action in Lyon during
the later 1950s under the guidance of Mayor Louis Pradel. As well as a
general encouragement given to sporting activities in the city and region, the
idea of Lyon being able to stage the Olympics centred around the building
of teams of individuals able to produce the bid itself and the building of
actual facilities. Much of the process centred around Pradel himself and his
lieutenant Tony Bertrand, whose expertise in organising large-scale sporting
events led to his involvement in a number of major competitions in the
Francophone world during the 1960s (Bertrand, 1994: 50–52). Against the
backdrop of Presidential wishes for ‘une France qui gagne’ (France as winner)
in international sporting competitions, Pradel was increasing the urban
governance capacity of Lyon through the motivational project of bidding for
the Games, and simultaneously renovating urban infrastructures of all kinds.
The link between the bid for the Olympics as a mechanism for rejuvenating
the city and its management can be seen in one of the earliest of Pradel’s
major initiatives, the holding of a large-scale ‘festival’ to celebrate Lyon’s
2,000th anniversary as a city. Held in 1958, the bi-millennial celebrations of
the founding of Lyon included a wide range of cultural and political activities
and a substantial programme of sporting events, based on the work during
the late 1940s and early 1950s of the Office municipal de la jeunesse et des
sports (initially set up in 1946, and building on some structures left by Vichy)
in favour of sport in the city and appropriate facilities. The bi-millennial
celebrations attracted many visitors to Lyon, almost as a dress-rehearsal for
future large-scale events, and the planning of the ‘festival’ required a shakeup of the procedures of the city administrators, which had suffered some
drift during the later years of Herriot’s mayoralty. Louis Pradel had been in
charge of municipal sports policy under Herriot, and on election as mayor
he appointed his collaborator and friend Bertrand to the responsibility,
and it was this central partnership that from 1958 concentrated attention
and resources on the development of sports infrastructure in the city and
surrounding region, and from about 1960, piloted most of Lyon’s Olympic
bid. With the open support of the regional prefect of the Rhone-Alpes area, ˆ
Alain Ricard (attributed with the original idea for bidding for the Games and
an example of the ‘generational shift’ in decision-makers that had occurred
in 1957–1960), and the more implicit backing (from Paris) of national High
Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Maurice Herzog (born in Lyon and
Lyon ’68: The Games That Weren’t 73
hoping to obtain a seat as a Gaullist deputy in Lyon in the 1962 legislative
elections), Pradel and Bertrand rapidly constructed a coalition of support for
the Olympic bid.
After a visit to Lyon on 27 January 1961 by Herzog that led to considerable
discussion in the Municipal Council meeting of 20 February about the city’s
ongoing preparation of a bid (Conseil Municipal, 1961) during which Pradel
was able to answer the minor concerns of a variety of critics, Lyon’s intention
to be a candidate was officially declared to the French Olympic Committee
and in turn passed on to the IOC in Lausanne, but nationally, the city’s
ambition caused some jealousy and gave rise to some scepticism. In reflection
of the steep urban and political hierarchy in France, Lyon’s bid was judged
by some in the capital as ‘pretentious’, but there seemed to be little ambition
in Paris – at least at that moment – to consider organising the Games in the
City of Light. Despite rumbling Parisian criticisms, in April 1962, a visit to
Lyon by Colonel Marceau Crespin, the influential national official appointed
to be in charge of France’s ‘Olympic preparation’, resulted in declarations
by him in support of Lyon (Vourron, 1962a), and in July, Armand Massard,
vice-president of the IOC, municipal councillor in Paris and president of the
French Olympic Committee, similarly produced an open backing of Lyon’s
ambition, enthusiastically reported in the regional newspaper Le Progres de `
Lyon, which was one of the major players in Pradel’s coalition of support for
the Games (Le Progres de Lyon ` , 1962). Massard’s endorsement of Lyon was
perhaps surprising: although he had a national responsibility for Olympic
matters in France and might thus be expected to be impartial, he nonetheless
also held elected office in Paris. In early August 1962, the head of the Paris
Municipal Council, Pierre-Christian Taittinger, announced that Paris would
also be a candidate to host the Games, thereby placing the French Olympic
Committee in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between the
rival cities (L’Equipe, 1962). In late November 1962, however – after the midmonth legislative elections in which both Taittinger in Paris and Herzog
in Lyon were involved – the Parisian candidacy disappeared as the French
Olympic Committee decided by nineteen votes to five to give Lyon the right
to represent France at Baden-Baden in October 1963, and attention began
to focus on just how Lyon’s bid could be adequately financed (Vourron,
1962b). Thus the short-lived Parisian bid reflected both long-standing issues
of centre – periphery rivalry and more short-term contingencies of party
politics and election campaigning. One of the rare studies of Lyon’s failed
bid for the 1968 Games emphasises very strongly the difficult relationship
between Lyon as France’s second city and the capital (Terret, 2004). Yet
other more general studies of the mayoral career of Louis Pradel stress
how he struggled to balance the political parties of his coalition support
and was sometimes obliged to make concessions to Gaullists at either
74 Hugh Dauncey
national or local level in order to maintain control (Sauzay, 1996, 1998).
One of Pradel’s weaknesses was his lack – in comparison with Herriot – of
experience and influence in politics at the national level, and although he
benefited from a network of contacts and ‘fixers’ who facilitated direct access
to various ministries and officials in Paris, his administration occasionally
had to make compromises to avoid antagonising Gaullists in local and central
The final details of the bid were presented to the Lyon Municipal Council
on 28 April 1963, and after a short debate, agreed with little serious opposition
(Conseil Municipal, 1963). Again, Le Progres de Lyon ` eulogised about Mayor
Pradel’s plans for rejuvenating the city (Le Progres de Lyon ` , 1963a, 1963b) but
elsewhere, minor protests were voiced. What opposition there was seemed
to surface mainly in the city’s monthly cultural news magazine, Resonances ´ ,
which published a summary of how the bid had come about (Deriol, 1963) ´
and in which a short series of articles during the spring and summer of
1963 confronted supporters and detractors of the mayor’s ambitions. The
discussion in Resonances ´ centred principally around fears that the financial
cost of staging the Olympics would outweigh the wealth the operation would
create and the government subsidies promised by what was criticised as a
recently-created and doubtless impermanent Ministry of Youth and Sport.
Concern was voiced at the financial deficit made by the 1960 Games in Rome,
but criticism of the feared costs tended to neglect completely, or at best
discount as intangible or immeasurable, the secondary benefits of hosting the
Olympics, above and beyond the mere balance sheet of preparation and the
weeks of competition (Berthet, 1963).
Rather than being ‘pretentious’ (as the Parisian elite preferred to view it),
the elite of Lyon saw the city’s bid for the Games as an ‘audacious’ attempt
to protect and enhance Lyon’s status nationally as France’s second city, internationally, within the developing context of the recently created Common
Market, and even globally (Pradel, 1963; Delfante, 1963). The global scale of
the Olympics was a way of refocusing attention on Lyon not just as an also-ran
to Paris, but as an important and successful contemporary centre of industry
and business located at the centre of European transport corridors. The issue
was described in terms of Lyon remaining either just ‘une petite ville de
Province’ (a small provincial city) or aspiring to the role of a major European
metropole. The official bid document itself rather naively stressed Lyon’s
geographical position at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, East and West:
If one looks at a map of the world, the city of Lyon holds a privileged
position. It is situated mid-way East to West, between Japan and Latin
America; North to South between Finland and Black Africa. It is the link
between Northern and Southern Europe, an advanced post of Central
Lyon ’68: The Games That Weren’t 75
Europe and a point of junction with the Mediterranean and Africa.
Regional capital and second city of France through its radiative power and
expansion, Lyon takes its place among the great European Metropoles …
the Capital of Gaul rich with a past over two thousand years old is proud
to be the most modern of old cities (Ville de Lyon, 1963).
The promotional film that was made to help mediatise the campaign
was boldly entitled ‘Lyon, grande ville europeenne’. In retrospect, Lyon’s ´
bid-planners should have anticipated the attractiveness of the ‘risky’ choice
for the IOC of awarding the Games to developing Mexico, and elaborated a
narrative of Lyon’s place in the world that was stronger and more persuasive.
Since the late 1940s, the French state had been increasingly concerned
about the over-concentration of economic activity, wealth and power in Paris
and its surrounding region of Ile de France. A famous study published soon
after the birth of the Fourth Republic had described France as being Paris,
surrounded by a desert of declining agricultural activity, rural depopulation
and small provincial towns (Gravier, 1947) and posited the need for policy
to redress these spatial inequalities. Thinking about regional development
during the late 1950s and early 1960s led in 1963 to the creation of the
national regional development planning delegation (DATAR), which aimed
to rebalance regional disparities, but Lyon’s political and business elite
was aware that beyond this domestic national planning perspective, their
city needed to aim at becoming more than just the regional capital of
Rhone-Alpes. Lyon’s past prosperity ˆ as France’s second city had long been
based on traditional industries, but as France’s economic modernisation
proceeded apace during the second half of the French economy’s 30 glorious
years of growth between 1945 and 1975, moving the working population
increasingly away from agriculture and industry towards tertiary activities,
Lyon’s planners saw the urgent need to continue to encourage industry, but
also to focus on the development of infrastructures that would stand the city
in good stead in the new economy. Hosting the Olympics in 1968 was seen as
an obvious and powerful catalyst for this process of economic modernisation.
Concretely (and Mayor Pradel had earned the nickname ‘Mr Concrete’ for
his enthusiasm for redeveloping his city), Lyon looked to the Games as a
means of improving transport links, with upgrades to major road, rail and
especially airport facilities planned during the mid-1960s in order to open
the city to the rest of France, Europe and world. Within the city, the Gerland
Stadium dating from 1919 needed some renovation and extension – as Herriot
had been known to complain, although it was a key infrastructure it was so
under-used that it might as well have served to graze sheep – improvement
of some other sporting facilities was required, the renovation of entire
‘quartiers’ such as that of Gerland around the main stadium was seen as an
76 Hugh Dauncey
important contribution to new urban planning, and upgrades to local road
systems and parking were deemed important to Lyon’s overall attractiveness
as a city for business and industry. In particular, the construction of new
hotel accommodation and the Olympic village was welcomed as a way of
boosting Lyon’s tertiary activities in tourism, conference hosting and other
non-traditional economic sectors.7
Above and beyond the issue of Lyon’s relationship to Paris and that of
the city’s strategic centrality (or otherwise) to developing European spatial
dynamics, which, as will be argued in forthcoming studies, were inflected
significantly by the process and after-effects of bidding for the Olympics
(Benneworth and Dauncey, forthcoming), the question of Lyon’s ‘place in
the world’ was an issue that seemed directly relevant to Pradel’s team in
Baden-Baden as they learned of the IOC’s decision: 30 votes for Mexico City;
fourteen votes for Detroit; twelve votes for Lyon. The ‘Old World’, France’s
ancient Roman ‘capital of Gaul’, had lost out to the New World.
Rather as in Singapore in 2005, when Paris was beaten by London’s bid for
the 2012 Games, one French view of why Lyon lost out so heavily in BadenBaden was that its ‘honest’ bid had been cheated of success by the dubious
campaigning tactics of other cities involving free trips, lavish hospitality and
gifts, and general unfair competition (Michela, 1963). Added to this, there
was an understanding that the political desire to see the Games organised
in a developing country away from Old Europe had also penalised Lyon
in its attempt to present itself as both old and new, European and open to
the world. Explaining why Lyon failed to win the ’68 Summer Games also
requires insight into the latent competition between Paris and Lyon that to an
extent contributed to undermine the Lyon application even after the French
Olympic Committee had rejected that of Paris: seen from outside France by
anyone who understood the urban and political primacy of Paris in France,
the candidacy of Lyon seemed anomalous, but the fact that only a year later
the IOC awarded the ’68 Winter Games to Grenoble and the same region
of Rhone-Alpes that was home to Lyon, whose bid finally defeated that of ˆ
Calgary by 27 votes to 24, suggested that it had not simply been doubts over
the France’s logistical ability to organise a mega-event that had swayed the
decision against Mayor Pradel.
7 Lyon has been very successful in modernising its economic base since the 1970s,
developing into the capital of French videogame production for example, and
expanding its tourism potential through exploitation of the city centre World Heritage
site of ‘Old Lyon’.
Lyon ’68: The Games That Weren’t 77
Despite the vivid resentment in Lyon at the rejection of the bid and Pradel’s
subsequent refusal to consider applying for the Games of 1972 or beyond, the
city was proud to claim that in the following years it completed the sports
infrastructure developments that had been promised for the Games that
never were. In addition, the bid-coalition had identified a set of non-sporting
strategic projects that were necessary to revitalise and reinvigorate Lyon,
and reposition itself as the capital of the Eastern Mediterranean zone of the
new European space. These projects included improved road links through
an Alpine tunnel (the Fourviere ` massif), reconstruction and modernisation
of the city centre (including pedestrianisation, development of the Lyon city
centre World Heritage Site and the construction of the Perrache commercial
centre) and ensuring that Lyon was well-connected to the newly developed
high-speed rail (TGV) system and benefited from enhanced air transport
services. All these projects were subsequently realised in the following fifteen
years, and helped contribute to Lyon’s clear emergence as the second city
of France. In part, at least, these achievements were a consequence of the
stimulus to Lyon’s urban governance provided by planning for the Olympics
of 1968.
Perhaps surprisingly, but also drawing on the infrastructural improvements made in all areas during the 1970s and 1980s in Lyon and the
region, during the early and mid-1990s, a project was mooted in the Rhone- ˆ
Alpes region to apply to host the 2004 Summer Games, and Lyon once
again produced a bid for consideration by the French Olympic Committee (Rhone-Alpes, 1995). Although the Ly ˆ on bid was again sound, the city
lost out to the northern conurbation of Lille, whose candidacy fared poorly
in the final round of bids, and the Games were awarded to Athens. Conspiracy theorising suggested that Lille was preferred to Lyon as France’s
national candidate for 2004 because Paris was planning to apply for 2008,
and pressure was applied on the French Olympic Committee to choose
a bid for 2004 which would fail. Parisian ambitions to stage the Games
were indeed translated into ultimately narrowly unsuccessful bids for 2008
and 2012, which nevertheless demonstrated France’s enduring attachment
to the use of sporting mega-events in national self-promotion. Interest in
the 2018 Winter Olympics will be shattered or confirmed in July 2011,
and there is a chance that France may yet reapply to host the 2024
Summer Games, as a centenary celebration of the Paris Games of 1924,
although it has also been suggested that Lyon or Marseille might be
possible venues. If France does wish to celebrate its own ‘Olympic centenary’ in 2024, the problematic politics of sport and of centre – periphery
relations that vitiated Lyon’s ambitions in 1968 will have to have been
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
‘Nasty Demonstrations by Negroes’:
The Place of the Smith–Carlos Podium
Salute in the Civil Rights Movement
Newcastle University, UK
When Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised a fist as
the Star-Spangled Banner began to play, they changed the Olympic landscape
forever. Their actions became a touchstone for all future political protests at
the Games. Indeed in the lead-up to the recent Beijing Olympics, as protestors
focused their attention on the human rights record of the host nation, talking
heads and Olympic officials made reference to the salute by Smith and Carlos
40 years ago. Much scholarly attention has focused on the impact of their
effort on the relationship between race and sport and the construction of
the identity of the black athlete in America. What is particularly fascinating,
though, is the location of the Smith and Carlos salute within the wider civil
rights movement of the 1960s. Dissecting their protest in this context reveals
a symbolic reflection of the state of that movement in 1968. The podium
salute was both non-violent and threatening, it was simultaneously moderate
and radical, and it displayed Black Nationalism and inter-racial cooperation.
Indeed, it drew together in one symbolic moment the diverging threads of a
movement that had slowly unravelled as the 1960s progressed.
What was unique was the fact that this statement was made in the
sporting arena, a place that had consistently resisted the civil rights agenda.
Brundage’s description of a ‘nasty demonstration’ was reflective of an
ideology dominated by a desire to keep politics separate from sport unless
it served the interests of the sporting hierarchy. What Smith and Carlos did
on the victory podium was to dramatise the place of black Americans in the
United States with profundity. Their protest was not just about the place of
blacks in sport but fundamentally about the place of blacks in society as a
whole. This is what makes their actions so enduring and what so infuriated
sporting administrators who wanted to keep the racial struggle out of sports.
This chapter seeks to dissect the myriad ways in which the podium salute
provided a unique encapsulation of the state of the civil rights movement
in 1968. In this sense, the protest by Smith and Carlos was a reflection of
a wider societal reality; it communicated many messages that had been heard
‘The Smith–Carlos Podium Salute and the Civil Rights Movement’ 79
throughout the 1960s. The message was not new; it had been rehearsed by
many different voices in varying forums. Crucially, however, the podium
salute communicated the diverging threads of a civil rights narrative through
an iconic gesture on a stage so resistant to hearing that narrative. We must
recognise the different ways it did this so the protest is not simply reduced to
an individual heroic stand with the consequent loss of its greater significance.
The Podium Moment
On 16 October 1968, the Olympic 200 m final took place. Both Tommie Smith
and John Carlos almost failed to make it to the starting blocks. Smith had
strained an adductor muscle in his semi-final and required ice treatment
while preparing for the final. Carlos had stepped out of his designated lane in
his heat and only avoided disqualification because officials failed to spot the
error. In the event, they both ran in a race that became the prelude to an act that
defined their lives thereafter. Smith won in a world record 19.83 seconds – no
sprinter would again run the distance in under 20 seconds until Carl Lewis
in 1984. Carlos, who slowed and turned to look at his team-mate in the last
few strides, came in third after being passed on the line by Peter Norman.
Earlier in the Olympic track and field competition Tommie Smith and
Lee Evans had sat in the stands and discussed what they would do if
Avery Brundage tried to shake their hands during a medal ceremony. Evans
suggested that they should wear a black glove and hide their hands under
their sweatshirts revealing the black gloves at the last moment and therefore
frightening Brundage. The athletes’ wives purchased the gloves which were
then added to their kit bags (Matthews, 1974: 196). The exact mechanics of the
events that unfolded in the holding area before the 200 m victory ceremony
are a little unclear, with each actor in the events remembering a slightly
different picture of the past. Nevertheless, it would seem that Smith was
the driving-force behind the protest that followed. Lee Evans explains that
‘Carlos never even came to a meeting’ of the Olympic Project for Human
Rights (OPHR) and that it was he and Smith who were the principal athletes
involved in the movement (Evans, 2004). Carlos has claimed subsequently
that the suggestion of making a gesture on the victory podium was his and that
he slowed up at the end of the race, letting Smith win, because he wanted to
make a non-violent protest (Hartmann, 2003: 23). It was, however, Smith who
produced the gloves that the two athletes were to wear and who told Carlos,
‘the national anthem is sacred to me, and this can’t be sloppy. It has to be clean
and abrupt’ (Moore, 1991a: 73). Peter Norman stated that Carlos did not have
any gloves with him and it was Smith who took the lead in the discussions
that were held under the stadium before the medal ceremony (Norman, 2004).
Sportswriter, Neil Amdur, describes Smith as an ‘indomitable’ competitor and
saw Carlos’s gesture as ‘a part of what Tommie [Smith] was in total’ (Amdur,
80 Simon Henderson
2005). Certainly the bend in Carlos’s raised arm on the podium compared
with Smith’s straight, strong gesture and comprehensive explanation of the
protest after the event seem to suggest a greater sense of purpose on the part
of the gold medallist (Hartmann, 2003: 23).
Smith and Carlos outlined to Norman what they were going to do on the
podium. The Australian silver medallist explained that he supported what
they were doing and would show his solidarity by wearing the OPHR badge
if they could find him one. As the three men walked out to receive their
medals, Smith and Carlos wore their gloves, black scarves and black socks
with no shoes. Paul Hoffman leaned over the barrier at the side of the track to
wish the men all the best and Carlos asked for the OPHR badge he was wearing. Norman pinned the badge on his sweatshirt (Hoffman, 2004; Norman,
2004). As the national anthem rang out, the two black sprinters bowed their
heads. Smith raised his right fist and Carlos his left in the defining moment
of the 1968 Olympic Games.
The various contrasting reactions inside the United States to the podium
incident have been well documented, but a brief reminder of the extremes of
opinion serves to highlight the search for meaning in Smith’s and Carlos’s
gesture. The file relating to Smith and Carlos in the Avery Brundage archival
collection is full of letters to the head of the IOC both praising and criticising
the black sprinters. Some wrote of the ‘heroism’ and ‘dignity’ of Smith
and Carlos, while others spoke of their ‘inappropriate’ and ‘distasteful’
behaviour.1 One correspondent to Brundage pointed out the hypocrisy of
Smith and Carlos being suspended by the USOC when that organisation
continuously refused to dip its flag in salute to the host country. Both
represented acts of ‘blatant political manoeuvre’ but only one was punished.2
Others drew attention to the differing responses of the IOC in relation to the
actions of Smith and Carlos and Czech athlete Vera Caslavska. She bowed
her head during the playing of the Russian national anthem in protest at
the treatment of the Czech people by the Soviet regime. It was noted by one
correspondent that bowing your head during the anthem of another nation
was surely more serious and disrespectful than bowing your head during the
anthem of your own country. Caslavska, however, received no punishment.3
Opinion in the US press was varied. The Los Angeles Sentinel, an AfricanAmerican publication, argued on its sports page that the protest was out
of place and that the Olympics were no arena for such acts. Columnists
elsewhere in the paper praised the heroic effort of Smith and Carlos. The Los
1 ABC: Smith–Carlos dismissal file. Box 179.
2 ABC: Smith–Carlos dismissal file. Box 179. R. N. Kline to Brundage, 19 October 1968.
3 ABC: Smith–Carlos dismissal file. Box 179. A. G. Belles to Brundage, 28 October 1968.
‘The Smith–Carlos Podium Salute and the Civil Rights Movement’ 81
Angeles Times referred to the podium gesture as a ‘Hitler-type salute’. Time
magazine changed the Olympic motto of ‘faster, higher, stronger’, to ‘angrier,
nastier, uglier’, when describing the ‘public display of petulance’ by Smith
and Carlos (Bass, 2002: 274–278). The Pittsburgh Courier provided coverage
from an African-American perspective which praised the black sprinters and
criticised the racism of the IOC. The Courier ran a cartoon of a giant black
gloved fist rising above the Olympic stadium with the caption ‘pride prevails’
(Pittsburgh Courier, 1968). In a balanced piece, Newsweek noted that, ‘judged
against some of the alternatives that black militants had considered, the silent
tableau seemed fairly mild’ (Newsweek, 28 October 1968: 36). This is just a very
brief example of the many differing responses the podium salute elicited.
Athletes on the US team held widely varying attitudes towards the actions
of their team-mates both at the time and on reflection some 40 years later.
Water polo player, Bruce Bradley, asserted at the time that it was an honour to
receive a medal and that having seen Smith and Carlos behave as they did the
US Olympic Committee was ‘well within it rights [to send them home]. It must
maintain some sort of order’ (New York Times, 1968). Speaking to me in 2004,
Bradley softened his stance a little, suggesting that the decision to send Smith
and Carlos home was somewhat harsh. His criticism of the podium salute
itself remained, however. ‘I don’t think they should have used the forum’
they did to make that protest (Bradley, 2004). Again in an interview with me,
swimmer Jane Swagerty reflected that she saw a little cowardice in the actions
of Smith and Carlos. She described herself and her swim team-mates as being
shocked and ‘rather embarrassed’ (Swagerty, 2004). Track star George Young
contended that the sprinters’ actions in winning medals showed Black Power,
but their stand on the podium was unimpressive (Young, 2004). High jumper
Dick Fosbury commented that making a protest during the victory ceremony
was misguided, however, veteran discus thrower Al Oerter described Smith’s
and Carlos’s actions as relatively ‘moderate’ (Oerter, 2004; Fosbury, 2004).
Cleve Livingston, a member of the Harvard rowing crew, described the
podium salute as a ‘very forceful, but affirmative message of both protest and
hope’ (Livingston, 2004).
Much of the differing opinions both then and now stem from the enigmatic
nature of the podium salute. As a symbolic gesture it encapsulated so many
facets of the racial struggle in the United States in the late 1960s that it
was open to a myriad of interpretations. Many of these interpretations in
fact mixed competing or contradictory messages of the civil rights agenda.
For example, a piece reporting the podium salute in the Pittsburgh Courier
focused on the black pride inherent in the raised fist, a potent symbol of ‘Black
Power’. The same article, however, asserted that ‘Smith and Carlos’s stand
was a visual expression of the theme song ‘‘we shall overcome’’’ (Pittsburgh
Courier, 1968). In a single article found in an African-American publication,
82 Simon Henderson
therefore, the podium protest was linked to the mainstream civil rights
anthem and the movement for Black Power; two different strands of the
racial struggle of the 1960s. Indeed, the ideological father of the Black Power
Movement, Malcolm X, had famously mocked the singing of that anthem as
contradictory to a black revolution.
The podium protest can be connected to the many tangled threads of the
civil rights struggle in the late 1960s in a variety of ways. This reality was
deepened by the words of Smith and Carlos in the aftermath of their stand.
Smith explained in a TV interview,
I wore a black right-hand glove and Carlos wore the left-hand glove of
the same pair. My raised right hand stood for the power in black America.
Carlos’s raised left hand stood for the unity of black America. Together
they formed an arch of unity and power. The black scarf around my
neck stood for black pride. The black socks with no shoes stood for black
poverty in racist America. The totality of our effort was the regaining of
black dignity (Edwards, 1969: 104).
Smith articulated a message that conveyed the protest as solemn and dignified. Choosing to make the stand during the anthem provided an expression
of the duality that many black Americans felt, a double consciousness of being
both American and black. The racism of American society imposed an identity problem on black citizens. The response to this has had an affect on how
African-Americans express patriotism. Some like Frederick Douglass during
the Civil War, W. E. B. DuBois before World War One, and Al Sharpton after
9/11 have subscribed to the belief that loyalty and devotion to American
culture and ideals would eventually be rewarded with racial equality. This is
referred to as ‘invested patriotism’. At other moments in history black leaders, such as Paul Robeson in the early twentieth century and Martin Luther
King during his opposition to the Vietnam War, have rejected traditional
patriotism and instead fundamentally challenged American racism. This is
called ‘iconoclastic patriotism’. What the two sprinters’ gesture embodied
was an iconoclastic patriotism. They showed devotion to the United States by
fundamentally challenging American racism (Shaw, 2006: 33). The expression
of black pride and strong group identity simultaneous with the playing of
the Star-Spangled Banner powerfully expressed a double-consciousness.
While Smith stressed the solemn and essentially non-violent or nonaggressive nature of the protest, in the post-ceremony press conference
Carlos infused the podium salute with greater anger and confrontation.
Carlos fumed, ‘If we do the job well, we get a pat on the back or some
peanuts. And someone says, ‘‘Good boy’’. I’ve heard boy, boy, boy all
through the Olympics. I’d like to tell white people in America and all over
‘The Smith–Carlos Podium Salute and the Civil Rights Movement’ 83
the world that if they don’t care for the things black people do, then they
shouldn’t sit in the stands and watch them perform’ (Bass, 2002: 245). Carlos
articulated a powerful race consciousness that provided a more aggressive
expression of Black Power than the statement by Smith. What we have not
mentioned is that there were three people on the winner’s rostrum. Peter
Norman, the white Australian silver medallist, wore an OPHR badge. He
added an inter-racial element to the protest that contrasted with the message
of strident racial pride that is emphasised by viewing the protest through a
distorted Black Power lens.
Reactions to a Revolt
Let us now dissect the important ways in which the protest on the podium
and the words of Smith and Carlos uniquely encapsulated the landscape of
the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. The podium salute is remembered
as a ‘Black Power’ protest. A recent BBC documentary focusing on the
incident was simply titled Black Power Salute (Black Power Salute, 2008). The
reporting of the incident at the time and since has placed great emphasis
on the raised gloved fist and the Black Power symbolism to which this
is connected. Certainly the raising of a black fist was the most recognised
symbol of the Black Power movement and various items of merchandise
could be purchased that displayed this symbol. Afro-American publications
also used the raised fist in cartoons with great regularity. This is not to say that
Smith and Carlos were not consciously adopting the symbols and meanings
of the Black Power movement in their stand; they undoubtedly were. What is
important, however, is to recognise the way their protest was misinterpreted,
as was the Black Power movement as a whole. Furthermore, the presence of
white protestors in support of the two black sprinters reveals something of
the tensions at the heart of racial protest in the late 1960s.
The stand by Smith and Carlos and the gold-medallist’s explanation of
the podium salute was deeply infused with racial consciousness. Smith talks
of black pride, black unity and black dignity. The beads around Carlos’s
neck were a clear symbol of Black Nationalism. The reaction of the IOC and
the USOC saw an attempt to isolate the sprinters as representatives of a
minority opinion, a small group of angry young black men who represented
a threat to the sanctity of the Olympic movement and society as a whole. The
racial prejudice of the US Olympic organisation was barely veiled. The press
secretary Bob Paul commented to the sports correspondent for Newsweek,
Pete Axthelm, that he better have something better to write about than
‘niggers’. He also lambasted a journalist from Ramparts for being on the side
of those ‘niggers’. The thoughtlessness of the USOC to the cultural and racial
sensitivities was revealed further when one of their representatives spoke
84 Simon Henderson
to Smith and Carlos after the podium salute. After it had been explained
to the sprinters that they were to be expelled from the village, the USOC
administrator dealing with the matter asked ‘you boys know why you did it?’
Smith snapped back that they were not boys.4 The US Olympic authorities
were not only insensitive to the cultural significance and racial messages of
what Smith and Carlos did, they were openly hostile to any encroachment
by racial politics on the Olympics. Before the Games, the USOC had sought
to diffuse any possibility of protest at the Games. Roby wrote to Brundage in
the summer of 1968 informing him that a board of consultants had been set
up to meet with athletes and counsel them against any undesirable action.
Jesse Owens was made chairman of this board which included three other
African-Americans. Roby also felt it necessary to mention that one of the track
and field coaches, Stan Wright, and one of the medical staff, Dr. Plummer,
were also black.5 The Head of the USOC seemed to be suggesting that this
fact alone was likely to have an influence on politically minded black athletes.
After the podium salute, the USOC sent Jesse Owens to speak to the rest of
the black athletes suspected of having the inclination to make further protests.
Owens asked the white athletes in the meeting to leave and wanted to speak
only to his ‘black brothers’ to counsel them against any further actions of
protest. There was a conscious effort to portray the podium salute as the
product of a radical and dangerous black militant agenda. Owens was chosen
to speak to the dissenting athletes because he represented a more moderate
black voice and believed sport should be kept separate from politics. There
was a distinct sense that Owens was out of touch with black athletes and was
simply a mouthpiece for the Olympic authorities. Vincent Matthews wrote
of Owens: ‘he was a messenger sent by the USOC to determine the mood
of the black athletes. The fact that Jesse was black gave him a calling card’
(Matthews, 1974: 191). Lee Evans commented, ‘Jesse, I don’t know what he
was thinking, he was connected to the Olympic committee’ (Evans, 2004).
The 25 or so athletes that Owens was sent to address included some
notable white athletes. Owens represented the traditional image of the ‘good
black man’ who was lauded by liberal white America as a credit to his race.
Owens preached the liberal white ideals of integration and gradual racial
progress; however, when confronting this inter-racial group of Smith and
Carlos supporters, he responded by asking the white athletes to leave. Owens
said, ‘it’s nothing against you other men personally, but these are my black
4 USOC Archives, A. Lentz papers, Mexico City incident 1968–1969: Proceedings of
the Meeting of the Executive Committee of the United States Olympic Committee, 1
December, 1968.
5 ABC: Roby, M, Douglas, F. Box 2. Folder 1968 correspondence. Roby to Brundage, 8
August 1968, RS 26/20/37.
‘The Smith–Carlos Podium Salute and the Civil Rights Movement’ 85
brothers, and I want to talk to them. I think you can understand’ (Matthews,
1974: 191). Owens asked why white hammer throwers Hal Connolly and
Ed Burke were present. Connolly remarked, ‘he was upset at seeing white
athletes there, especially me’ (Connolly, 2004). Owens obviously felt that it
would be easier to persuade black athletes of his point of view without a white
audience. Again, we see a conscious effort to construct a one-dimensional
reading of the podium salute and its symbolism.
The badge that was worn by Peter Norman and other white athletes
during the Games – indeed Norman was given his by Harvard rowing crew
coxswain, Paul Hoffman – representedthe Olympic Project for Human Rights,
not the Olympic Project of Black Power, nor the Black Militant Olympic Movement. The OPHR badge had a wreath as the focal point and was designed
by white students at the University of San Jose. That Smith and Carlos were ´
making a stand for black people and for justice in racist America is undeniable, but there was an inter-racial message to the symbolism and meaning
of that podium salute that has often been overlooked. The USOC’s desire
to paint the protest as an episode of black militancy was threatened by the
vocal support offered for Smith and Carlos by white athletes such as Tom
Waddell, Hal Connolly and the Harvard rowing crew. Hoffman was very
nearly suspended from the rowing final for simply giving Peter Norman the
badge that he wore on the winner’s rostrum. The US Olympic authorities
were adamant that politics should not enter the sporting arena but they were
also worried that an inter-racial protest would be much harder to neutralise.
It was one thing to have two angry young black men throw a Black Power
salute during the national anthem, quite another to have white team-mates
offering support and threatening to pull out of the rest of the Games. Under
a heading ‘white ones too’, the New York Times reported that athletes may go
home in protest at the treatment of Smith and Carlos (New York Times, 1968 ).
The USOC was extremely concerned about the actions of white athletes
such as Hoffman and the Harvard crew who supported the actions of Smith
and Carlos. In a letter sent to the Harvard rowing coach, Harry Parker, by the
USOC President Douglas Roby, it was argued that the crew had ‘embarked
on a rather strenuous program of civil rights and social justice with other
members of our Olympic delegation to Mexico City’. Roby continued, ‘civil
rights and the promotion of social justice may have their place in various
facets of society, but certainly this sort of promotion has no place in the
Olympic Games, and particularly when they are held in a foreign country,
which country is not particularly involved in these internal problems of
ours’.6 Furthermore, decathlete, Tom Waddell, one of the white athletes who
6 Douglas Roby to Harry Parker, 5 November 1968, copy of letter in author’s possession.
86 Simon Henderson
had voiced support for the OPHR, was asked by a reporter if he thought Smith
and Carlos had discredited the American flag. Waddell replied that he felt
that Smith and Carlos as African-Americans had been discredited by the flag
more often than they had disgraced it. When questioned about whether the
US image had been tarnished, he argued that the nation’s image was so bad
already it could not get any worse (Waddell and Schapp, 1996: 107). Waddell,
a medical doctor serving with the army, saw his comments widely reported
in the press. He received a cable from his commanding officer ordering him
to retract his remarks or face a court-martial.
Sport, Race and Civil Rights
In the salute by Smith and Carlos and the reaction to it we see a clear
reflection of the tensions in the civil rights movement by 1968. Since the
mid 1960s the inter-racial coalition focused around the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference and the person of Martin Luther King had been
increasingly challenged by a more militant generation of civil rights leaders
and a burgeoning Black Power movement. Men such as H. Rapp Brown
and Stokely Carmichael advocated a black liberation struggle that used ‘any
means necessary’ to affect change. Indeed, Carmichael increasingly argued
that black people should not work with whites, that integration was not a
desirable goal because it would rob black people of their cultural integrity. The
Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee, which Carmichael headed,
increasingly advocated armed self-defence and broke its alliance with the
Black Panthers because of the latter’s acceptance of coalition with white
leftist groups (Carmichael and Hamilton, 1968). There was a clear split in
the civil rights struggle over the extent to which black activists should
engage and cooperate with white liberals. It is worth noting that violent and
non-violent forms of protest had long co-existed in the racial struggle and
Carmichael, King and Brown were all among those black leaders who went
on record to support the initial OPHR initiative of boycotting the Olympics.
This initiative, then, drew support from those who advocated militant nonviolence and those such as Carmichael who embraced a more aggressive
Black Power ideology.
The leader of the OPHR, Harry Edwards, himself struggled to straddle
the divide between white liberals and a growing black militancy. Edwards
dedicated his account of the OPHR to the white athletes who supported
the cause and commended the Harvard crew for their commitment to
understanding the problems in black America. Nevertheless, the brash and
abrasive character of Edwards and the contentious hyperbole that flowed
from him did much to promote a misunderstanding of, and hostility towards,
‘The Smith–Carlos Podium Salute and the Civil Rights Movement’ 87
the ideals of the OPHR. Even those sympathetic to the movement were not
entirely comfortable with his role. Furthermore, some time after the events
of 1968, Edwards explained that he was sceptical about the extent to which
whites could help the cause he was seeking to promote, ‘I don’t care how
liberal whites were; there was a container of racism and white superiority
that they could not escape’ (Edwards, 2004).
The extent to which the protest by Smith and Carlos and the reaction to it
represented the tensions of the wider civil rights movement has often been
overlooked. Certainly it suited the agenda of the Olympic authorities and the
US government – the 1968 Olympic team was not invited to the White House
for the customary reception with the president – to portray the podium salute
as part of the militant Black Power agenda. The wider message of inter-racial
support for the advancement of civil rights was ignored. Images of Smith and
Carlos were placed in the same symbolic context as race riots in cities across
the United States in the spring and summer of 1968. Historical accounts of the
1960s, or specifically of 1968, often include the image of the podium salute
alongside pictures of the slain Dr Martin Luther King, Black Panther rallies
or scenes of racial violence; often with a generic caption about Black Power
or racial turmoil. What needs to be acknowledged is that the Smith and
Carlos protest reflected the very complex state of the civil rights movement
in the late 1960s. It is crucial that this is recognised in full and the subsequent
meaning of the protest on the victory podium is not reduced.
It would be fascinating to learn what Martin Luther King would have said
about the podium salute had he not been assassinated six months before the
Games. His support of the original boycott idea can be interpreted as part
of his increasingly radical agenda as his career progressed. Nevertheless, he
had strongly objected to the use of the slogan ‘Black Power’ as part of the civil
rights movement. He would have admired the courage and dignity of Smith
and Carlos but how would he have responded to the raised black fists? The
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the
main moderate civil rights organisation, possesses nothing in its sports files
or archives relating to the Smith and Carlos salute. Indeed its leader, Roy
Wilkins, doubted the feasibility of the proposed Olympic boycott and there is
no evidence that the organisation encouraged civil rights protests by athletes.7
It is difficult not to conclude, however, that what Smith and Carlos did was
in many respects ‘moderate’ and not connected to the black radicalism of the
late 1960s in the way it was simplistically portrayed to be. It was in fact very
much in the spirit of non-violent and dignified protest that both the NAACP
7 NAACP Collection: Group 3. Box A3, Sports. Hand-written Wilkins reply to letter of
15 April 1964.
88 Simon Henderson
and King had long endorsed. New York Times sports correspondent, Robert
Lipsyte, later reflected that in the context of things that they could have done
and the build up to the Olympics and the threatened boycott, the sprinters’
gesture hardly seems very extraordinary (Lipsyte, 2005). A letter written to
the editor of the New York Times stated that Tommie Smith ‘did not riot, or
loot or burn … His gesture was restrained, even dignified. What more can
America conceivably ask from people who have been second-class citizens
for so long?’ (Bass, 2002: 289).
The black civil rights activist who stood motionless as a policeman beat
him for attempting to register to vote received sympathy from many in
white America. His contemporary who fought the police in response to
discriminatory treatment was looked upon with more suspicion; an angry
black man, and a possible danger to society. The black football player who
pummelled white opponents and sacked the opposing quarterback was
lauded as a fine sportsman and a credit to his race. Yet, if he stepped off
the field and complained of the racial injustices he faced, wearing a black
armband or black glove to register his non-violent protest, he was criticised for
ingratitude and for perverting the sporting ideal. The sports world, therefore,
provided a unique landscape for the tactics of protest in the civil rights
struggle. This distinctive protest dynamic helps to explain the complexity
of the response to the black athletic revolt and the defining moment of that
revolt on the winners’ podium in Mexico City.
The fact that sport had so long resisted the civil rights agenda intensified the
negative reaction to the podium salute, but also important was a fundamental
misinterpretation of the message of Black Power. Here again the Smith and
Carlos protest encapsulates a key component of the wider civil rights struggle
in the late 1960s. The sprinters were cast as ghetto militants; men who shared
the same ideology as those rioting and raging against the forces of law and
order. Their defiance of Olympic protocol was extended as a metaphor for
the black underclass’ defiance of white authority. Here were two black men
in US uniforms betraying their country by disrespecting the flag. Smith and
Carlos, however, bowed their heads on the podium. They did so to remember
the fallen heroes of the civil rights movement. Theirs was a solemn and
non-threatening defiance of injustice. Indeed, almost in contradiction of his
fiery words in the post-ceremony press conference, Carlos’s arm is bent, his
salute less forceful and strident than Smith’s.
The negative reaction to their gesture and its association with racial disorder was, and remains, based on a fundamental misinterpretation of the
Black Power movement. As Van DeBurg asserts, ‘Black Power was not a
one-dimensional social movement sponsored by a small but vocal minority
of Afro-Americans whose passion was racism and violence’ (Van Deburg,
1992: 28). It was in fact an effort to raise black consciousness and facilitate
‘The Smith–Carlos Podium Salute and the Civil Rights Movement’ 89
their gaining of influence on the national stage. This is precisely what Smith
and Carlos were aiming to do. The fact that their stand was so anathema to
the sporting authorities contributed to the portrayal of the protest as a manifestation of the negative interpretation of Black Power. One correspondent
to Brundage in the aftermath of the decision to send Smith and Carlos home
interpreted that decision as misguided precisely because it would promote
the sprinters as black militants. Rather than being seen as silent and peaceful
protest, the podium salute would be viewed as a stand by ‘Black Power’
heroes because of the expulsion of the two men from the Olympic village.
This would in turn widen the mistrust and anger of black America against
their white countrymen.8 The fact that the sprinters made their stand on an
international stage, not only intensified the negative reaction as the United
States’ dirty linen was aired in public; it also highlighted the increasing
engagement between the civil rights agenda at home and abroad. This was
part of a wider process that saw first the Kennedy and then the Johnson
administrations focus increasingly on the legitimacy threatening potential of
civil rights abuses at home in the Cold War struggle abroad. Reaction from
the Mexican hosts quickly adopted a similar perspective.
As Keith Brewster and Claire Brewster (2010) note, Mexican officials,
the press, and public opinion swiftly moved from bemusement to a large
measure of sympathy and understanding for Smith and Carlos. An article
in the Mexico daily, Excelsior ´ , argued that the Smith and Carlos represented
just one manifestation against the global injustice that had been done to
an enslaved people. Furthermore, Brewster and Brewster observe that other
Mexicans drew direct links between their own struggle for human rights and
those of Carlos and Smith: ‘In the words of one Mexican student: ‘‘For me,
the only thing that made sense in the Olympics was the behaviour of …
Tommie Smith [and] John Carlos. The black champions were using sport as a
political arm and made a deep impression on the Mexican spectators; in this
way they indirectly helped our Movement’’’ (K. Brewster and C. Brewster,
2010). Smith and Carlos also received support from athletes competing for
Third World and Latin American nations. Their demonstration for racial
justice in an international sporting arena reflected a Black Nationalist agenda
that sought to make links between the plight of the black man in America
and oppressed peoples in Africa and other parts of the Third World. Some
civil rights activists advocated redress for the racial injustice in America
through the United Nations. Harry Edwards includes a number of letters
of support from Third World countries in his account of the black athletic
revolt. Following the actions of Smith and Carlos and their suspension from
8 ABC: Smith–Carlos dismissal file. Box 179. M. A. Rutter to Brundage, 18 October 1968.
90 Simon Henderson
the US team, the Cuban men’s 400 m relay team gave its medals to Stokely
Carmichael as a representative of black America (Edwards, 1969: 106).
While the Smith and Carlos salute is connected to these different strands
of the civil rights struggle in many clear ways, there is a sense in which
the symbolism and explanation of their salute revealed a more nuanced
development in this struggle. In wearing no shoes on the victory rostrum
the two men were highlighting the poverty of black America, while their
arms formed an arch of unity for black America. This unity was increasingly
illusory, however, as the poverty of some in black America contrasted with
the economic progress of a growing middle class. The violence, destruction
and looting that was linked to Black Power by the media had poverty as its
root cause. Before his death, King was organising a poor people’s campaign
that called for a fundamental redistribution of American wealth. The civil
rights legislation of the 1960s had not solved the problems of the ghetto but
it had helped start the growth of an affluent black middle class. By making
their stand, Smith and Carlos sacrificed any hope of a lucrative professional
sports career; they restricted their opportunity to climb out of the poverty
about which they were protesting.
In the aftermath of the Olympics, Smith was denied a chance to pursue a
career with the Los Angeles Rams, who had negotiated a possible contract
with him before the Games. He played on the Cincinatti Bengals taxi squad
before being cut and playing some football in Canada. Carlos too played
football in Canada having been unable to make it in the United States.
Smith’s marriage broke down; he received death threats and was unable to
make ends meet before taking a coaching job for which he was over-qualified
in Santa Monica. Carlos never completed his college degree and so had no
qualifications to fall back on. He had to do odd jobs including working as a
bouncer in a bar. His wife committed suicide and Carlos admitted this had a
lot to do with the legacy of 1968 (Moore, 1991b: 65–70).
Tarnished by the dominant negative interpretation of their stand in Mexico
City, the two men were victims of the endemic racial prejudice of American
society. The podium salute reflected a cry on behalf of an impoverished
black underclass that was largely untouched by the legislative advances of
the civil rights movement. In the decades that have followed, an affluent
black middle class has benefited from that legislation, while an underclass
has remained. The radical messages of the civil rights struggle have been
ignored as a conservative agenda has sought to proclaim the successful
emergence of a colour-blind society in which individuals of any race or creed
have equality before the law. Since the 1980s, Smith and Carlos have been
championed as civil rights heroes, and their stand offered as a touchstone for
racial pride. The broader and more complex meanings of their protest have
been ignored and they have instead been cited as courageous men who made
‘The Smith–Carlos Podium Salute and the Civil Rights Movement’ 91
a stand for equality in sport and wider society. This popular cultural message
overlooks the deeper significance of the podium salute. It is worth repeating
that Smith and Carlos wore no shoes to highlight black poverty. They stood
as symbolic representatives of a diverging civil rights movement that was
increasingly focusing on the economic deprivation of African-Americans and
demanded true social justice. This aspect of their podium salute has not
been acknowledged by popular culture representations. In the time since the
Games, the gap between those African-Americans who ‘have’ and those who
‘have not’ has grown and widespread poverty remains.
In popular memory this important message and the other ways in which
the protest of Smith and Carlos reflected the tangled threads of the civil
rights narrative of the late 1960s has been ignored or forgotten. Their stand
has been sanitised as a courageous gesture for civil rights that shocked the
sports world. It is celebrated and memorialised with a superficial gloss.
Robert Lipsyte describes Smith and Carlos on that podium as ‘statues in
history’ (Lipsyte, 2005). In many respects, what they stood for and what
their protest symbolised has been set in stone. The podium salute is there
to be admired; it changed the Olympic landscape and provides a context for
African-American athletes. The image of Smith and Carlos is, therefore, used
in much the same way as King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. King has been placed
in the safe category of civil rights hero and great orator. In the process of
commemorating his achievements, the more radical elements of his message
have been forgotten. King has been portrayed as a ‘non-abrasive hero’ who can
be used as a resource for ‘rocking our memories to sleep’ (Harding, 1987: 476).
Similarly the symbolism of the salute by Smith and Carlos has been diluted
in an attempt to create a usable past. It provides a cultural reference within
a popular narrative of the civil rights movement that highlights a number of
heroic moments that changed the racial landscape. This simplifies the reality
of race relations and narrows the scope of the civil rights struggle (Hartmann,
2003: 267–69). In the short and medium term aftermath of the 1968 Olympics,
the sprinters were represented as angry young black men who disrespected
the nation that had given them the opportunity to compete and succeed on
the world stage. Within twenty years of their stand they were transformed
into American heroes whose personal courage drew attention to the struggle
for human rights and racial equality. These two extremes ignore a much more
nuanced reality.
There is a tendency to see the symbol of the podium salute without
exploring the crucial messages inherent in it. It is important to look closely
at what Smith’s and Carlos’s action said about the state of the racial struggle
in America in the late 1960s and what this now says about the situation
92 Simon Henderson
40 years later. The image of Smith and Carlos was rehabilitated in the lead
up to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and in the years thereafter. Both
Smith and Carlos were enlisted as consultants by the Los Angeles Organising
Committee. In popular culture their stand has increasingly been seen as
heroic. Douglas Hartmann states that ‘the actual experiences and grievances
and radical intent that prompted their demonstration have been neglected or
ignored in favour of their individual courage and an abstracted commitment
to equality, dignity, and justice’ (Hartmann, 2003: 269). This is certainly the
case, but what has also been overlooked is how closely their gesture displayed
the different elements of the civil rights struggle. Their intent was ‘radical’
but the nature of this radicalism and its place in the racial struggle have
been misinterpreted because of a simplistic, and in some cases fundamentally
racially prejudiced, portrayal of Black Power. To unsophisticatedly categorise
the podium gesture as a Black Power salute misses a far more nuanced reality.
Simple classification of the civil rights movement into non-violent and violent,
moderate and radical phases, integrationist and Black Nationalist impulses
perverts the complexity of the racial struggle. Smith’s and Carlos’s podium
salute encapsulated that complexity in many different ways.
Amy Bass argues that the stand made by the two sprinters ‘had a lasting
effect on the negotiations between the athlete and the nation that were still
to come’ and that the OPHR as a whole ‘created what Life magazine had
eloquently predicted to be ‘‘a lasting racial consciousness’’’ (Bass, 2002: 303).
The podium salute did have a crucial impact on the future relationship
between athletes and sports administrators. The extent to which their gesture
had a lasting impact on racial consciousness is compromised by a onedimensional portrayal of the meanings inherent in that gesture. If the iconic
image of those bowed heads and raised fists is accompanied by the simple
title ‘Black Power Salute’ then the nuanced ways in which the podium protest
reflected the civil rights landscape in 1968 will be lost; as will some important
racial challenges for the future. Forty years hence it is important that this is
not lost. If it is, if the search for meaning is diluted, then the significance of
Smith’s and Carlos’s effort is compromised.
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010:
Sombreros and Vuvuzelas and the
Legitimisation of Global Sporting
Aston University, UK
I aim to demonstrate in this chapter the utility of comparing Mexico’s
experience in 1968 with that of South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 Fed´ eration ´
Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup and its precursor,
the FIFA Confederations Cup staged in 2009. In large measure, South
Africa’s preparations for hosting the 2010 World Cup presented similar
hurdles to those confronted by Mexico 40 years earlier. What I believe this
comparative approach reveals is that the two countries not only shared
common experiences as a result of having to stage mega-sports-events,
but that their experiences show similarities explicitly because they were
viewed as somehow falling short of expectations set by the ‘Western world’.
Additionally, as we shall see, the rare opportunity afforded the two states
in hosting these events fostered a fundamental debate within each country
concerning projection of itself and its role in the world.
By analysing the parallels between Mexico and South Africa on a range of
issues, both countries are revealed to have experienced similar challenges in
legitimising the hosting of a global sporting event for domestic and foreign
audiences. This chapter analyses the contexts that lay behind unprecedented
decisions by the relevant international governing bodies. The decision by the
IOC to award the Olympic Games to Mexico City in 1968 and by FIFA to
award the World Cup venue to South Africa in 2010 represented a step into
the ‘unknown’ for their respective governing bodies. Prior to these decisions,
hosting the events had followed practices established over time. In 1963,
the mainly white, aristocratic individuals who comprised the IOC had never
awarded the Games to a ‘developing’ country. A mixture of altruism and
paternalism surrounded its determination to foster popular participation in
sport within the Third World, but this had never extended to entrusting
the Games to a host from within such regions. The foundation and early
94 Chris Bolsmann
development of football established a different, but equally rigid, model.
The popularity of football in Western Europe and its early adoption by
Latin American states meant that the FIFA World Cup quickly established
a pattern of alternating hosts between the two continents. Set within this
context, it is easier to understand why, when Mexico City was awarded the
1968 Olympic Games, it caused much more of an international stir than the
decision to host the FIFA World Cup in Mexico two years later. Where the
South African bid to host the World Cup becomes relevant, however, is that
just as the IOC had to create precedent by heading to Mexico, so too, FIFA
would have to break a similarly established pattern to award the World Cup
to a country on the African continent. In both cases, the awarding of the
events inspired a multi-layered discourse in which the host states tried to
redefine themselves and their people. In the following analysis I compare
the rhetoric surrounding the events. Despite the fact that the IOC and FIFA
are different sports organisations and the events are marked by a 40-year
difference during which, since the 1980s, the commercialisation of sport has
predominated, the comparison is useful.
What becomes apparent from a comparison of the events is the discourse
that developed around the need to overcome international and local hurdles.
In this respect, common themes across the cases of Mexico and South
Africa emerge. First, is an emphasis on the modern characteristics of the
respective countries and the developmental benefits that hosting the events
would bring. Second, both countries projected themselves as young and stable
democracies and leaders of their continents. Third, the respective populations
were prepared for the tournaments in terms of potential benefits. Finally, in
the case of Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010, an important emphasis is
placed on the legacies that both events would leave.
One might interpret the decisions to host major sports events in Mexico in
1968 and South Africa in 2010 as reflections of modernising processes within
the IOC and FIFA respectively that made them more likely to recognise
global trends towards greater inclusion. Yet the degree of international
concern and criticism that accompanied both decisions suggests something
more fundamental; influences that provoked normally conservative bodies
into pushing the boundaries of international expectations. An important
argument of this chapter picks up on arguments made in Claire Brewster’s
chapter in this volume: that a range of factors that had little to do with the
strength of Mexico City’s bid determined that it should host the Games. These
factors, she maintains, account for the depth of scepticism about Mexico’s
preparations and the consequent actions taken by the Mexican Organising
Committee to allay such concerns. Much of the rhetoric emanating from
the South African organisers bears a remarkable similarity to that offered
40 years earlier by their Mexican counterparts.
Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010 95
Mexico 1968
In order fully to appreciate how Mexico’s experience can inform present
developments in South Africa, it is useful to summarise conclusions made
in Claire Brewster’s chapter and identify other areas that bear comparison.
The decision to award the 1968 Olympic Games to Mexico City was taken at
the IOC meeting at Baden-Baden in 1963. As Brewster explains, the personal
and professional connections between Mexican sports officials and the IOC
president, Avery Brundage, played a part in swaying votes towards Mexico.
Yet such connections had already been established when Mexico City lost bids
for the 1956 and 1960 Games, and hence other factors must have been at play.
Brewster’s reflection on contemporary global events reveals both the strong
influence of Cold War politics in the decision and the need not to ignore the
rising voice of the Third World. So rather than a ringing endorsement of the
winning city’s portrayal as a modern, developed metropolis, the vote to give
Mexico City the Games can be seen as a necessary expedient. Within such a
context, it is little wonder that when the announcement was made, the news
provoked an avalanche of dissenting voices.
As Brewster testifies, the international concerns about the decision to
award Mexico City the Games were as vociferous as they were diverse. The
ways in which the Mexican Organising Committee reacted to such anxieties
are revealing: they suggest that members of an elite sector of Mexican society
were simultaneously affronted by the slur on their national character and yet
deeply worried about the veracity of derogatory stereotypes emanating from
the ‘developed’ world that they aspired to join.
What is clear is that the Mexican Organising Committee wanted to move
the agenda onto those topics that might dispel negative national stereotypes
and convince international opinion that Mexico City was not only high in
altitude, but also in development and culture. The chairman of the Organising
Committee, Pedro Ram´ırez Vazquez, suggested that his team’s task was to ´
reconcile ‘sovereignty with non intervention’, ‘nationalism with universality’,
‘international coexistence with peace’, ‘economic development with social
justice’, ‘material well-being with education and culture’ and ‘modernity
with tradition’ (cited in Rodr´ıguez Kuri, 1998). If it could achieve this task,
surely the world would have to reappraise its perceptions of Mexico and its
Addressing Latin America’s reputation for political instability, the
Organising Committee issued press releases emphasising a US-style political
constitution that had guaranteed uninterrupted civilian government in
Mexico for over three decades. With such stability came economic prosperity
and the Organising Committee was keen to link its successful bid to
international recognition of the fact that Mexico had enjoyed dynamic
96 Chris Bolsmann
economic growth for over two decades. Gross domestic product was growing
at an annual rate of 6–7 per cent, and the expansion of social and welfare
programmes contributed towards convincing ordinary Mexicans that they
were indeed living through what was often referred to as the ‘Miracle Years’.
In Mexico City itself, citizens could reflect on the recent completion of the
national university campus, new housing complexes and the beginnings of a
new underground railway network as signs of such investment.
Despite such aspirations, as international doubts over Mexico’s rhetoric
of modernity and development continued, it appeared to alter the ways
in which the nation used the forthcoming Olympics to position itself on
the world stage. As Claire Brewster’s chapter shows, while still sustaining
its rhetoric of suitability for First World admittance, Mexico perceptibly
moved onto the safer ground of defender of the weak. To a large extent,
its portrayal as a channel for world peace was an easy hit: it fed directly
into the apolitical rhetoric of the Olympic charter, but also spoke to Mexico’s
developing reputation as an honest broker in regional conflicts. With Cold
War confrontation affecting all corners of the world, the so-called ‘Peaceful
Games’ were portrayed as an oasis of fraternity and joy. Far from the Latin
American stereotype of impulsiveness and irrational violence, the white dove
of Peace that adorned all official Olympic literature was a constant reminder
of the calm, conciliatory nature of the host’s diplomatic stance.
As Brewster also reveals, a measure of protection from the barrage
of foreign doubters came from the Organising Committee’s emphasis on
Mexico’s regional importance. As one of Latin America’s more significant
economic and political powers, the Olympic Games offered a chance for the
country to reconfirm its traditional role as a regional leader and voice of
Latin America to the outside world. Simultaneously and, for the purpose of
this chapter, ironically, its staunch defiance of IOC pressure to allow South
Africa’s participation in the Games was completely in accord with the nation’s
broader diplomatic agenda to uphold the interest of the developing world.
Allegedly, the Organising Committee’s stand in this matter was backed (even
provoked) by President Gustavo D´ıaz Ordaz who, in typically forthright
fashion, had made it clear to the Organising Committee ‘that those South
Africa bastards should not come to the Games’ (quoted in K. Brewster and
C. Brewster, 2010).
Set within the context of the ongoing racial and social turmoil tormenting
its northern neighbour, the organisers of Mexico ’68 sought to underline
the cultural and ethnic integration within Mexican society that had long
been a central theme of government rhetoric. The problem the Organising
Committee faced, however, was how best to portray this sense of inclusion
and mutual appreciation. As had happened in previous decades of the
twentieth century, the image of the indigenous in Mexico was idealised and
Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010 97
civilised. A fundamental aspect of Mexico’s portrayal of their indigenous
past was the resurrected myth of a ‘Golden Age’. For a Mexican elite, long
brought up on a diet of the Classics, the rather tenuous link between the
Ancient Greeks and the Aztecs was too good an opportunity to miss. Poems,
odes and newspaper articles made knowing references to how the Hellenic
spirits of the past would be rekindled among the temples of the Aztec
gods (see examples in newspapers: Excelsior ´ , 1966, 1968). As Claire Brewster’s
chapter illustrates, the concentric lines of the Mexico ’68 logo spoke directly to
indigenous designs on pre-Hispanic ceramics displayed in the newly opened
National Anthropology Museum: the indigenous past was being used to offer
a cultured, acceptable visual image of the country. The Olympic Games gave
an opportunity to develop a form of tourism that would appreciate Mexican
cultural values and lend legitimacy to the elites’ aspirations for their country
to be seen in terms of modernity and sophistication. This was in great contrast
to the image used two years later to celebrate Mexico’s hosting of the FIFA
World Cup. The diminutive figure with a drooping moustache, cheesy grin,
and wide sombrero played into a stereotype that Ram´ırez Vazquez scorned ´
as being a crude commercial decision made ‘by entirely different people for
an entirely different audience’ (K. Brewster and C. Brewster, 2010).
One of the most interesting aspects of Mexico’s preparations were the
campaigns of beautification and public education that preceded the arrival of
competitors and visitors. Part of the criticism against renovating areas of the
capital city and constructing new sporting facilities fed into the more general
concern regarding the redirecting of scarce funds away from social and
welfare schemes. As one politician stated, ‘[these actions] are concerned less
for the poor conditions in which people live and more by what such a sight
says about Mexico to foreign visitors’.1 Yet a significant alternative strand
of criticism, voiced both at the time and afterwards, claimed that the whole
nature of the campaign was in danger of removing the essential elements of
the Mexican character from the Games and converting Mexico City into the
cultural mode of the sophisticated West (K. Brewster and C. Brewster, 2010).
Criticisms of this sort directly addressed the question of national image
that was being created by the Organising Committee. The tenor of the
debate suggests that there were many in Mexico City who believed that
the city authorities and the Organising Committee were being more than a
little disingenuous. They were trying to mould their countrymen and their
country to suit their own aspirations, rather than having the confidence to
reveal Mexicans for what they were. Perhaps the most tangible example of
this campaign was, as discussed in Keith Brewster’s chapter in this volume,
1 Archivo del Congreso Nacional, Diario de los Debates, 8 October 1965, pp. 5–6.
98 Chris Bolsmann
the use of humour in the form of Cantinflas to rectify perceived deficiencies
in the Mexican character.
Taken together, then, we have a multiple, often contradictory, selfportrayal of Mexico on the world stage. Eager to counter erroneous
stereotypes of its country and people, the Organising Committee wanted
to emphasise a modern, forward-looking country; a country of the developed
world, but also one that sought to retain its leadership role within the region
and the developing world; a country that in the midst of global conflict, could
offer an oasis of peace.
South Africa 2010
After being expelled from the IOC in 1970 and FIFA in 1976, South
Africa was readmitted into the international fold in the early 1990s and
South African sporting bodies regained access to international organisations
and competitions. South Africa’s 2006 World Cup bid was launched at
the Confed´ eration Africaine de Football (CAF) congress in Ouagadougou, ´
Burkina Faso in February 1998 (competing bids were launched by Brazil,
England, Germany and Morocco). The vote held in July 2000 was
controversial, as South Africa narrowly lost the final count by twelve to eleven
after Charles Dempsey (president of the Oceania Football Confederation)
abstained from voting in the final round. He had been instructed by the
Oceania Football Confederation to vote for South Africa if England were
eliminated from earlier voting rounds. Had he followed this order, his vote
may have meant that FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, would have had to cast the
deciding vote and the 2006 tournament could have been awarded to South
Africa instead of Germany.
In 2000, FIFA announced the rotation principle for future World Cup
tournaments and as a result, an African nation would host the 2010
competition, followed by a South American country in 2014. Egypt, Libya,
Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia all put forward bids for the 2010
tournament. FIFA’s Inspection Group team ranked South Africa ahead of
the other candidates reporting that a South African World Cup would
‘generate significant unity amongst ethnic groups [and] the legacy compared
to the investment needed will be a great contribution to the country’ (FIFA,
2004). In the vote in May 2004, South Africa beat Morocco by fourteen votes to
ten. Despite the South African organisers’ reference to an African event and
the perceived continental benefits, it is alleged that the four CAF members
from Botswana, Cameroon, Mali and Tunisia voted for the Moroccan bid
(Sowetan, 2004).
As a precursor to the 2010 tournament, the FIFA Confederations Cup was
staged in South Africa in 2009. FIFA’s Confederation Cup had first been
Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010 99
contested in 1992 in Saudi Arabia. The tournament, the brainchild of the late
Prince Faisal bin Fahd, was named the Intercontinental Championship during
the 1992 and 1995 events. The tournament pitted continental champions
against each other. In the 1992 competition, four sides competed for honours.
FIFA took control of the tournament in 1997 and announced that the
competition would be held every two years. South Africa first participated in
the 1997 competition. Early winners of the trophy reflected the European and
South American dominance of the sport: between 1997 and 2003 the trophy
was lifted by Mexico, Brazil and France (twice). In 2005, FIFA effectively tied
the competition to the World Cup, announcing that it would be held every
four years in the preceding year and in the same location as the forthcoming
World Cup finals. The tournament would thus provide the host country with
an opportunity to trial run a FIFA competition on a smaller scale over a
two-week period. In 2001, the competition was staged in Japan and South
Korea and the 2005 competition was in Germany. As South Africa therefore
staged the Confederations Cup in 2009, the event is also included in this
In the 2006 and 2010 bid books, the organising committees of both of
South Africa’s campaigns emphasised the following broad themes: a PanAfricanist rhetoric and imagery; a discourse of development and modernity;
the country as a young and stable democracy; possessing infrastructural
and human capacities; low risk in terms of insurance due to having hosted
previous tournaments and a financially secure option; and, finally, as a
country with ‘world-class’ stadiums, with ‘excellent’ transport, ‘advanced
accommodation structure’, information technology and a ‘mature’ media
(Bolsmann and Brewster, 2009). In Mexico City 40 years earlier, the local
organisers had emphasised similar attributes in their justification for hosting
the Olympics in their city.
A pan-Africanist appeal is clear in both South Africa’s 2006 and 2010 bids
in terms of imagery and text. The theme of ‘Africa’s Call’ runs throughout
the 2006 submission. In Nelson Mandela’s letter in the 2006 bid book, he
states ‘Africa’s time has come’. The 2010 bid book used a fluttering South
African flag to box the four parts of the bid. Rather than employing the
African motifs of wild animals as was the case in 2006, the 2010 bid book
employed images of young attractive people from a cross-section of ethnic
groups. Each of the separate bid documents were graced with an attractive
young black woman dressed in a football-related motif with a header strap
that referred to ‘Africa’s Stage’. In the 2010 bid book, a letter from Mandela
stated that ‘this confidence was borne out by the historic decision … [that]
the 2010 World Cup finals would be staged in Africa. By this one gesture, by
this unequivocal recognition that Africa has waited long enough to stage the
showpiece of football’ (SAFA, 2010). The official emblem and poster of the
100 Chris Bolsmann
2010 tournament are distinctly pan-Africanist. The emblem depicts a figure
resembling a rock art painting against a brightly coloured African continent
and the poster shows a man’s head at the top of the African continent
heading a ball. Moreover, the catch phrase for the 2010 World Cup is ‘ke
nako [‘it’s time’ in the Sotho language]. Celebrate Africa’s humanity’. In the
case of Mexico City, a highly selective and class-ridden portrayal of Mexico’s
indigenous past was used in the imagery for the Olympics. The reference
was to an acceptable form of ‘civilisation’ while simultaneously projecting an
outward appearance of modernity. In the case of South Africa, the organisers
have emphasised African heritage and characteristics.
Despite domestic and international criticism of South Africa’s ability to
host the 2010 event, in the build up to the Confederations Cup, a general mood
of optimism and excitement was evident in the press. South African journalist
Max du Preez wrote in his newspaper column that the 2010 spectacle:
could become South Africa’s annus magnificus [and] I’m excited because
of what the event can do to us and for us and our continent. A successful
World Cup can give us the one factor we don’t nearly have enough of:
confidence in our own abilities … If the 2010 tournament were to go
that well, it could go a long way in changing the way the world views
Africa … we will be the colourful, warm, interesting fun place to go. And
people will start respecting Africa a little bit more (du Preez, 2009).
In an editorial two days before the opening ceremony of the Confederations
Cup, the Cape Argus shared this optimism and wrote:
When South Africa was awarded the rights to host the FIFA World Cup
on African soil, many predicted we would not pull it off … the Confed
[sic] Cup will offer a taste of what is to come … it will also test our
infrastructure and South Africa’s overall readiness to host the world.
There is growing reason to believe this will be a well-run, successful and
smooth World Cup and that the Afro-pessimists will be silenced. Let’s
go for it (Cape Argus, 2009a).
Similar sentiments were expressed in a rival Cape Town newspaper, the
Cape Times. It reported that ‘the biggest achievement might be a shift in all our
minds. Is it too much to hope that a successful hosting of this great event will
finally inspire in us a self-belief as South Africans and a common commitment
to this country? Stadiums cost money, but this would be priceless’ (Cape Times,
2009a). The above quotations illustrate the attempts by the local press to hype
up the perceived psychological benefits of hosting the tournament in the
minds of South Africans. In addition, the portrayal of the event as an African
one, in which South African successes will be continental, occurs. Claire
Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010 101
Brewster’s chapter in this volume provides evidence of similar rhetoric in the
case of Mexico City, where Latin America more broadly would benefit from
a successful Olympic Games. Interestingly, though, when making its bid to
host the Olympics, the Mexican team had not greatly featured their role as
Latin American leaders. This only emerged after the bid was successful.
The opening Confederations Cup match between South Africa and Iraq
was staged at the renovated Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg. In his
address to the opening ceremony, Sepp Blatter stated ‘we are convinced
… we are committed, FIFA’s committed to Africa … the world of football
trusts you and the confidence is in you, is in Africa, in South Africa today’.
South African president Jacob Zuma remarked in his speech to the crowd
of approximately 50,000 people that ‘this is a great day for Africa, for South
Africa … the time has come, today is a day, ke nako’.
As the tournament progressed, a range of issues emerged that were
dealt with by the local organisers and FIFA. An immediate concern for
the tournament organisers was the significant numbers of empty seats at
many of the group matches. The game played in Rustenburg between Spain,
the European champions and number-1-ranked side in the world, and New
Zealand was poorly attended (21,649 spectators, the lowest of the tournament)
with an estimated half of the seats in the Royal Bafokeng Stadium empty.
None of the first four matches played were sold out. Stadium attendances
averaged 33,170 during these matches as compared to 37,694 in Germany in
2005 (Mail and Guardian, 2009). Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local
organising committee had remarked six months earlier that this would be
a challenge, especially in games not involving high-profile teams (Gleeson,
2009). Blatter stated: ‘we are not happy with the crowd at the opening match
… the local organising committee should have done more to sell tickets and
bring people to the stadium’ (Cape Argus, 2009b). In addition, he remarked:
‘there must be action. The African organisers must do it, and they have
the ability to do it. They must find people who are young or poor and
cannot afford a ticket and bring them’ (Cape Times, 2009b). The Congress
of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) remarked that the low turnouts
were ‘a serious embarrassment to the country’ (Mail and Guardian, 2009).
Yet significant numbers of corporate seats and boxes were empty at games
played at the three rugby stadiums. These would usually be filled with
white supporters during rugby matches. FIFA responded by handing out
free tickets to a number of group stage matches rather than reducing the price
of tickets. This suggests that such a strategy would not have been successful
Despite empty seats at the four stadiums used during the tournament,
South Africans made up for the relative lack of fans by generating much noise
from their vuvuzelas: plastic trumpets, a metre in length and used at local
102 Chris Bolsmann
football matches, which are inspired by kudu horns used to summon villagers
to community gatherings. FIFA initially attempted to ban the instruments
from stadiums as they were seen as potential weapons and could have been
used in ambush marketing where non-official paraphernalia could be visible
in the venues. The South African football authorities argued that the vuvuzela
was part of the South African football experience and FIFA agreed in July 2008
to permit their use in stadiums during the Confederations Cup and World
Cup. Guardian journalist, David Smith said the vuvuzela has ‘been likened
to a swarm of bees or herds of flatulent elephants’ (Wilson, 2009; News 24,
2008). Xabi Alonso, the Spanish midfielder remarked, ‘those trumpets? That
noise I don’t like … FIFA must ban those things … it is not nice to have
a noise like that’ (Cape Argus, 2009c). Blatter responded that ‘that is what
African and South African football is all about – noise, excitement, dancing,
shouting and enjoyment. This is celebration’ (Cape Argus, 2009c). In addition,
he remarked ‘it’s a local sound and I don’t know how it is possible to stop it. I
always said that when we go to South Africa, it’s Africa, not Western Europe’
(Nail, 2009). Interestingly, these words contain the same mix of self-defence
and frustration as those shown by the head of the IOC in 1967 when he
defended holding the Games at altitude by arguing that ‘the Olympic Games
belong to the world – North and South, East and West, hot and cold, dry and
humid, high and low’ (see Claire Brewster’s chapter in this volume). The
mass-circulation South African Daily Sun retorted ‘South Africa is a noisy
country’ (quoted in Smith, 2009). Jordaan jokingly remarked ‘our fans blow
their vuvuzelas before the match. Maybe because they know that they might
not be celebrating afterwards’ (quoted in Smith, 2009). Despite the criticisms,
the organisers did not ban vuvuzelas from the Confederations Cup and World
Cup. This instrument has consequently become a poignant symbol of the
South African event.
Despite a few highly publicised incidents that included alleged theft from
the Brazilian and Egyptian team hotels and transportation problems, FIFA
hailed the two week long tournament a success. Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s
general secretary remarked: ‘the world has seen South Africa is able to host a
tournament [and] on a scale of one to ten, you are more than a five, and closer
to eight’ (Sunday Times, 2009a). Blatter stated: ‘what the world will see in 2010
is a truly successful African World Cup with excitement and tons of energy’
(Evans and Mazola, 2009). Jordaan said: ‘seeing the incredible progress that
has been made is a relief. It gives us a sense of accomplishment, joy, pride
and achievement … it’s been easy for people to cast doubt because the event
hasn’t happened yet. But we as South Africans and Africans are undoubtedly
in the process of delivering … when people questioned us … and said we
would fail, they also questioned Nelson Mandela’s legacy’ (quoted in Mkhize,
Evans, Bradlow and Kamaldien, 2009). The Cape Times editorial reported that
Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010 103
the ‘final was played in Johannesburg, bringing to an end the competition
that has confounded the doomsayers and delighted the rest of us … today
South Africans can look forward with optimism to the World Cup … and
the benefits that it will undoubtedly bring. The beneficiaries will be all South
Africans – even those who insist that this cup is half empty’ (Cape Times,
2009c). The BBC’s Gabby Logan concluded:
as usual we have approached the 2010 World Cup with arrogance and
ignorance we carry for most sporting events outside Western Europe or
the US … South Africa has to rebut everything from apathy, violence and
a potential lack of power … let’s embrace the horns, the sandy pitches,
the crowds mingling and occasional power cuts because it’s Africa [sic],
and staging a World Cup there is actually a brilliant idea (Logan, 2009).
South Africa successfully staged the 2009 Confederations Cup as a
precursor to the 2010 tournament. What was evident, despite certain
organisational problems, is that South Africans brought a distinct flavour
and atmosphere to the stadiums as was witnessed in the stands and on the
pitch. The South African and foreign press generally reacted positively to
the tournament and acknowledged the problems and challenges that face the
2010 event.
The comparison with the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games offers unique
insight into South Africa’s preparations for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. Rather
than relying on conjecture or speculation, the ways in which the Organising
Committee responded to the changing discourse regarding Mexico ’68 offers
a firm basis for analysing the ongoing process in South Africa. Through
comparative analysis the evidence clearly points towards salient themes that
link both countries’ experiences.
The most common characteristic of preparations is the developmental
rhetoric. While all bidding candidates tend to be bullish regarding their
own attributes, more than with many other hosts of mega-sports-events
Mexico and South Africa needed constantly to provide reassurances of their
financial stability and organisational ability in the face of unrelenting foreign
criticism. In this respect, the hosts were viewing their winning of the bid
from different perspectives. Mexico saw the awarding of the 1968 Games
as international recognition for two decades of unprecedented political and
economic stability that had allowed them a point of entry into First World
status. The Games were confirmation of Mexico’s economic and political
development. In the case of South Africa, the bid made great play of the
104 Chris Bolsmann
competitive edge that its economic and political stability gave it over other
bidders, yet greater emphasis was placed upon how the World Cup would act
as a catalyst for future growth and development. The one country reflected
back at its achievements; the other towards its bright future: both viewed
their relatively advanced stages of development as right of passage towards
hosting mega-sports-events.
The second salient feature of the hosts’ international rhetoric was the
extent to which they pushed their position as continental leaders. That a
successful bid would mean bringing these mega-sports-events to a new
continent played heavily within the bids of Mexico City and South Africa.
Particularly in the case of South Africa, the notion that it was ‘Africa’s
turn’, and ‘Africa’s stage’ to host the FIFA World Cup converged with a
broader message of South Africa being the gateway to the African continent.
No doubt in both Mexico in the 1960s and South Africa in the 2000s, this
portrayal as a continental leader gained considerable legitimacy because of
their economic and political strengths when compared to their neighbours.
Yet as the preparations unfolded, the symbolism that wove through the
rhetoric took on greater poignancy. In the case of Mexico, its self-adopted
role as defender of the Third World saw its increasing portrayal as the conduit
through which Latin Americans might disprove all the negative stereotypes
that had been drawn against them: prejudices that were maligning its own
efforts to convince the world of its ability to put on a great spectacle. So behind
the bullish rhetoric of development and regional importance, Mexico’s stance
may have represented a degree of retreat from attempting to hold its own
with countries of the developed world. South Africa, on the other hand,
appears to be sustaining this rhetoric from a position of self-confidence and
through the successful staging of the Confederations Cup. The ‘why not?’
attitude that sustained the bid and subsequent preparation may well have
sprung from the fact that, given that FIFA had committed 2010 to the African
continent, it was indeed the strongest, perhaps the only, viable option. The
degree, then, to which South Africa emphasises its continental leadership
role, may reveal a greater degree of magnanimity towards its neighbours
than Mexico, where similar rhetoric obscured a search for reassurance about
its place on the international stage.
A third feature, particularly in the case of Mexico and possibly in South
Africa, is the need to focus more than usual on the preparation of the respective
populations for the influx of visitors. Improvements to the physical landscape
are not unique to Third World hosts, although the extent to which this needs
to be done would understandably be more in such countries. It is true that, at
certain times, the organisers of both events displayed a degree of confidence
in suggesting that their preparations would be limited to those that their
limited economic circumstances could reasonably expect to achieve. At the
Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010 105
same time, however, the Mexican programme of public education showed
a distinct class tension: that ‘ordinary’ Mexicans might shatter the veneer of
sophistication and development and become an embarrassing confirmation
of the country’s Third World status. Most significantly, in the context of South
Africa’s hosting of the World Cup, this process in Mexico only really began
to reveal itself in the final stages, when the generic rhetoric of communal
responsibility began to focus more sharply on those social ills perceived
as being associated with the Third World. The distinctly South African
atmosphere evident in the stadiums during the Confederations Cup is a
precursor to how the World Cup will be supported and celebrated in 2010.
If one is searching for indications of how public discourse might develop in
South Africa in the months leading up to the World Cup, Mexico’s experiences
of public instruction might point the way. The vital difference between the
two processes might be the degree to which race combines with class to fuel
such fears.
Finally, an important corollary to the developmental rhetoric of each country’s bid was the absolute imperative to guarantee a demonstrable legacy.
Regarding the material legacy, the suspicion that scarce resources were being
moved away from welfare towards sports construction meant that neither
country could pay mere lip service to this aspect of their bid. Mexico ’68 may
well have proved to be one of the most successful in terms of legacy, long
before the term became common currency. Although many of the Olympic
sites across the city now appear dilapidated, this is a result of overuse
rather than being abandoned. Generations of the capital’s youths have benefited from the decision to locate the sports facilities within existing densely
populated areas. In the South African case, local organisers are faced with
escalating costs and growing speculation on the capacity of the country to
stage the finals. Ten stadiums will play host to the tournament. Five worldclass stadiums are being built and three rugby and two football stadiums are
being upgraded. These stadiums and training facilities will leave a material
legacy as in the case of Mexico. A range of infrastructural developments,
from transportation to accommodation, are also being undertaken.
The aspect of legacy concerning whether the mega-events achieved the
objectives of the organisers in projecting a positive image of their country is
less certain and more arbitrary. In the case of Mexico, the relative success
of the Olympic Games did do much to confirm the nation’s capacity to
stage mega-sports-events. Indeed, the success of Mexico ’68 provided the
Mexican nation with more confidence that it could stage a successful World
Cup only two years later, and again, at very short notice, in 1986. Yet the
lasting reputation of Mexico ’68 will be marred by something beyond the
control of those organising the Games: the massacre of protesting students
days before the Opening Ceremony. This one event managed to undo much
106 Chris Bolsmann
of the good work that Mexico had achieved in convincing the world that
it did not conform to the Latin American stereotype of military repression
and human rights abuses. South Africa has a tradition of successfully hosting
mega-events including the FIFA Confederations Cup, and the World Cup in
2010 has the potential to add to this legacy. The psychological benefits of the
successful Confederations Cup are evident as reported in the press and from
the assessments of the local organisers and FIFA. However, the finals will be
the largest mega-event ever undertaken in South Africa, and the material and
in particular intangible legacies are uncertain.
The parallels between Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010 are striking
particularly in the manner in which the local organisers have had to legitimate
the hosting of the events in their respective countries. The social and political
contexts and timeframes are different, but the underlying assumptions and
prejudices that question the ability of the host nation to successfully stage
a mega-sports-event are the same. ‘Mexico ’68’ offers a chance to observe a
nation that not only wanted to project a specific image to an international
audience, but that conducted very real debates concerning what such an
image should show, how it should be presented and who had the right to
decide such matters. Some of these debates concern South Africans as they
prepare for the 2010 World Cup.
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Luis Gonzalez de Alba’s ´ Los d´ıas y los
anos ˜ (1971) and Elena Poniatowska’s
La noche de Tlatelolco (1971):
Foundational Representations of
Mexico ’681
University of Liverpool, UK
In Memory of John Corf (21 July 1958 to 21 January 2008)2
The official version of events was crystal clear and beyond question: the
entire conflict was caused by the Communists and other professional
agitators who had initiated yet another campaign to tarnish Mexico’s
image. (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 29) ´
A society is democratic to the extent that its citizens play a meaningful
role in managing public affairs. If their thought is controlled, or their
options are narrowly restricted, then evidently they are not playing
a meaningful role: only their controllers, and those they serve, are
1 The author would like to record his sincere gratitude to Claire and Keith Brewster
for organising such a successful conference at Newcastle University on the fortieth
anniversary of ‘Mexico 1968’ and for the invitation as a speaker. The author would
also like to thank Professor Rosenhaft (University of Liverpool) for reading a final
draft of this article and for suggesting a number of significant changes. In addition,
thanks go to Professor Charles Forsdick and Dr Kate Marsh, colleagues at Liverpool,
for their comments on the sources, uses and limits of Saidian counterpoint.
2 John Corf’s connection with this article is in one sense purely coincidental. He and I
discussed aspects of ‘my work’ during a holiday together in Fuerteventura in January
2008. The topic of Mexico ’68 engaged him. Nobody knew then that he was so close
to being tragically taken away by an unsuspected thrombosis in the mesenteric artery.
In another sense his connection is fundamental; if the life-affirming values he lived
by consistently were all the more prevalent globally, the need to research the cultural
memory of trauma would be all the more diminished. I dedicate this work to John:
husband, father, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, friend – and in every capacity loving
and generous.
108 Chris Harris
doing so. The rest is sham, formal motions without meaning. (Chomsky,
1992: 6)3
Relax, don’t cry, said a comrade in a hushed tone, this a not a time for
crying; it’s a time for capturing every detail so all can be recalled when
those who will have to pay are called to account. (Gonzalez de Alba, ´
1997a: 191)
The principal and rather modest aim of this chapter is simply to re-read
contrapuntally, and comparatively, two key representations of the 1968
state – student conflict in Mexico that appeared in print during the presidency
of Luis Echeverr´ıa (1970–1976): Luis Gonzalez de Alba’s ´ Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ and
Elena Poniatowska’s La noche de Tlatelolco. Both of these narrative accounts
were first published in 1971.4 Poniatowska’s (1975) text was translated as
Massacre in Mexico and is, of course, known by all who have ever taken
an interest, academic or otherwise, in this episode of Mexican political
history. It combines photographic images, authorial essay, and excerpts
from state and student documentation as well as editorialised testimonies
collected and recorded by Poniatowska herself in the wake of the massacre
at Tlatelolco – including testimony from Gonzalez de Alba. In terms of ´
readership and circulation, La noche de Tlatelolco is arguably perceived as
the defining account of the Mexican student experience in 1968. By contrast,
Gonzalez de Alba’s hybrid text, part prison memoir and part documentary ´
novel, has not yet been translated into English. The title literally means ‘The
Days and the Years’ and carries with it a sense of ‘As Time Goes By’.5 It
articulates the author’s experience of the conflict from his first involvement
in July through to the time it was written whilst he was being held as a
3 Despite Mexico’s perceived differences from other countries in Latin America during
the 1960s, that is, despite the country’s alleged democratic status in relation to the
authoritarianism of countries such as Brazil and Argentina, the events of Tlatelolco
revealed that the semblance of democracy in D´ıaz Ordaz’s Mexico was exactly that: a
4 All quotations and references provided are to subsequent editions of these texts.
Full details for the editions cited (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a; Poniatowska, 1998) are ´
provided in the ‘References’ section at the end of the volume. Given the arguments
advanced, there is a self-consciously elaborated emphasis on Gonzalez de Alba’s text ´
and so a deliberate imbalance in citation. In addition, but beyond the limits of the
present article, Monsivais (1970) requires a similar elevation of status as a foundational ´
representation of Mexico ’68.
5 All translations into English used in this article, from this and other texts produced in
Spanish, are the author’s own.
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 109
political prisoner at Lecumberri. In comparison with Poniatowska’s work,
Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ has rarely gained anything like the same level of popular
and intellectual recognition.
Contrapuntal analysis is the chosen methodological approach in this article
(drawing on one of Edward Said’s contributions to postcolonial theory and
practice, which in turn draws on the work of Cuban anthropologist Fernando
Ortiz) because it is beyond doubt that both of the primary texts were
consciously designed to function contrapuntally.
6 Overall, the contrapuntal
function of these texts ensures that as readers we experience the constant
dismantling or deconstruction of the official version of history just as swiftly
as it appears in our minds through the contextualised citations of military
officers, government officials, state documents and extracts from the work
of partisan, or co-opted, journalists. In other words, both texts display a
‘simultaneous awareness’ of the official version of history and of those ‘other
histories against which (and together with which) the dominant discourse
acts’ (Said, 1994: 59). They combine, in brief, the perspectives not of coloniser
and colonised, but certainly of the authoritarian state and dissident groups
within Mexican civil society. In this sense, a contrapuntal reading is a logical
choice to make. Even though the objects of analysis are not representations of
colonial relations of domination and subordination, the texts do engage with a
situation of conflict born of analogous inequalities of power with an entirely
relevant emphasis on contrasting subjectivities and identities, as well as
vastly differing interpretations of historical events in a context of tense social
relations.7 On the question of a comparative reading as a supplementary
6 There is no fully elaborated model of this methodology in Said’s writing, and it is
significant to note that Charles Forsdick (1999) was already considering the limits of
counterpoint ten years ago. This debate should be renewed. For the purposes of the
present study, while there is potentially an over-simplification in any deconstructive
or comparative analysis that rests unquestioningly on a series of obvious binaries,
especially without considering their interaction and the inevitable contradictions and
aporia that arise, this methodology still works exceptionally well for these texts. Both
of them were published before the rise of theory in the 1970s and 1980s, and both are
indisputably shaped and structured by the authoritarian politics of the time and so by
the marked division between state and dissident perspectives. However, Gonzalez de ´
Alba’s and Poniatowska’s texts do not generate aporia, strictly speaking; they generate
contradictions that were designed in 1971 to promote the reader’s sense of mistrust,
even disbelief, in the face of pronouncements by the country’s leaders on the events at
7 Bart Moore-Gilbert’s assertion that ‘postcolonial criticism’ can be understood ‘as
preoccupied principally with the analysis of cultural forms which mediate, challenge
or reflect upon relations of domination and subordination’ is entirely apt (MooreGilbert, 1997: 12). Equally relevant is the influence of Gramsci on colonial discourse
analysis and the potentiality here for identifying not the students, but Mexico’s
workers as subaltern subjects whose voices on the subject of 1968 have often been
110 Chris Harris
methodological move, the choice of primary texts deliberately re-opens a
debate about their relative value as sources for understanding the rise and
fall of the Mexican Student Movement from the perspective of the students
themselves; a debate that once brought the authors into a bitter dispute that
was made public through the pages of Nexos in 1997.8
One broad aim of this contrapuntal and comparative re-reading is to
identify and explicate the principal ways in which the student experience
of conflict in Mexico in 1968 is characterised by Gonzalez de Alba and ´
Poniatowska, highlighting both similarity and difference, and granting Los
d´ıas y los anos ˜ an equal status as a key representation that it is rarely afforded.
In pursuit of that aim, the more specific objectives are to argue: (i) that both of
these texts articulate foundational representations of the particularities of the
Mexican student experience in the sense that they evidently prefigure, and
in different ways directly influence, the now dominant narrative of Mexico
’68 that is circulating in Mexican society as well as in academia in this first
decade of the twenty-first century (i.e. they have both had a profound impact
on cultural memory); (ii) that Gonzalez de Alba’s text is an equally valuable ´
source for understanding the Mexican student experience because, despite
the striking similarities with Poniatowska’s account in the refusal to represent
the students as revolutionaries, it also provides a markedly different form
of representation by concentrating far more on what it was that inspired the
students to protest in the first place, and on the factionalism that emerged,
rather than on what it was they wanted to achieve and what happened to
them in the pursuit of their six demands; (iii) that in both texts the distance,
rather than synergies, between students and workers is obscured far more
than it is explicated even though it was a distinctive feature of the Mexican
state – student conflict.
Forty Years Later: The Dominant Narrative of Mexico ’68
In order to facilitate the argument that both La noche de Tlatelolco and Los d´ıas y
los anos ˜ are foundational representations that have shaped today’s dominant
narrative of the Mexican student experience in 1968, this first section serves
to sketch the broadest contours of that narrative as a reference point for
what follows. The starting point is the now standard characterisation of the
Mexican Student Movement as politically moderate,reformist in its ambitions.
marginalised or silenced, even in these two ‘popular’ accounts by Gonzalez de Alba ´
and Poniatowska.
8 In particular, see: Gonzalez de Alba (1997b). He accused Poniatowska of producing a ´
text that contained factual errors. As a response, Poniatowska published a ‘corrected’
version of her text in 1998.
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 111
In 1968, according to those historians who have shaped today’s dominant
narrative, Mexico’s students were only indirectly struggling to transform
conditions of poverty and exploitation; only indirectly concerned with regime
change; at no point did they constitute a unified movement self-consciously
aspiring to revolutionise the country’s socio-economic structure or to oust
the president and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) from their
positions of dominance. In Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture,
for instance, Eric Zolov writes:
Formalized in the CNH [Comite Nacional de Huelga/Student Strike
Committee], the student movement actually pushed for limited, reformist
goals. Unlike student movements in the United States or France, for
instance, the Mexican movement did not advocate a distinctively radical
social or political agenda. Rather, student demands and discourse were
carefully structured in terms of respect for the 1917 Constitution, which
contained guarantees of free speech, democratic process and economic
redistribution. (Zolov, 1999: 120–21; my emphasis)
With a similar emphasis on reformism, in Mexico under Siege: Popular
Resistance to Presidential Despotism, Hodges and Gandy make the following
The student movement focused not on the antithesis of bourgeois and
proletarians, exploiters and exploited, but on the opposition of power
and powerlessness, authority and freedom. Although a minority of student
revolutionaries made common cause with organized labour against
the veiled exploitation in nationalized enterprises besides that in the
private sector, the two struggles should not be confused – nor the
two modes of popular resistance. (Hodges and Gandy, 2002: 103; my
And with eloquent concision, Brian Hamnett has also expressed a very
similar view. He claims that although subversive dissidence (supported by
non-Mexican Communists) was indeed the singular political identity the D´ıaz
Ordaz regime attempted to create for the students, the state’s arguments were
never and have never been convincing:
The government saw this growing movement as a revolutionary
conspiracy designed to bring down the existing political order. Na¨ıve
appeal by student protestors to far-left heroes of the late 1960s such as
Che Guevara, inadvertently gave credence to such a view. Given the
Mexican context, and above all the social composition of the movement,
demand for civil liberties rather than attempted revolution provided the
explanation for the scale of protest. (Hamnett, 1999: 270)
112 Chris Harris
Stated succinctly, then, those writers and academics who have constructed
the twenty-first-century’s dominant narrative collectively maintain that the
Mexican Student Movement was primarily aimed at tempering the political
power of the PRI – it was an attempt to persuade D´ıaz Ordaz to grant specific
concessions and thereby to demonstrate the efficacy of popular protest in
securing civil liberties.
In relation to this particular understanding of the Student Movement’s
reformist politics in 1968, it follows logically that the Tlatelolco massacre
marked an immediate defeat for the students and their sympathisers because
none of their six demands had been met. However, over the last decade,
as a second feature of today’s dominant narrative, the students’ immediate
defeat has consistently been reframed as a longer-term victory on the grounds
that Tlatelolco and its aftermath marked the beginning of the end for the
PRI’s dominance in an era of presidential despotism. For example, with a
characteristic use of wordplay, Carlos Fuentes has suggested that the events of
Summer ’68 in Mexico City can and should in retrospect be seen as a ‘pyrrhic
defeat’ (Fuentes, 2005: 11). And to emphasise his point, Fuentes proceeds
to ask a revealing rhetorical question of the Mexican experience in the year
2000: ‘Could Mexico have undergone a transition from an authoritarian,
single-party political system to a pluralist democratic system without the
terrible sacrifice of Tlatelolco?’ (Fuentes, 2005: 20). In this respect, Fuentes
echoes Hamnett, who states that: ‘The moral and political catastrophe of 1968
began the long and painful decline of the PRI’ – a decline that ended with
Vicente Fox’s victory in presidential elections on behalf the Partido de Accion´
Nacional (PAN) in 2000 (Hamnett, 1999: 272). This positive vision of the
Mexican Student Movement and its role in the longer-term transformations
of the Mexican national political system is also where the brief but insightful
analysis from Hodges and Gandy leads. In their words:
The student insurgency was bound to end in utopia. But the heroes and
martyrs of the 1968 struggle wrote another chapter in the history of the
popular resistance that was not utopian. The students ripped away the
revolutionary mask of the PRI government and revealed the truth to the
nation. The truth would feed and strengthen the popular resistance in
years to come … The limited amnesty and the political opening for the
left-wing parties during the 1970s owed much to the popular student
movement of 1968. The democratic opening of the year 2000 owes even
more. (Hodges and Gandy, 2002: 105)
By implication, then, the forever shocking act of mass murder in the Plaza
de las Tres Culturas at Tlatelolco was not symptomatic of a crisis already
affecting the PRI and the ruling classes; rather, the massacre produced for
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 113
the first time a substantial crack in the foundations of the priista edifice that
brought the party and the social order into crisis in the first place.9
It follows from this last point that the Tlatelolco massacre is invariably
perceived as an event that represents a watershed in Mexican political history.
As Scherer Garc´ıa and Monsivais claimed when they placed General Garc´ ´ ıa
Barragan’s documents in the public domain, the violence at Tlatelolco made ´
Mexico a different country:
From that day forth Mexico was an ‘other’ country. Other, because the
roads to freedom were closed; other, because a political system that still
asphyxiates us was perpetuated; other, because society was wounded,
lacerated, by the assassination of its youth; other, because we could never
know the truth, the origin of the government’s decisions, and we had to
be satisfied with vain declarations which, while we were crying for our
dead, spoke of safeguarding national institutions. (Scherer Garc´ıa and
Monsivais, 1999: 13) ´
Yet these slightly negative words were written ten years ago, before the
fall of the PRI, and therefore in a context that was still too close to the
events themselves for Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ and La noche de Tlatelolco to be seen
as foundational representations. From the perspective of the present, their
status in the textualised history and cultural memory of Mexico ’68 must be
seen in this way.
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68
In Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ and La noche de Tlatelolco both Gonzalez de Alba and ´
Poniatowska map out certain broader social and historical dimensions of the
state – student conflict. Gonzalez de Alba’s account, for example – in line with ´
insightful and subsequent historical narratives such as Raul ´ Alvarez Gar´ ´ ın’s
(1998) study and Sergio Aguayo’s analysis published in the same year – sets
the history of the Mexican Student Movement in a context of popular
resistance, referring to a range of precedents including not just strike action
by railway workers, but also by doctors and earlier generations of students, as
well as the assassination of peasant leaders such as Ruben Jaramillo and the ´
revolutionary legacy of Zapata and Villa (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 59–60). ´
There is also discussion of the student movement in France (Gonzalez de ´
9 The term ‘genocide’ can legitimately be applied to the killings following a 2007 court
ruling in Mexico on the grounds that: ‘government authorities at the time jointly
conducted a prearranged and coordinated action aimed at exterminating a national
group of students from various universities’. See Los Angeles Times (2007).
114 Chris Harris
Alba, 1997a: 37). Poniatowska’s text also alludes to this context of popular
resistance and extends it by adding a gender dimension for consideration and
analysis. Essentially, her deliberate insistence on highlighting the experience
of women and especially the experience of mothers serves to gender overtly
the historical narrative produced by her eclectic montage of materials.
In these broad contexts of class and gender, Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ and La noche
de Tlatelolco both provide ample testimony of the resilient commitment of
Mexico’s student protestors not to revolutionary radicalism but to specific
forms of legal and institutional reform, to ‘exigencias puramente reformistas’,
‘entirely reformist demands’ (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 37). Throughout ´
both texts there are repeated references to the Student Strike Committee’s
persistent calls for the D´ıaz Ordaz regime to meet six demands as a
potential contribution to transforming conditions of political marginalisation
in Mexico. Significantly, subsequent historical accounts have retained that
same emphasis on the reformist orientation of the Mexican StudentMovement
and on the ‘pliego petitorio’ or list of six demands: (i) freedom for political
prisoners; (ii) dismissal of the police chiefs (Generals Luis Cueto Ram´ırez and
Raul Mendiolea Cerecero, Chief and Assistant Chief of Mexico City’s police
force respectively, plus Lieutenant Colonel Armando Fr´ıas, Commander of
the granaderos/riot police); (iii) abolition of the granaderos; (iv) abrogation
of the crime of social dissolution10 (v) compensation for the families of the
dead and wounded; (vi) determination of responsibility for the repression
(See: Hodges and Gandy, 2002: 96). In tandem with this overt emphasis on
reformism, Poniatowska and Gonzalez de Alba also emphasise the fact that ´
only a small minority of (Communist) student protestors were motivated
by a desire to see D´ıaz Ordaz and the PRI forced out of power, and
that even they were conscious that a prolonged campaign of non-violent
resistance could not envisage regime change as anything other than a
utopian dream. Echoing this, Zolov remarks that the Student Movement
attempted to distance itself from those who were inspired by the Cuban
Revolution and cohered as a ‘radical wing of student activism advocating
a guerrilla strategy of revolutionary insurrection’ (Zolov, 1999: 119). Simply
put, and in complete accord with today’s dominant narrative of the Mexican
Student Movement, the evidence found in the two accounts of Mexico ’68
under consideration strongly suggests that a revolutionary desire for regime
change, resistance to capitalist exploitation and a passionate commitment to
10 Zolov explains that this clause ‘dated back to World War II efforts to fight internal
subversion instigated by the Axis powers. The article provided harsh penalties against
those who ‘‘in word, writing, or by whatever other means propagate ideas, programs,
or conduct that tend to produce rebellion sedition, riots, disorders, and the obstruction
of the functioning of legal institutions’’’ (Zolov, 1999: 122).
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 115
transforming conditions of poverty in Mexican society were never high on
the agenda of the Student Strike Committee.
The Principle of Peaceful Protest
In order to add a degree of detail and illustration to the argument that the
two primary texts considered here are both foundational representations,
especially of the reformist nature of the Mexican Student Movement, we can
usefully ask, according to these accounts, how the protestors attempted
to challenge state authoritarianism and contribute to the democratic
transformation of conditions of political marginalisation? As a first response
to that question, in both representations the students are shown to have
consistently conducted a campaign of non-violent resistance and so defended
a constitutional right of all Mexican citizens to protest peacefully against
their government. More recent accounts written by survivors are in complete
accord. Raul ´ Alvarez Gar´ ´ ın writes: ‘All of the events organised by the Student
Strike Committee were peaceful, conducted in an atmosphere of exemplary
responsibility and order, such was the profound and absolute belief in the
justness of the struggle’ (Alvarez Gar´ ´ ın, 1998: 89). At the same time, and
in a perfect illustration of the contrapuntal function of these texts, both
representations set images of peaceful protest in opposition to the state’s
idea of the student protestors as armed agitators trying to overthrow a
democratically elected government. The desired impact on cultural memory
is in this sense entirely transparent. What both writers manifestly wanted
their readers to ‘remember’ in 1971 was the exceptional success the students
had experienced in organising large-scale non-violent protests that contained
elements of thoroughly enjoyable spontaneous creativity.
Gonzalez de Alba and Poniatowska both narrate at length the student ´
experience of participating in protest marches in support of the six demands.
They document the fact that attendance at those marches – approximate
figures are given as exact figures remain contested – grew and then declined
as follows: the initial 1 August march headed by Javier Barros Sierra, the
Rector of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de M ´ exico (UNAM), attracted ´
some 50,000; the first march to the capital’s main square or Zocalo on 13 ´
August saw a significant rise to 200,000 with chants of ‘sal al balcon hocic ´ on’ ´
(‘come onto the balcony, pig-nose’), attacking and insulting D´ıaz Ordaz
directly; and the Movement appears to have peaked on 27 August when
400,000 marched to the Zocalo and were greeted by the peal of the cathedral ´
bells and chants of ‘el pueblo al poder!’ ( ‘power to the people!’) (Gonzalez ´
de Alba, 1997a: 61, 98). Gonzalez de Alba records not only that according ´
to the Student Strike Committee some 300,000 attended the Silent March
116 Chris Harris
on 13 September, but also that the subsequent militarisation of the State’s
response with the occupation of UNAM campus and the Instituto Politecnico ´
Nacional (IPN) facilities in the Casco de Santo Tomas, as well as the leafleting ´
of parents as a scaremongering tactic, meant that just 10,000 or less attended
Tlatelolco on 2 October – some of whom were curious local residents and
foreign journalists. They had not been involved in the earlier marches and
there was no march planned this time. It had already been cancelled because
of the threats of military action (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 120, 181). ´
For Gonzalez de Alba, the cheerful creativity involved in student protests ´
and activism included the staging of the Silent March itself. He recalls that, in
part, the highly theatrical Silent March was a deliberate show of self-discipline
following ill-disciplined incidents of earlier days: in the Zocalo on 13 August ´
there had been attempts to break into the National Palace; and then, again in
the Zocalo on 27 August, at the moment when the Mexican flag was replaced ´
with a black and red strike flag, a soldier on the roof of the National Palace was
spotlighted as the crowd chanted ‘asesino, asesino’ (‘murderer, murderer’)
(Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 99). Yet Gonz ´ alez de Alba also explains that good- ´
humoured creativity in the context of peaceful protest had preceded the Silent
March too: in part during a first meeting at Tlatelolco on 7 September when
pro-student slogans were painted on blankets draped over stray dogs; in part
through the use of hydrogen-filled balloons to distribute leaflets simply by
rising high and eventually bursting or descending (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: ´
117). In addition, and throughout the conflict, of course, as Poniatowska
reveals, small student brigades held lightning meetings to inform the public
of their demands and to collect money to pay for printing costs: ‘They put me
in charge of the ‘‘Che Guevara’’ brigade: a really great brigade with ten men
and six women. We painted graffiti, held lightning meetings and collected
money on buses, in the streets and in markets’ (Antonio Careaga Garc´ıa
quoted in Poniatowska, 1998: 31).
In connection with the formation of a dominant narrative, with the process
of shaping cultural memory, if Gonzalez de Alba and Poniatowska both ´
wanted their readers to establish images of peaceful and creative protest, it
is possible that they also both consciously wanted certain other features of
the student experience to slip into oblivion. In other words, it is important
to note that processes of forgetting might also be facilitated by these two
foundational representations. Gonzalez de Alba’s account does not reveal, ´
for example, that he went to Tlatelolco armed and tried to rid himself of
a pistol as quickly as possible (Aguayo Quezada, 1998: 226). By contrast,
Poniatowska’s account does recognise that some protestors were armed,
and suggests, emphatically, that the number and nature of the arms found
and documented was insignificant in the context of an alleged attempt to
overthrow the D´ıaz Ordaz regime (Poniatowska, 1998: 214–215). In other
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 117
words, Poniatowska’s text voices an emphatic claim that a handful of pistols
could never have been an armament designed to underpin an attempted
coup d’etat. Aguayo Quezada’s subsequent historical narrative goes further
still in this direction by accepting that some students fired at the security
services. In addition to declarations made by student survivors, the FBI and
foreign journalists, Aguayo Quezada states: ‘For my part, as author of this
study I identified other students and residents of Tlatelolco who fired shots
that evening, though they prefer to remain anonymous. In each instance,
they claim to have fired with pistols of a low calibre’ (Aguayo Quezada,
1998: 226–227) Nevertheless, what Aguayo Quezada also shows is that there
is no longer any doubt about the identity of the snipers who opened fire
on soldiers and so initiated the massacre: the snipers were ‘a group of
paramilitaries organised by the State Department for Mexico City’.11 The
consensus here, in brief, is that the use of weapons by students, albeit in acts
of self defence, never served to further their demands and did not characterise
their campaign.
The Principle of Public Negotiation
With the right to peaceful protest highlighted, a second challenge to state
authoritarianism and a second contribution to the democratic transformation
of conditions of political marginalisation that Gonzalez de Alba and ´
Poniatowska both illustrate in their testimonial accounts concerns political
talks. What they show is that Mexico’s students insisted without wavering
on the principle of high-level talks as a way to proceed and so struggled to
lever the principle of democratic negotiation into the national political culture
if only as a goal to be achieved (and that in doing so they also inevitably
insisted on presidential and government accountability and responsiveness
to the public). In relation to this call for political talks Gonzalez de Alba ´
points out that there was in fact already a tradition of negotiation in Mexico,
but adds that political talks tended to be behind closed doors – ‘platicas ´
de recamara’ as he calls them – and often with co-opted representatives of ´
popular sectors: the most obvious example being the corrupt trade unionist
Fidel Velazquez (Gonz ´ alez de Alba, 1997a: 60, 85, 89). Consequently, Gonz ´ alez ´
de Alba describes this established process of negotiation as the tradition of
11 Poniatowska reproduces testimonial evidence to the same effect, such as the
statement made by anthropologist Mercedes Olivera de Vazquez: ‘The so-called ´
sharpshooters – and I tell you this because those of us who were there and who saw
it can state this without fear of equivocation, the sharpshooters were members of the
government security forces’ (Poniatowska, 1998: 183).
118 Chris Harris
the ‘Mexican monologue’, of the State talking to the State (Gonzalez de ´
Alba, 1997a: 81). He further explains that the students tried to prevent
this authoritarian model from being implemented anew by ruling out any
possibility of channelling talks through the PRI-controlled student body, the
Federacion Nacional de Estudiantes T ´ ecnicos (FNET), and by ensuring as far ´
as their own democratic principles allowed that none of the co-opted students
in the Student Movement possessed sufficient popularity to be elected as a
delegate for high level negotiations (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 22, 26, 81). ´
In terms of actual events, as Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ reveals, the D´ıaz Ordaz
regime, or more precisely the Home Office minister and future president
Luis Echeverr´ıa, embraced at first the idea of talks as a route to resolving the
conflict. Gonzalez de Alba states that on 22 August, Echeverr´ ´ ıa made this
public statement:
The Mexican Government is well disposed to receive representatives of
teachers and students from the UNAM, the IPN and other educational
centres concerned with the present problem in order to exchange views
with them and learn at first hand of the demands they are making and
the proposals they are putting forward, with a view to bringing to a
definitive end the conflict that our capital city has witnessed in recent
weeks and that has affected, in truth, and to a greater or lesser extent, all
of its inhabitants. (Quoted by Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 82) ´
In fact, Gonzalez de Alba maintains that the initial signs were so positive ´
that there was reason to hope that concessions and a victory of sorts were
distinct possibilities. The Mexican Student Movement was, he claims, ‘never
any closer to winning a victory than during those five days from 22 to 27
August’ (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 90). In support of this claim, he explains ´
that the students were given a phone number to enable them to establish
contact with government representatives and that the next day, 23 August,
the Student Movement elected four representatives, two from the UNAM
(Gilberto Guevara and Marcelino Perello) and two from the IPN (Ra ´ ul ´ Alvarez ´
Gar´ın and Socrates Amado) as delegates for talks (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: ´
According to Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ , this brief period of hope rapidly
disappeared. By 26 August there had been no official response to a call
for the regime to say where and when talks would take place. The fact that
the students had added a precondition, that political talks would have to be
conducted in public, had apparently created a permanent stumbling block: ‘the
government expected us to compromise on an issue that for us was essential:
the talks had to be public’ (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 90). Gonz ´ alez de Alba’s ´
account records that in the absence of an agreement with D´ıaz Ordaz’s regime
on talks, on 27 August, following the march to the Zocalo, Socrates Amado ´
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 119
called from the microphone to the students to ask them where they wanted
public talks with the government to take place and they chanted ‘Zocalo, ´
Zocalo’ (Gonz ´ alez de Alba, 1997a: 99). Consequently, an impromptu decision ´
was made, without consultation through the usual democratic channels of
the Student Strike Committee, to the effect that public talks would be with the
President in person in the main square on 1 September after his State of the
Nation address. Gonzalez de Alba notes at this juncture in the narrative, that ´
5,000 students remained in wait in the central plaza. He asserts that this was
undoubtedly a strategic error, citing as incontestable evidence the fact that
overnight tanks emerged from the National Palace and the waiting students
were forcibly removed (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 99–100). ´
Nevertheless, the students did not give up on the possibility of a negotiated
settlement involving compromise on both sides and Gonzalez de Alba ´
describes the ‘talks’ that did occur on the morning of the Tlatelolco massacre.
Three students, of whom he was one together with Gilberto Guevara and
another student named only as Mu´noz, met with two representatives of the ˜
D´ıaz Ordaz regime: Jorge de la Vega and Andres Caso. The meeting took ´
place at the home Barros Sierra, but did not last long. De la Vega insisted that
the students would have to give up their hopes for public talks: ‘He said that
the government was in total disagreement and would never go to a ‘‘Roman
circus’’ like the students were requesting’ (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 176). ´ 12
Unable to agree, the group decided they would meet again the next day.
Tragically, however, the next day brought the blood-red dawn of Tlatelolco,
and the proposed talks were no longer relevant.
In spite of Gonzalez de Alba’s ephemeral optimism about the outcomes ´
of political talks, the representations of 1968 articulated in Los d´ıas y los anos ˜
and La noche de Tlatelolco strongly suggest that the idea of specific presidential
concessions in response to the six demands was almost always an unlikely
outcome because the mechanisms of state power were far too effective. To
cite one specific example, any approach to understanding 1968 through the
accounts provided by these two texts makes it evident that even at a relatively
low level of social control, the PRI could easily influence the media, or at least
the nature of dominant media representations. Consequently, the Mexican
state was always in a position to disseminate its misleading vision of the
students as subversives, and thereby to justify repressive and militarised
12 Ironically, one of the popular sayings that was often voiced by the Secretary of Public
Education Agust´ın Ya´nez during his campaign for the governorship of Jalisco in the ˜
1950s was ‘hablando se entienden las gentes’ – ‘by talking with each other people
reach understanding’ (Ya´nez, 1958: 233). Yet ˜ Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ suggests that it was not
politicians but Mexican students who established that principle and defended it, in
non-violent protests, and ultimately at the cost of their own lives.
120 Chris Harris
actions in its own terms. Zolov has since reinforced this perception, referring
to the influential role of ‘PRI-dominated mass media’ in the course of the
conflict (Zolov, 1999: 119). And beyond media misrepresentation, as Gonzalez ´
de Alba and Poniatowska both document, the state also had available
a repertoire of alternative options for exercising social control including
intimidation and force if deemed necessary. In this regard, both writers
document in detail the fact that, ultimately, the state did have recourse to
threats such as those expressed in D´ıaz Ordaz’s annual address to the people
of Mexico, and also violence, from the aggressive occupation of the UNAM
and IPN student campuses to the massacre at Tlatelolco.
Significantly, later accounts of Mexico’s state – student conflict echo the
earlier foundational representations by Gonzalez de Alba and Poniatowska ´
in their discussion of the state’s repressive potentialities and actions. As
Jorge Volpi notes, referring to the state’s tactics of ‘last resort’, ‘las ultimas ´
consecuencias’, the most infamous threat came in D´ıaz Ordaz’s State of
the Nation speech on 1 September when he warned the students and their
parents: ‘We don’t wish to take undesirable measures, but we will take them
if it is necessary: whatever it is our duty to do, we will do: however far we
are forced to go, we will go that far’ (cited by Volpi, 1998: 282).13
This was just hours after tanks had emerged from the National Palace to
clear the Zocalo of the 5,000 or so students who had remained there naively ´
awaiting a public dialogue with the president following the demonstration
on 27 August. Citing various journalistic sources as evidence, Volpi also
illustrates the state’s orchestrated use of military force with reference to the
occupation of the UNAM campus on 18 September and then of the IPN
campus in the Casco de Santo Tomas five days later (Volpi, 1998: 299–309). ´
Finally, at the extreme, the PRI was eventually ready and willing to enact
repression of the most shockingly violent kind – an act of mass murder
against its people. In the words of Hodges and Gandy: ‘The 5000 soldiers
with hundreds of tanks completely surrounded the plaza: there was no way
out or around or through. A helicopter tossed out flares, and the army began
shooting to kill’ (Hodges and Gandy, 2002: 100). The massacre at Tlatelolco
prompted intellectuals publicly to distance themselves from the state. Octavio
Paz resigned his position as ambassador to India in horror and disgust at
13 D´ıaz Ordaz’s attitude was consistently and insistently focused upon his duty to the
nation as the guarantor of public order. Volpi comments, astutely:
It is curious that, faced with a need for first person singular, so beloved of the
president, at the very moment when he was announcing his most difficult decision he
did so with a royal we. Again it seems like the students are those who are forcing him
to act; that, underneath it all, he is not the agent of his acts, just the person responsible,
to his regret, for the security of the nation.
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 121
what he later described as the re-animation of pre-Columbian sacrificial
rituals destined to perpetuate the power of the elite. Claire Brewster notes
that Paz’s resignation was ‘widely felt’ and covered by the London Times
Literary Supplement. She also comments on the protest poem that Paz penned
at that time and that was published in La Cultura en Mexico ´ : ‘Writing the
poem was a brave, antigovernment stance; publishing it in Mexico was a
yet more courageous move’ (C. Brewster, 2005: 57). Mass murder in Mexico
also brought condemnation from Carlos Fuentes and Carlos Monsivais. ´
Poniatowska’s critical response to 1968 came in various textual forms, the
most famous being La noche de Tlatelolco. The only mystery that remains
concerning the stance of Mexico’s prominent intellectuals of the day is why
Agust´ın Ya´nez remained in post as Secretary of Public Education. ˜
The Principle of Popular Resistance
As a third challenge to state authoritarianism and a third contribution
to the transformation of conditions of political marginalisation in Mexico,
Gonzalez de Alba and Poniatowska both in ´ sist that the students and their
sympathisers stood firm in the face of escalating repression and thus allowed
the authoritarian excesses of the Mexican state to be exposed by the nonpartisan national press, such as those working for the investigative news
journal ¿Por que?´ , and also by the gathering numbers of international reporters
whose anticipated role in Mexico was to cover the Olympic Games. In this
latter group we find the British correspondent John Rodda, who has made
a lasting intervention and contribution to contemporary understandings of
Mexico ’68. As Claire Brewster comments:
British sports correspondent, John Rodda, described how he was trapped
inside a building at Tlatelolco on the night of 2 October. Rodda, who spoke
no Spanish, quoted a Mexican journalist who told him 500 people had
been killed. The man ‘wrote the figure down in case we misunderstood’.
Rodda could not confirm this, ‘because I had my face pressed hard to the
floor most of the time’. After his return from Mexico, Rodda stated, ‘an
accurate figure of the deaths will never be known but the 500 I reported
on the following day is not likely to be far off the mark’. (C. Brewster,
2002: 176, note 13)
Rodda’s estimate, of course, bears no relation to the 49 deaths eventually
admitted by the state (Zolov, 1999: 130). There is still no accepted figure and it
is possible that an accurate death toll may never be reliably calculated because
the bodies of some who went missing were never found. Paco Ignacio Taibo
122 Chris Harris
II claims that these were dumped in the Gulf of Mexico by military aircraft
on the night of the massacre (Taibo, 1991: 103).
Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ and La noche de Tlatelolco both propose, with the
inauguration of the Olympic Games looming ever closer, that September
1968 was the month when the D´ıaz Ordaz regime started to escalate the
levels of repression in a concerted attempt to bring the conflict to an end.
These foundational representations show that prior to the Silent March on
13 September, parents were leafleted warning them not to let their children
attend demonstrations as there was a serious risk of confrontation with the
military (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 118). Gonz ´ alez de Alba tells us that in ´
this period Barros Sierra made an unexpected call for students to return
to normality in their university life. He was evidently under some form of
pressure and a high-ranking administrator in UNAM said to Gonzalez de ´
Alba: ‘Some day I’ll tell you the secret history of that appeal’ (Gonzalez ´
de Alba, 1997a: 114). Whatever the real cause of Barros Sierra’s call for
normality, as Gonzalez de Alba explains with reference to the Silent March: ´
‘The possibility that the demonstration would be met with violent repression
was foremost in everyone’s mind’ (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 117). ´ Los d´ıas y
los anos ˜ reveals that over the days following the Silent March, street conflicts
left a number of students dead, some of them killed in Tlatelolco, and the
military also occupied the National Polytechnic campus in the Casco de
Santo Tomas. The scenes of flying truncheons and Molotov cocktails, street ´
fighting, burning buses and injured victims that had been visible at the start
of the conflict in July are shown to have reappeared with greater frequency
and with an alarming additional element – the use of armed force and the
deaths of student protestors. As Gonzalez de Alba’s text movingly reveals, ´
in September everything was gearing up for the massacre at Tlatelolco,
which he represents as a calculated and orchestrated act of mass murder that
began with the agreed signal of two flares being thrown from a low-circling
helicopter (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 183–84). In relation to the foundational ´
status of such a representation, from the vantage point of 1999, General Garc´ıa
Barragan’s bequeathed military plans have subsequently corroborated this ´
claim. And with even greater prescience, the outcomes of Mexico’s judicial
enquiry in 2007 were predicted by Poniatowska’s categorisation in 1971 of
Tlatelolco as an act of genocide through an intertextual link with an essay by
Leonardo Femat published in Siempre! (Poniatowska, 1998: 177–178).
In this context of escalating state pressure, Gonzalez de Alba and ´
Poniatowska both bring the students’ continual and admirable determination
to resist repression into sharp relief. For example, Gonzalez de Alba points ´
out that of the 300,000 who turned out for the Silent March, despite the
atmosphere of increased fear that the state had deliberately generated, many
walked with a hand in the air displaying a V for Victory sign (Gonzalez de ´
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 123
Alba, 1997a: 119–120). He also notes that when the military occupied the
UNAM campus this did not generate a sense of defeat. Quite the contrary; it
galvanised spirits and made the students determined to continue with their
The scale of the error made by the government was manifest that night;
while a detachment of paratroopers were unceremoniously raising the
flag that the rector had put at half mast on the morning of 30 July, the
students who had been arrested, face down on the concrete, were lifting
up their arms and making V for victory signs between the soldiers’ boots.
That was the attitude that would predominate over the coming days; no
defeatism, just indignation. (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 127) ´
Turning to the massacre at Tlatelolco on 2 October, this is powerfully
described and documented by Gonzalez de Alba and all the more ´
evocatively in Poniatowska’s extensive collection of survivors’ testimonies
(1999: 161–274). Tellingly, what both writers insist upon is that even mass
murder, the ultimate form of military repression, did not effectively bring to
an end the students’ resistance to state terror. Both texts record the fact that
the Student Movement was formally dissolved on 6 December, two days after
its leaders issued a call for a return to classes (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 172). ´
Nevertheless, from his prison cell at Lecumberri, Gonzalez de Alba organised ´
a project to produce a collectively authored history: ‘we considered the
possibility of writing a jointly authored account that would capture the
experience of 1968 from within [the Student Movement]’ (Gonzalez de Alba, ´
1997a: 24). The sole-authored Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ is a direct product of that
initiative. Poniatowska greatly enhanced this contribution to the formation
of Mexican cultural memory in La noche de Tlatelolco, emblematically with
her emphasis on the memorial poem by Rosario Castellanos and on annual
commemoration, and her text remains as another foundational publication.14
Since then, other revealing accounts have followed, and have built on the
cornerstones laid down by Gonzalez de Alba and Poniatowska, including a ´
1993 Truth Commission Report,15 and the two (1998) accounts referenced just
above by Raul ´ Alvarez Gar´ ´ ın and Sergio Aguayo. Curiously, though, and in
spite of a clear presence of Mexico ’68 in transcultural memory, none of these
texts are translated into English and – excepting Brewster’s excellent study of
14 Every year on 2 October there is a commemorative march. In 1993, a memorial stone
was erected at Tlatelolco with the names of some of the dead inscribed upon it together
with a poem by Rosario Castellanos. (See Poniatowska, 1998: 163–164.)
15 Lorenzo Meyer at the Colegio de Mexico kindly provided me with a copy of this ´
report. I am not aware of it existing as a publication that can be referenced.
124 Chris Harris
intellectual responses to Mexico ’68 (and other political developments) – there
is currently just one book-length historical account of Mexico ’68 available in
Underlining the point, in 1971, Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ and La noche de
Tlatelolco were themselves signs of a continuing intellectual resistance to
state authoritarianism in the sense that they challenged the official version of
events and so damaged the state’s ability to use misinformation as a strategy
for maintaining power. In the aftermath of Tlatelolco, the state had made
claims that Gonzalez de Alba and Poniatowska co ´ nvincingly contested. One
of the most significant of those claims was the state’s denial of operations
carried out in the Chihuahua Building by Batallon Olimpia, a military body ´
ostensibly created for enforcing public order during the Olympics. Yet this
claim was contradicted outright by Gonzalez de Alba’s detailed eye-witness ´
As I was in the middle I could see out of the corner of my eye. All of the
individuals who had occupied the floor were wearing a white glove on
their left hand or a handkerchief of the same colour tied on their wrist.
‘Olympia Battalion’ they shouted from one staircase. ‘Olympia Battalion’
they answered from another… others were shouting ‘Olympic Battalion’
and there was even one who shouted ‘Batallon de Limpia’ (Cleansing ´
Battalion). (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 185–86) ´
Gonzalez de Alba also documents an ill-fated attempt to escape by one ´
student who pretended to be a member of this battalion using a white
washing-up glove. This attempt ended with a sharp pistol whipping and
bloodshed (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 195). Citing Gilberto Guevara Niebla, ´
Poniatowska similarly documents the role played by ‘Batallon Olimpia’ in ´
the Chihuahua Building: ‘The balcony was seized by the ‘Olympia Battalion’
and, with our arms up and faces pressed into the wall, we were forbidden to
turn and look at the square, the slightest movement would prompt a blow on
the head or a dig in the ribs. The trap was sprung and the mass murder began’
(Poniatowska, 1998: 175–76). With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that
by resisting what Hodges and Gandy have termed ‘presidential despotism’
16 See Carey (2005). There is scope for other analytical frameworks, especially those
of subaltern studies to examine the role and representation of Mexican workers and
(trans)cultural memory and to examine the continuing contemporary resonance of
1968. As ‘The Mexico Project’ – run by Kate Doyle at George Washington University in
the USA (Doyle, 2006) – makes clear on its webpages, it is still not possible to identify
all of those who died by name. Unless and until the names of those who died are
known, as Sergio Aguayo stated ten years ago, ‘it will be difficult to draw a line under
Tlatelolco’ (Aguayo, 1998: 250).
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 125
the students were significantly reducing the opportunities for repressive
action of this nature to be used in future conflicts in Mexico and certainly
making it virtually impossible for any attempt at a cover-up on a similar scale.
The students’ resilience continues to inspire other forms of popular protest
and has contributed to a remarkable process of re-democratisation. More
importantly in relation to the arguments set out here, our contemporary
understanding of the Mexican Student Movement rests, to a considerable
extent, on the foundational representations produced by Gonzalez de Alba ´
and Poniatowska.
The first main conclusion to be drawn from this study is that Los d´ıas y los anos ˜
andLa noche de Tlatelolco are foundational representations of the state – student
conflict in Mexico in 1968, both of which emphasise the reformist nature of
the Mexican Student Movement’s campaign. In this respect, possibly the
most concise way of reaffirming answers to the central question posed in
this article – concerning the representation of the students’ contributions
to challenging state authoritarianism and to transforming conditions of
political marginalisation – is to think in terms of a lasting legacy of democratic
principles that informed the Student Movement throughout its campaign.
One simple way to summarise these is to note that Gonzalez de Alba and ´
Poniatowska both draw attention to a series of expectations of the Mexican
state (though such expectations do inevitably appear utterly innocuous
and self-evident taken out of the context of political activism in D´ıaz
Ordaz’s Mexico). Essentially, the Mexican Student Movement expected, and
demanded, that in conditions of non-violent political conflict in Mexico the
state should: (i) permit citizens to protest peacefully without fear of reprisals
of any kind; (ii) be willing to engage in negotiations with protestors; (iii)
never deliberately misrepresent protestors and/or their activities through any
medium (especially through manipulation of the media and/or censorship);
(iv) use reason not force to assert its position; (v) ultimately be willing to make
concessions and so modify policy and procedure in response to public protest.
On this last point, the student protests did, only a few years after Tlatelolco,
bring about change and so institute in Mexican political life, in whatever
weakened form, a principle of accountability and responsiveness to social
protest. As Hodges and Gandy explain, ‘within the next three years, some of
the demands of the movement were granted’ (Hodges and Gandy, 2002: 101).
More specifically, Hodges and Gandy note that D´ıaz Ordaz revoked the law
against the crime of social dissolution, that Demetrio Vallejo and Valent´ın
Campa were freed (although other political prisoners took their place), and
that Luis Echeverr´ıa dismissed the chiefs of police.
126 Chris Harris
The second conclusion that has emerged from this study, and that requires
further illustration and analysis, is that there are not simply significant
similarities between the two foundational representations of Mexico ’68
considered here but also important differences. Of these, the most notable
is that Gonzalez de Alba records the factionalism that divided the Mexican ´
Student Movement internally and that was based, in large part, on an
adherence to rival political ideologies and to disputes about strategy. For
example, he describes the situation at Lecumberri as follows: ‘the population
of ‘‘C’’ wing, although it is very diverse, can be divided into three clearly
differentiated sectors’ (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 66). By this he means: ´
(i) the Communists; (ii) the non-Communist members of the Student Strike
Committee; and (iii) the bystanders who were arrested at Tlatelolco by the
granaderos just because they were there. He records the fact that ideological
disputes amongst the survivors who were imprisoned at Lecumberri were
bitter, and that the most divisive issue was whether or not to dissolve the
Student Movement and call for a return to classes as normal. The Communists
wanted to pursue this path, others did not. However, by December 1968 the
Communists held sway in the Student Movement and they were the ones
whose decisions were carried forward into action (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: ´
The third main conclusion that emerges from this study is that Mexican
workers’ viewpoints remain persistently at the margins in these foundational
representations, and that the workers’ apparently inconsequential relations
with students therefore constitute an enigma that requires greater research.
This is all the more intriguing when we consider the fact that Los d´ıas y los
anos ˜ makes it clear that one of the starting points for protest in 1968 must
necessarily be the call the students made for the release of political prisoners
and the deletion of Article 145 of the Penal Code on the crime of social
dissolution. What Gonzalez de Alba highlights is that even before the initial ´
skirmishes between students and granaderos in the Ciudadela Park in July,
Demetrio Vallejo was on hunger strike to demand his release from Lecumberri
prison. He also refers to the fact that a number of political science students
at the UNAM had begun hunger strikes as an expression of solidarity and
that those student protestors were calling for a strike by the university as
a whole. Moreover, as Hodges and Gandy state, their slogan was ‘Freedom
for the Political Prisoners!’ (Hodges and Gandy, 2002: 93). From the start
and throughout, then, according to Gonzalez de Alba, there was a necessary ´
link between student protest and working-class protest and, in particular,
a link with the legacy and collective memory of repression against railway
workers during the Lopez Mateos presidency (1958–1964). Yet, curiously, ´
the students are shown not to have engaged with the revolutionary potential
of a student – worker alliance in any sustained manner. In both Los d´ıas y los
Foundational Representations of Mexico ’68 127
anos ˜ and La noche de Tlatelolco, historical consciousness and potential bonds
of solidarity are not shown to have prompted radical collective action. In
particular, there are no passages that detail concerted and sustained efforts
by students to join forces with workers. In fact, Gonzalez de Alba is left ´
to lament the fact that working-class mobilisation was desperately needed
after the smaller turn-out for the Silent March but was no longer a distinctly
feasible option: ‘Some of us saw a way out of the situation through the
mobilisation of working-class support, which at that stage was probably out
of reach though, because if such mobilisation had not been achieved when
the Movement was at its height and near to success, now, in evident decline,
it would be all the more difficult’ (Gonzalez de Alba, 1997a: 116). ´
Finally, Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ and La noche de Tlatelolco retain a contemporary
relevance because there are key issues that remain open to this day. Three key
demands from 1968 remain as unfinished business. Even if we accept that the
disbanding of the granaderos was a utopian demand, there are still two others.
One of those amounts to a call for the state to attribute blame for crimes
against humanity and to prosecute those found guilty; another is a related
call for the state to compensate the families of the victims. In this regard there
have been developments, but no resolutions. Despite the fact that D´ıaz Ordaz
assumed responsibility to clear the way for Echeverr´ıa to become president,
responsibilities have never entirely been assumed by the politicians involved.
Under the Fox administration (2000–2006), an investigation into 1968 was
established and, in 2006, Echeverr´ıa was placed under house arrest and
became the first Mexican president ever to face criminal charges. However,
he was eventually cleared of having organised the killings of students in
1968 and also in 1971 during the so-called ‘halconazo’ – an organised attack
on student protesters that left some forty-five dead – as well as having
masterminded certain ‘disappearances’ during his presidential term (see
MSNBC, 2006 and Kraul, 2004). Without attribution of responsibilities there
can be no prosecution. As for compensation, when there is sufficient political
will to meet such a demand, the names of all those who died at Tlatelolco
will be known and the past will acquire different meanings once more.
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜
Amuleto and the Archive of 1968
University of Oklahoma, USA
Roberto Bolano’s posthumous fame coincides uncannily with the thematics of ˜
his novels, which often depict writers at the mercy of the circumstances that
shape their lives and legacies. The translations into English of his two most
ambitious works – Los detectives salvajes (1998) [The Savage Detectives (2007)]
and 2666 (2004) [2666 (2008)] – garnered extraordinary critical acclaim; and
he would now, in the words of Janet Maslin, ‘be enjoying literary superstar
status if fate had been kinder’ (Maslin, 2008: 1). Bolano’s work earned him ˜
relatively late but significant renown in Spain and Latin America before he
died at the age of 50 in 2003.1 But the irony of his more recent global success
would probably not be lost on him. For instance, the Chilean writer Carlos
Franz recalls asking Bolano how it felt to triumph among critics after decades ˜
of writing in relative obscurity. According to Franz, Bolano replied bitterly: ‘It ˜
came too late’ (Franz, 2007: 41).2 This statement contains an additional irony
since Bolano’s novels tend to reject the teleo ˜ logy it implies. On the contrary,
they tell stories in which hardly anything happens ‘on time’, in which lives
unfold and events reverberate out of step with linear notions of biography
and chronology.
Amuleto (1999) [Amulet (2006)] is no exception. Expanding a brief episode
that originally appeared in Detectives into a novel of over 150 pages, Amuleto
is the first-person account of Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan woman living
in Mexico who spent a miserable two weeks hiding in a bathroom of
the Department of Philosophy and Literature during the Mexican army’s
occupation of the National Autonomous University (UNAM) between 18
September and 30 September 1968. Lacouture’s traumatic experience returns
incessantly, long after its physical duration has ended. Further chronological
distortion occurs in the text when Lacouture’s trauma shapes her perception
of experiences that preceded it; and, remarkably, when her confinement
1 For example, Los detectives salvajes won the 1998 Herralde Prize and the 1999 Romulo ´
Gallegos Prize.
2 All translations from the Spanish and French are mine unless otherwise noted.
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜ Amuleto 129
provides her space to reflect upon events that could not yet have happened.
The experiences from before and after 1968 that serve as focal points for
Lacouture’s narrative include her arrival in Mexico at an undetermined point
in the 1960s, the nomadic nature of her existence, and her relationships with
a number of writers and artists, both actual and fictional, including Pedro
Garfias, Leon Felipe, Remedios Varo and the young poet Arturo Belano, ´
Bolano’s autobiographically based alter ego. ˜
Amuleto’s basis in history is a fascinating story in its own right, which,
like Bolano’s legacy, bears on questions of posthumous fame and how the ˜
dead circulate among the living. Like Belano, Lacouture corresponds to an
actual person, in her case the Uruguayan poet and educator Alcira Soust.
Soust arrived in Mexico in 1952, and was in fact trapped in the Philosophy
and Literature bathroom in 1968. She met Bolano in 1970 and saw him for ˜
the last time in 1976.3 After decades working odd jobs in and out of the
university, and suffering from mental illness, she returned to Uruguay in
1988, where she died in 1997. This deceptively neat timeline of Soust’s adult
life owes itself in part to Bolano’s recent fame, because Lacouture’s story in ˜
Amuleto and Detectives has inspired renewed interest in Soust. In spring 2008,
a Mexico City theatre company performed a play based on the episode in
Detectives titled ‘Alcira o la poes´ıa en armas’ (Alcira or Poetry Armed). And
in January 2009, a journalistic investigation into Soust’s life appeared in the
Uruguayan weekly Brecha,
4 including the first published account of her death,
the circumstances of which were unclear until 2008 (see Yacobazzo, 2009).
The final section of one of the Brecha stories – ‘Tras las huellas de Alcira
Soust’ (On the Trail of Alcira Soust) by Ignacio Bajter – is tellingly titled
‘En intemperie’ (Bajter, 2009: II), a word that in this context approximates
the English term ‘adrift’. This section of Bajter’s article focuses on Soust’s
final years, about which very little is known. Its title is relevant because it
recalls a guiding theme of Amuleto, an almost overwhelming experience of
abandonment and isolation, a threatening sense of exposure, or intemperie.
Notably, however, Amuleto portrays intemperie as a necessary counterpart to
shelter. Furthermore, Bolano’s novel deliberately acknowledges and develops ˜
this dialectical relation. The fact that the text actively rejects linear chronology
3 Notably, 1976 is the pivotal year of Belano’s story in Detectives, which, among other
things, describes the search for a female poet who has been missing for years.
4 I thank Giovanni Rodr´ıguez for sending me a copy of this article, which I first read
about on his blog, ‘mimalapalabra’. Earlier published accounts of Soust’s story include
notable, though passing, references in Poniatowska (1971: 71) and Revueltas (1978:
76–78). Revueltas’s longer account includes a poem Soust had given him ten months
earlier, titled ‘L’amor che move il/sole e l’astre stelle’.
5 For reasons related to the particular density of this term, which I discuss below, I think
it is more precise to keep it in Spanish throughout.
130 Ryan Long
and the abstract concept of time it relies upon adds an important temporal
dimension to its depiction of intemperie, resulting in, I conclude, a strong
critique of the ideologically motivated insistence upon teleology and progress
that often informs discussions of 1968 in Mexico and its legacy.
In their recent, and separate, analyses of how the present shapes our
understanding of the past, Nestor Garc´ ´ ıa Canclini and Fredric Jameson offer
helpful points of departure for my analysis of how time functions in Amuleto.
In reference to the work of John Berger, Garc´ıa Canclini identifies as critical
the task of ‘grasping hold of the quality and density of the present’ (Garc´ıa
Canclini, 2004: 21). Jameson contributes additional meaning to the phrase
‘density of the present’ when he reminds his readers ‘to alert [them]selves
to the deformation of space when observed from the standpoint of time,
of time when observed from the standpoint of space’ (Jameson, 2003: 698).
A similar dual process of distortion structures Amuleto, whose narrative
returns relentlessly to the traumatic chronotope of Lacouture’s confinement
in September 1968.
Teleologies of 1968
A spectral tale in a work by an author who is currently enjoying a spectral
sort of fame, Lacouture’s story (and Soust’s, though in a different way)
demonstrates the ‘density of the present’ by acknowledging and drawing
upon the coexistence of different moments, a coexistence more often than
not uncomfortable and maladjusted. The events of 1968 in Mexico and their
legacy are likewise characterised by unsettling and unsettled juxtapositions.
To take a particularly dramatic example, the violence the Mexican government
unleashed upon its own citizens contrasted sharply with the official welcome
given the world’s athletes, journalists and tourists who were visiting Mexico
for the Olympic Games, which began only ten days after the massacre of
Tlatelolco. More broadly, the Games were touted by Mexico’s leaders as
evidence of their nation’s entrance into modernity.6 But the repression of
the Mexican Student Movement not only exposed the limitations of that
claim, but also of the teleological thinking underpinning the very notion
of an entrance into modernity.7 The radically uneven development that
characterises Mexican society and culture raises important questions about
the validity of progress and modernisation as concepts, let alone about
6 See Aguayo Quezada [1998]; see also Claire Brewster and Keith Brewster in this
7 I have argued this point more extensively elsewhere. See Fictions of Totality (Long,
2008) for an analysis of how Mexican novels register the contradictions inherent to the
modernising discourse of national-popular ideology.
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜ Amuleto 131
the programmes and often fetishised events, such as the Olympic Games,
intended to achieve or demonstrate the attainment of these chimerical goals.8
The legacy of 1968 and its literary archive are also subject to troubling
juxtapositions and ideologically motivated attempts to smooth over them in
the name of teleology. Amuleto is notable in this regard for being a critical
analogue of that archive. Time in the novel is distorted to such an extent – and
particularly from the vantage point of the space in which Lacouture finds
herself trapped – that conventional distinctions between past, present and
future hardly function. The text’s acknowledgment of unsettled time enables
a critique of the archive as cultural institution by rejecting appeals to origins
and chronology. Amuleto demonstrates why, ultimately, the archive cannot
reliably perform its intended function, which is, as Jacques Derrida notes in
reference to the etymology of the term ‘archive’ and its Greek root ‘arkhe’, to
establish ‘at once the commencement and the commandment’ (Derrida, 1996: 1;
emphasis in original); in other words, to originate and to order.
Samuel Steinberg elucidates the dangerous implications of fixing an origin
to and ordering the legacy of Mexico 1968 by focusing on how the events
of that year are often overly defined by the massacre: ‘the cultural narrative
of Mexico 1968 has reduced this year to a single moment: 2 October 1968
… This moment organizes the archive of 1968; it is … the ‘cutting’ of
this moment from all other moments that establishes the principle of the
historical, cultural memory of 1968’ (Steinberg, 2009: 3). Steinberg’s analysis
demonstrates how cultural production negotiates, contributes to, or resists
the overwhelming dominance the Tlatelolco massacre has exercised over
other events and possibilities of 1968.9 For Steinberg, the sacrificial narrative
of 1968 helps insert the events of that year into the dominant narrative of
democratic transition, a consequence and desire of which is the suppression or
subordination of other moments, tendencies and potential accomplishments.
As Steinberg notes, ‘many of the most technocratic thinkers in Mexican
politics today ascribe to 1968 the status of origin vis-a-vis the contemporary `
‘‘democratic’’ transition, and more ominously, the neoliberal transition to
which it has been conceptually allied’ (Steinberg, 2009: 19). Triumphantly
8 See Zermeno (1978). Zerme ˜ no’s sociological and economic analysis of the student- ˜
popular movement, its origins, and the government’s responses to it is a particularly
well-developed study, demonstrating, for example, the complex relationships between
economic ‘modernisation’, foreign debt, authoritarianism and widespread exclusion
from the political process for many social actors.
9 For example, Octavio Paz’s Posdata (1969) is a founding text in the narrative of sacrifice,
in which Paz compares the Tlatelolco massacre to Aztec ritual sacrifice. By contrast,
for Steinberg, Carlos Monsivais’s ´ D´ıas de guardar (1970) presents a more productive
narrative of 1968 by not allowing the massacre to overshadow the student-popular
movement’s successes, and by resisting teleology in its form and structure.
132 Ryan Long
positing 1968 as the origin of the present order risks obscuring the past,
Steinberg concludes. Citing Barry Carr, he explains that ‘the alignment of
1968 with the contemporary order is not a form of remembering the past, of
affirming the student-popular movement’s posthumous incidence, but rather,
extend[ing] ‘‘the drastic closure of political space that Tlatelolco seemed to
announce’’’ (Steinberg, 2009: 20). Steinberg warns against the desire for
closure implicit in the dominant archive of 1968, which seeks to construct
that year as the origin of the new order.
His project sets itself in opposition to the archive by tracing its remainders,
that which is excluded upon its foundation. But Steinberg also acknowledges
the force of Tlatelolco, an event whose ‘memory … burns into the cultural
surface, is etched onto film with gunpowder residue [forming] a haunted
surface that extends the memorial incidence (and thus political potential) of
the gunfire on the square’ (Steinberg, 2009: iii). Amuleto is in its own way a
haunted surface, and it contains depictions of and meditations upon other
haunted surfaces and beings. And while Bolano’s novel indeed expresses ˜
a desire to calm these unsettled and unsettling places and people, it also
acknowledges the impossibility of realising that desire. The space of that
acknowledgment is where the text’s critical force lies, and it can be found in
a particularly dense Spanish word, intemperie.
Exposure Time
Amuleto adds a linguistic dimension to its critique of the archive and its
acknowledgment of the density of the present through its use of the term
intemperie in a centrally important passage, which I analyse below. But before
I turn to the text, the history of this word and its relevance in relation to
thinking about time are worth mentioning briefly. Intemperie shares a Latin
root with the Spanish word for time, tiempo, but it does not have a temporal
connotation in modern Spanish. The Spanish Royal Academy’s Diccionario de la
lengua espanola ˜ (Real Academia Espanola, 1992) offers the following definition: ˜
‘Unevenness or inconsistency of weather’ (‘Destemplanza o desigualdad del
tiempo’) (Vol. IV, 831). The adverbial phrase ‘a la intemperie’ connotes
exposure and lack of shelter in its definition: ‘Exposed to the sky, without
roof or any other recourse’ (‘A cielo descubierto, sin techo ni otro reparo
alguno’) (1992: Vol. IV, 831). According to Joan Corominas’s etymological
dictionary, intemperie comes from the Latin temperare, a verb defined as: to
‘combine adequately’ (‘combinar adecuadamente’) or to ‘moderate, temper’
(‘moderar, templar’) (Corominas, 1991: Vol. III, 457). Tiempo, alternatively,
comes from tempus, which Ernout and Meillet define as ‘time, considered
above all as in terms of a specific duration’ (‘temps, consider´ e surtout en ´
tant que fraction de la duree’) (Ernout and Meillet, 2001: 681). The fact ´
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜ Amuleto 133
that tiempo means both time and weather in Spanish hints at the actual
etymological connection between intemperie and tiempo. In his etymology of
tiempo, Corominas notes that many Romance and other languages use one
word for both ‘time’ and ‘weather’. But he also clearly identifies different
Latin and Greek roots for both separate terms (Corominas, 1991: Vol. V,
486–487). Notably, however, Ernout and Meillet identify an etymological
connection between temperare and tempus, wherein the former derives from
the latter (Ernout and Meillet, 2001: 682).10
This shared history provides support for the idea that intemperie can have
temporal connotations. Referring to a maladjustment both in terms of time
and space, intemperie suggests a more complete exposure, an at once historical
and geographical condition of being unsettled. Furthermore, as tempus refers
specifically to a portion of time, intemperie suggests a portion of time that
finds itself out of place. Amuleto, with its reflections upon trauma and its
critique of chronology, presents time as always being out of place. The novel
also demonstrates that to posit anything other than a condition of intemperie
is to insist upon a dangerous illusion.11
In his critique of post-Soviet teleological thinking at the service of global
capital, Specters of Marx, Derrida urges his readers to recognise that, in the
present age, ‘The time is out of joint’ (Derrida, 1994: 77; emphasis in original).
Writing only a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Derrida’s emphasis on out-of-joint time – on what in standard Spanish would be called lo
intempestivo and not intemperie – stands as a corrective against the exuberance that provided the context for some, most famously Francis Fukuyama,
to claim that history had ended and that free-market capitalism had won
the Cold War. Instead of relegating allegedly outmoded ways of thinking,
that is Marxism, to the ‘dustbin of history’, Derrida suggests negotiating
openly with ‘untimely spectres that one must not chase away but sort out,
critique, keep close by, and allow to come back’ (Derrida, 1994: 87). The act of
recognising the untimeliness embodied in such spectres also acknowledges
the injustices concealed by triumphant narratives of neoliberal progress or
10 Ernout’s and Meillet’s dictionary explains the connection between tempus and tempero
(the root oftemperare) by pointing out the association between tempus as ‘circumstances’
and tempero as ‘mixture of the air’ (‘melange de l’air’), an association wherein the
relation between a specific time and weather conditions is evident (Ernout and Meillet,
2001: 682). I owe thanks to Calvin Byre for helping me with the etymologies of Latin
11 In one of the few existing critical analyses of Amuleto, Celina Manzoni refers briefly to
intemperie, relating it to ‘estrangement’, ‘defeat’ and ‘desperation’ (2003: 31). While it
indeed connotes these conditions, I argue that intemperie can also serve as a productive
condition, an unease that must be acknowledged in order to provide a careful
consideration of the relationship between the present and the past.
134 Ryan Long
democratic transition. Derrida expands upon this observation in terms that
share a strong affinity with Bolano’s writing, ˜ Amuleto included:
A deconstructive thinking … cannot operate without justifying the
principle of a radical and interminable, infinite (both theoretical and
practical, as one used to say) critique. This critique belongs to the
movement of an experience open to the absolute future of what is
coming, that is to say, a necessarily indeterminate, abstract, desert-like
experience that is confided, exposed, given up to its waiting for the other
and the event. (Derrida, 1994: 90)
Even though lo intempestivo is a better modern translation into Spanish of
‘untimeliness’, it does not carry the connotation of exposure that intemperie
does. Notably, the place of the deconstructionist critique, in Derrida’s terms,
is in fact a place of exposure, containing and making possible a ‘desert-like
experience’ that also enables a special relationship to time, one that is radically
open, both to the future and to the spectral return of the past, no matter how
unsettling either may be.12
Traumatic Time
The crucial passage about intemperie in Bolano’s novel occurs within the ˜
context of the following reflections Lacouture makes on her life story, which
appear at the beginning of the fifth chapter. And as I will show in the
conclusion, the themes developed in this passage return at the novel’s end.
Lacouture begins the fifth chapter, ‘If I didn’t go crazy it’s because I always
kept my sense of humour’ (Bolano, 1999: 42). Then she lists a number of ˜
things she has laughed about, including her Prince Valiant haircut, the runs
in her stockings, the gossip, infighting, and brown-nosing among students
and faculty, and many other details, events and people; all of whom exist
under ‘the trembling sky of Mexico City, that sky I knew so well, that stirredup and out-of-reach sky like an Aztec jar, underneath which I moved around
carefree, with all of Mexico’s poets and with little Arturo Belano who was
seventeen, eighteen years old, and who grew up while I watched’ (Bolano, ˜
1999: 42). This totalising enumeration of Lacouture’s and other’s experiences
becomes explicitly a desire for shelter in the following sentence: ‘All of them
were growing up, sheltered by my gaze! [¡‘Todos iban creciendo amparados
por mi mirada!]’ (Bolano, 1999: 42). Typical of the ambiguity that structures ˜
12 Though it is certainly not in the scope of this analysis, it could be productive to relate
this observation to the importance of the desert as a space of critical experience in
Bolano’s longer novels, ˜ Detectives and 2666.
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜ Amuleto 135
her narrative, Lacouture acknowledges, immediately afterwards, that her
sheltering gaze cannot be separated from its antagonist, intemperie:
That is, they were all growing up in the Mexican intemperie, in the Latin
American intemperie, which is the biggest intemperie because it is the
most divided and the most desperate. And my gaze shimmered like the
moon over that intemperie and it stopped on the statues, on the surprised,
intimidated figures, on the murmuring cliques in the shadows, on the
silhouettes that had nothing but the utopia of the word, a pretty miserable
word, for that matter … And I was there with them because I didn’t have
anything either, except my memory. (Bolano, 1999: 42–43) ˜
This passage conveys a profoundly unsettled perspective through its
contrast of shelter to intemperie, an unstable vantage point that corresponds
also to Lacouture’s position as witness.
In an interview from 2000, Bolano describes Lacouture as ‘the amnesiac ˜
witness to a crime who tries to recover her memory’, and he continues by
noting: ‘so in that sense she operates like a metaphor: Latin Americans have
been witness to crimes that we have later forgotten’ (Pron, 2008: n.p.).13 The
phrase ‘amnesiac witness’ (testigo amnesica) is a succinct characterisation of ´
the contradictory position Lacouture occupies in the passage cited above. Her
gaze shelters all she sees, but all she sees is intemperie, the absence of shelter.
In fact, the passage directly associates her gaze with intemperie. Furthermore,
at one point in the passage Lacouture describes herself as watching everyone
else; but at the end she includes herself as part of the community of those
who have nothing, nothing except her memory. But that memory is actually
something quite useful, because it is Lacouture’s traumatised perspective on
the past that produces her particularly productive vantage point.
Like the gaze that shelters homelessness, this perspective offers up a
puzzle, a puzzle whose recognition as such, in Cathy Caruth’s terms, is the
starting point of a way of associating trauma and understanding that resists
the seduction of a transparent comprehension of the past and an orderly
understanding of its relation to the present. Caruth writes:
in the equally widespread and bewildering encounter with trauma – both
in its occurrence and the attempt to understand it – … we can begin to
recognize the possibility of a history that is no longer straightforwardly
referential … Through the notion of trauma … we can understand
that a rethinking of reference is aimed not at eliminating history but
at resituating it in our understanding, that is, at precisely permitting
13 I thank Ignacio Bajter for directing me to Pron’s interview.
136 Ryan Long
history to arise where immediate understanding may not. (Caruth, 1996: 11;
emphasis in original)
For Caruth, history is not the simple recounting and organising – or
tempering, as in temperare – of facts, but instead an operation that requires
a serious consideration of subjective factors, not least of which is the
relationship between the present moment of perception and the past event
being perceived.
In Amuleto, Lacouture’s trauma influences her perception of every event
in her life. Referring to an encounter with Arturo Belano, she writes:
I don’t know why I remember that afternoon. That afternoon in 1971
or 1972. And the most curious thing is that I remember it from my
watchtower of 1968. … From the women’s restroom on the fourth
floor of the Department of Philosophy and Letters, my time-machine
from which I can observe all the moments in which Auxilio Lacouture
breathes, that aren’t many, but that are. (Bolano, 1999: 52) ˜
Throughout the novel, Lacouture’s narration returns to the fourth-floor
bathroom as a space from which she observes her life. Trauma in Lacouture’s
case produces an understanding of an entire life through the lens of one
two-week period, an anachronistic comprehension of history that rejects
immediate understanding in favour of an insistent recognition of mediation
because of, and through, the traumatic experience.
Often calling herself, and often ironically, the mother of Mexican poetry,
Lacouture struggles with the sense of responsibility she feels for the young
people, suffering in intemperie, whom she would like to shelter with her gaze.
At one point this internal dialogue overlaps with a particularly evocative
description of her bathroom prison and its function as memory device.
Narrating initially from a moment years after her confinement, Lacouture
returns to the past and recounts a particularly surreal episode:
At night a voice, of the guardian angel of dreams, said to me: che, Auxilio,
you’ve discovered where the youth of our continent ended up. Shut up,
I answered. Shut up. I don’t know anything … And then the voice murmured something, it said mmm, something like that, as if it weren’t very
convinced by my response, and I said: I’m still in the women’s restroom
of the Department of Philosophy and Letters and the moon melts, one by
one, all of the tiles on the wall until it opens a niche in the wall through
which pass images, films about us and what we read and about the future
as fast as light and which we will not see. (Bolano, 1999: 132–133) ˜
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜ Amuleto 137
In despair, Lacouture returns to what she knows, her imprisonment in a
suffocating space whose wall becomes a haunted surface upon which are projected films about her, the youth of Latin America and their future. The persistence of her traumatic memory enables Lacouture’s fractured but more accurate perspective on the past, as well as its relation to the present and the future.
The operation of her gaze, similar to that described in the image of the
projector, is defined earlier in the text as a combined function of perception,
memory and narrative: ‘life is loaded with enigmatic things, small events
that are just waiting for epidermic contact, our gaze, in order to unfold in a
series of causal connections that later, seen through the prism of time, cannot
but produce shock or fear within us’ (Bolano, 1999: 28). Lacouture explains ˜
that subjects construct stories about discrete experiences in a way that is
both deferred and not entirely under their control. The way this observation
appears in the text is typical of Bolano’s style, whose density is often surprising ˜
alongside its equal degree of clarity. Included within this description of
Lacouture’s coming to terms with her experience is a general observation
about narrative, particularly its unexpected provenance and impact, even in
the context of telling one’s own story. Here Lacouture describes an intimately
subjective way of understanding experience. It is as if the subject’s passage
through daily experience were akin to moving among electrically charged
objects and events that either cling to her skin or not. This ‘epidermic contact’
shifts in Bolano’s prose to a metaphorical identification with the gaze, which ˜
orders objects and events into a narrative visible only through hindsight.
In his short text titled ‘A Note upon the ‘‘Mystic Writing-Pad’’’ (1925)
Sigmund Freud describes how new experiences are integrated into a subject’s
perception and influenced by memories, be they traumatic, conscious, or
unconscious. Freud relates the way the different parts of a Wunderblock, or
Magic Slate, function as analogues of conscious perception and unconscious
comprehension of external stimuli: ‘The layer which receives the stimuli …
forms no permanent traces; the foundations of memory come about in other,
adjoining, systems’ (Freud, 1961b: 230). It is important to note that for Freud
perception is at the crossroads between external stimuli and the unconscious.
In fact, perception, consciousness, and the unconscious exist within a dynamic
relation, which Freud summarises as follows:
cathectic innervations are sent out and withdrawn in rapid periodic
impulses from within into the completely pervious system Pcpt.-Cs.
[Perception-Consciousness]. So long as that system is cathected in
this manner, it receives perceptions (which are accompanied by
consciousness) and passes the excitation on to the unconscious mnemic
systems; but as soon as the cathexis is withdrawn, consciousness is
extinguished and the functioning of the system comes to a standstill. It is
138 Ryan Long
as though the unconscious stretches out feelers, through the medium of
the system Pcpt.-Cs., towards the external world and hastily withdraws
them as soon as they have sampled the excitations coming from it. (Freud,
1961b: 231)
There is a useful similarity between the ‘feelers’ of Freud’s unconscious and
the ‘epidermic contact’ described by Lacouture. The Magic Slate, basically
a piece of cellophane over a soft surface allowing one to write words
and remove them at will, helps Freud explain how immediate perceptions
become part of a system of perception that has developed over the life of the
subject. The soft surface underneath the cellophane, made of wax in Freud’s
day, maintains traces of previously written words no longer visible on the
cellophane. New experiences are integrated into the subject’s comprehension
only and always in relation to past experiences.
When Lacouture mentions how narratives are formed in hindsight, her
thinking corresponds to another idea in Freud’s thought, specifically that
the subject’s conception of time emerges from the need to protect itself
from excessive external stimuli. We tell stories in order to avoid being
overwhelmed by experience. Trauma is, by definition, an overwhelming
experience, so the stories it produces reveal the limits of a subject’s capacity
to narrate her life. Near his conclusion to ‘The ‘‘Mystic Writing-Pad’’’, Freud
alludes to time by contrasting it with perception, which does not function in
a linear fashion but instead relies upon interruptions of the reception of new
experience and intermittent returns of past perceptions. Notably, he suggests
that ‘this discontinuous method of functioning of the system Pcpt.-Cs. lies at
the bottom of the origin of the concept of time’ (Freud, 1961b: 231). In Freud’s
discussion of perception, then, discontinuity, lo intempestivo, stands at the
origin of continuity, or abstract time.
A more developed distinction between perception and time appears in
Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where Freud compares conscious perception
to a shield, protecting the subject from an excess of external stimulation
(Freud, 1961a[1920]). The analogy between consciousness and the cellophane
of the Wunderblock is again useful: consciousness resists permanent traces
from external stimuli, enabling the subject to perceive and sort through
dozens if not hundreds of experiences every day. Time, Freud suggests,
becomes part of this shield and filter: ‘our abstract idea of time seems to
be wholly derived from the method of working of the system Pcpt.-Cs. and
to correspond to a perception on its own part of that method of working.
This mode of functioning may perhaps constitute another way of providing
a shield against stimuli’ (Freud, 1961a[1920]: 22).
Freud’s discussion of time, perception and the unconscious helps combine
a rather basic idea – that we rely on the concept of time in order to make
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜ Amuleto 139
sense of our lives – with considerations about the effects of trauma, which
he defines as ‘excitations from outside which are powerful enough to break
through the protective shield … bound to provoke a disturbance on a large
scale in the functioning of the organism’s energy and to set in motion every
possible defensive measure’ (Freud, 1961a[1920]: 23). A secondary problem
that appears as a consequence of trauma is of particular interest to a discussion
of narrative time. Freud continues: ‘There is no longer any possibility of
preventing the mental apparatus from being flooded with large amounts
of stimulus, and another problem arises instead – the problem of mastering
the amounts of stimulus which have broken in and binding them, in the
psychical sense, so that they can be disposed of’ (Freud, 1961a[1920]: 23–24).
Mastering her trauma is Lacouture’s primary task. She binds experiences from
throughout her entire life to her memory of being trapped in the bathroom,
sometimes even speaking from the spatial and temporal vantage point of her
entrapment, even though she is recording her thoughts years later.
The well-known and unsettling conclusion Freud makes in Beyond the
Pleasure Principle is that traumatic experiences compel the subject to repeat
them. The repetition of trauma, which is at face value illogical, represents the
subject’s effort to bind the overwhelming experience of trauma to something
the subject can comprehend. ‘Binding’ is a dense term in Freud’s thought,
but perhaps it can be understood by making an analogy between, on one
hand, unbound and bound, and, on the other hand, experience and narrative.
Supporting this analogy, Freud writes: ‘there seems to be no doubt whatever
that the unbound or primary processes give rise to far more intense feelings in
both directions [pleasure and displeasure] than the bound or secondary ones’
(Freud, 1961a: 57). Binding is a taming operation, an effort at the mastery over
trauma, and it corresponds to the ‘death instincts’, or the ‘need to restore an
earlier state of things’ (Freud, 1961a: 51; emphasis in original). The paradox at
the heart of Freud’s theory of the compulsion to repeat a traumatic experience
is that binding is at once necessary for the preservation of the subject and
inextricably associated with a desire for order that is ultimately a desire for
stasis, or death. The overall relationship between trauma, perception and time
thus suggests that the practice of constructing narratives is a manifestation
of the paradoxically simultaneous desire for both life and death. Crucially,
Amuleto refuses to pretend otherwise.
Bolano’s novel resists narrative order by obscuring the origins of the story ˜
it tells (a gesture repeated throughout when Lacouture demonstrates how
her traumatic episode infects every moment of her life). For example, the
date of Lacouture’s arrival in Mexico is uncertain: ‘I arrived in Mexico City
in 1967 or maybe 1965 or 1962. I don’t remember anything anymore about
dates or pilgrimages, the only thing I know is that I arrived in Mexico and
I didn’t leave again’ (Bolano, 1999: 12). Immediately following this claim is a ˜
140 Ryan Long
disturbing comment on memory that contributes surprisingly to the validity
of insisting upon the possible temporal connotations of intemperie: ‘Let’s see,
let’s try the memory a bit. Let’s stretch time as if it were the skin of an
unconscious woman in the operating room of a plastic surgeon’ (Bolano, ˜
1999: 12). This grotesque imagery establishes a relationship between trauma
and creation wherein the subject of trauma is passive in the face of imminent
violence, an analogy of Lacouture’s entrapment. Lacouture’s narrative about
her entrapment, on the other hand, is a more active allusion to the cut that
begins representation, which occurs again in the image of the bathroom-wall
projector, and which also relies upon a rupture, ‘a niche in the wall through
which pass images’ (Bolano, 1999: 133). ˜
The idea of stretching time before surgically dividing it coincides remarkably with Michiel de Vaan’s etymology of the Latin word ‘tempus’, defined as
‘time, moment’, and which he attributes to a re-constructed term of Proto Indo
European: ‘temp-os’, which means ‘to stretch’ (de Vaan, 2008: 611). Regarding
the relationship between this reconstructed term, tempus and temperare (the
Latin root of intemperie), de Vaan writes, ‘The meaning ‘‘to restrain, modify’’
of [temperare] shows [a] semantic shift from ‘‘stretching’’ to ‘‘measuring’’’ (de
Vaan, 2008: 611). Measuring, balancing and ordering are operations necessary for transforming experience into narrative. In Lacouture’s narrative, the
shift from stretching to measuring implies a cut, an originary disturbance
that enables representation. In other words, a prior moment of intemperie is
necessary for the shelter of narrative, the story that tempers time.
In a way that resonates significantly with de Vaan’s etymology of tempus,
Derrida urges a clear acknowledgment of the origin as cut in the following
So make some incision, some violent arbitrary cut … It is of course a
beginning that is forever fictional, and the scission, far from being an
inaugural act, is dictated by the absence – unless there exists some illusion
to discount – of any de-cisive beginning, any pure event that would not
divide and repeat itself and already refer back to some other ‘beginning,’
some other ‘event’. (Derrida, 1981: 300)
A paradoxically oft-repeated ‘beginning’, Lacouture’s trauma cuts into
every other moment of her life. It will remain an intrusion as powerful as the
one described in a particularly terrifying moment in her story, which occurs
just after the army takes over the university. Trapped in the cubicle of the
bathroom, she hears a soldier shouting to his commander in the hallway.
Then he opens the door of the bathroom, intrudes upon what has become her
sanctuary, and begins looking around. Lacouture writes:
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜ Amuleto 141
while I waited for the soldier to search the cubicles one by one and I
braced myself morally and physically, if necessary, to refuse to open the
door, to defend the last autonomous territory of the UNAM [el ultimo ´
reducto de autonom´ıa de la UNAM] … there came about a special silence
[se produjo un silencio especial], a silence that does not even appear in
musical dictionaries or philosophical dictionaries, as if time cracked
[como si el tiempo se fracturara] and scattered in many directions at once
[y corriera en varias direcciones a la vez], a pure time, composed neither
of gestures nor actions, and then I saw myself and I saw the soldier who
was looking at himself trapped in the mirror [arrobado en el espejo],
… and I shuddered … because I knew that momentarily the laws of
mathematics protected me, because I knew that the tyrannical laws of the
cosmos, which are opposed to the laws of poetry, protected me and that
the soldier would see himself trapped in the mirror and I would hear
him and imagine him, trapped also, in the singularity of my cubicle [en
la singularidad de mi water], and that both singularities constituted from
that second onward [constitu´ıan a partir de ese Segundo] the two sides
of a coin as atrocious as death [las dos caras de una moneda atroz como
la muerte]. (Bolano, 1999: 33–34) ˜
This description densely juxtaposes poetry and mathematics, freedom
and order, life and death, pure time and the arbitrary origin, protection
and entrapment, silence and words. The unbound and the bound appear
in this passage as two necessary but counteracting functions of the same
machine, the binding machine whose always fundamentally unbound
state – of intemperie – allows the transformation of experience into narrative.
The moment of this transformation is a moment of potential exposure, to
the soldier, and a moment of actual exposure, to the fracturing of time
and the vertigo it produces. Laws that bind – the laws of mathematics – save
Lacouture from discovery and enable her to continue working with the
originally unbound – poetry and creation.
In the passage describing the soldier in the bathroom, silence fractures
time. In the passage discussing the projected images, the moon melts the
tiled walls. Both cuts take place within the space and time of trauma, the
comprehension of which can never be pinned down to a specific origin. In fact,
in Derrida’s terms, Lacouture’s trauma is an event that always repeats itself
and always refers to something else. Hence its terrible, and terrific, power.
Conclusion: Poetry and Creation
The traumatic moment that intrudes upon every moment of Lacouture’s
life is, in its pervasiveness, unbound. But, it is also a binding machine, a
narrating machine that, when compared to a projector, produces images of
numerous possible futures. Just after describing the images that appear on
142 Ryan Long
the wall, Lacouture explains, ‘I took a deep breath, hesitated doubtfully,
cleared my mind and finally said, these are my prophecies’ (Bolano, 1999: ˜
134). This is her deliberate moment of cutting, her unbound process of binding emerging from – the play on words is demonstrative, I hope – the bind
she finds herself in. Lacouture’s prophecies concern many poets and their
readers, and verge on the surreal. For instance, she predicts that Vladimir
Mayakovsky will find new fame in 2150 and that Alejandra Pizarnik’s last
reader will die in 2100 (Bolano, 1999: 134–135). One prediction stands out ˜
for its generality: ‘Metempsychosis. Poetry will not disappear. Its non-power
will make itself visible in another way’ (Bolano, 1999: 134). Thus poetry’s ˜
future is undetermined, as yet unbound.
The novel’s insistence upon poetry’s potential corresponds to the story
of Alcira Soust, who reportedly recited poetry over the university’s
loudspeakers during the occupation. Jose Revueltas claims: ‘the troops were ´
received by the voice of Leon Felipe. It was Alcira who, in this way, received ´
the invaders’ (1978: 77). The metempsychosis to which Lacouture refers can
be read as the basis of a community of poets – a constant theme in Bolano’s ˜
work – and in this case a community of young people Lacouture describes as
having witnessed in a dream, whose desert-like landscape recalls Derrida’s
description of deconstruction, cited earlier. Describing her vantage point
from within her dream, Lacouture narrates:
So I kept moving, and at the same time, from an eagle’s viewpoint, even
though there were no eagles there, I saw my body moving through snowy
ravines, over enormous drifts [terraplenes de nieve], over interminable
white esplanades like Moby Dick’s fossilised back. But I kept walking.
I walked and walked. And from time to time I stopped and I said to
myself: wake up, Auxilio. Nobody can stand up to this [Esto no hay quien
lo aguante]. Nevertheless I knew I could stand up to it. And so I baptised
my right leg with the name of will [voluntad] and my left leg with the
name of necessity [necesidad]. And I stood up to it. (Bolano, 1999: 149) ˜
Her destination unclear, Lacouture literally puts one foot in front of the
other as she negotiates the cold desert of her dream. Between will and
necessity she finds shelter in the intemperie of her unconscious, which is in
turn bound into the conscious perception of her narrative. She describes
seeing in her dream ‘a multitude of young people, an unending legion of
young people that were heading somewhere’; and continues, ‘I saw them.
I was too far away to distinguish their faces. But I saw them. I don’t know if
they were actual, flesh-and-blood young people or ghosts. But I saw them.
They were probably ghosts’ (Bolano, 1999: 151). Lacouture listens to them ˜
sing as they ‘Walked toward the abyss’ [Caminaban hacia el abismo] (Bolano, ˜
1999: 152). The song fades as they fall away, but it remains, ‘A barely audible
Traumatic Time in Roberto Bolano’s ˜ Amuleto 143
song’ (Bolano, 1999: 154). Lacouture’s final words in the novel, which do ˜
not contain the end of her story – who knows when her last reader will
die – represent the unbinding bind, the endless struggle between love and
death that the novel alludes to in its conclusion: ‘And even though the song
I heard spoke of war, of the heroic feats of an entire generation of sacrificed
Latin American youth, I knew that above everything it spoke of valour and
of mirrors, of desire and pleasure. And that song is our amulet’ (Bolano, ˜
1999: 154).
The young people of Latin America have been introduced into the logic
of sacrifice, like, for Steinberg, the victims of the Tlatelolco massacre. But the
logic of sacrifice in Amuleto is not the logic that leads to fictional plenitude,
such as the story of democratic transition and the criminal complacency of
triumphant free-market discourse. It is a sacrifice whose victims remain alive
enough to sing, as ghosts who insist on the importance of the past, whose
passage through intemperie signals the only possibility for hope, the forceful
recognition that time is indeed out of joint.
Finally, it must be noted that Bolano’s novel develops this recognition ˜
around a character named Auxilio, the connotations of whose name indicate
her role as midwife (auxiliary to birth) at the spectral arrival and return of
Latin America’s ‘lost generation’, the youth her maternal, narrative-making
gaze intermittently shelters. As a noun, auxilio has several meanings in Spanish, including ‘aid’, and, as a performative, a cry for help. Notably, auxilio
is also a synonym of amparo, or shelter. As a word that contains a call for
help and the connotation of shelter, Auxilio finds a material manifestation
in the object identified by the novel’s title, ‘amulet’, a magical device able to
provide a space for contradictory forces, like those within the song Lacouture
describes in the novel’s final passage. Amuleto, like Bolano’s other works, ˜
develops the theme of writers, their works and their legacies. The passage
describing Lacouture’s prophecies is a somewhat humorous reference to
how works live beyond their writers’ days. The fact that ‘amulet’ is the final
word in Lacouture’s story returns to this topic, because it contains yet another
contradiction: the novel’s ending is also the beginning of its reception and its
Samuel Steinberg describes Tlatelolco’s symbolic power as deriving from
‘the ‘‘cutting’’ of this moment from all other moments’ (Steinberg, 2009: 3). He
also critiques the suturing of Tlatelolco into simplistic narratives of progress,
suturing that reveals the desire for an ordered archive of Mexico 1968. Amuleto
also concerns itself with how narratives are formed by cuts. But the specific
moments of time cut out in Lacouture’s story are neither reassembled to construct a narrative that ultimately desires closure, nor the deceptive shelter of
the archive. In Amuleto, interruptions in time instead lead to a paradoxically
fertile state of intemperie.
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
‘Writing Our History in Songs’: Judith
Reyes, Popular Music and the Student
Movement of 1968
University of East Anglia, UK
Social movements can create arenas in which modes of cultural action
are redefined and given new meaning as sources of collective identity
(Eyerman and Jamison, 1998: 6). The Mexican Student Movement of 1968
created such an arena; it impacted upon the cultural and social life of the
nation as well as the political realm (Zolov, 1999: 1). This chapter discusses
Mexican popular music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the ways
in which its performance and consumption at that time created arenas for
practitioners and audiences to express their collective discontent with a
hegemonic system of government that stifled political dissent. First, I focus
on singer/songwriter Judith Reyes, who has been described as the ‘chronicler
of the 1968 Student Movement’ (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 77).1 Redefining the
late nineteenth century revolutionary corrido tradition, Reyes created songs
that functioned as oral ‘eye-witness’ accounts of grassroots mobilisation and
as critiques of political repression about which official sources and media
outlets frequently remained silent. Second, I look at the ways in which the
Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) government sought to appropriate
Mexican and Latin American folk-based protest music (nueva cancion´ ) as a
vehicle for its own hegemonic ideologies while officially censoring rock
because of the latter’s perceived threat to social and ‘family’ values. This
policy drove rock ‘underground’, converting it into the preferred medium
of political and social dissent for urban middle-class youths and led to the
marginalisation of Judith Reyes and her ‘folkloric’ corridos. I conclude by
arguing that Reyes’s compositions embody memory and opinion and act as a
valuable (though neglected) resource for scholars keen to approach a deeper
understanding of the ways in which lower class and politically dissident
sectors of Mexican society have interpreted their lived experience of the
Student Movement of 1968 and its repression (Reyes, 1974[1968]).
1 All translations unless otherwise stated are my own.
Judith Reyes, Popular Music and the Student Movement of 1968 145
Judith Reyes: The Chronicler of 1968
In her Chronology of the Student Movement, a collection of twelve songs created
during 1968 about the Student Movement and its repression, Judith Reyes
(Reyes, 1974[1968]) uses the corrido form to ‘relate and diffuse [news of]
events in the face of the silence imposed on the mass media by political
authorities’ (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 77). In these corridos, the events of 1968
are ‘recorded passionately rather than with dispassionate objectivity, yet the
passion is not so much that of a singer’s personal response as that of a
collective interpretation of events from a particular ‘‘committed’’ standpoint’
(Pring-Mill, 1987: 179). Reyes recounts events from the viewpoint of the
lower classes and student activists in ‘Tragedia de la Plaza de las Tres
Culturas’ – ‘Tragedy of the Plaza of Three Cultures’.
Figure 9.1. ‘Tragedia de la Plaza de las Tres Culturas’/‘Tragedy of the Plaza of Three Cultures’2
2 Translation by Barbara Dane, Reyes (2006 [1973]), sleeve notes.
146 Hazel Marsh
Figure 9.1. (Continued)
3 Demetrio Vallejo was a railway workers union organiser who had been imprisoned
since 1958.
Judith Reyes, Popular Music and the Student Movement of 1968 147
Judith Reyes viewed herself as a chronicler of events rather than a protest
singer, and chose to create songs which dealt directly with ‘what she saw,
what she lived through’ (Alarcon, 2008). ‘I like to write our history in my ´
songs’, she asserted, ‘I include statistics as well as the words of my people’.4
Indeed, in corridos such as ‘Tragedy of the Plaza of Three Cultures’, Reyes
records dates, times and numbers, names individuals and describes military
attacks on civilian individuals in what appears to be a vivid eyewitness
account of the Student Movement and its subsequent repression. Reyes
approached the traditional corrido as a vehicle for expressing what she called
‘the other, hidden face of the nation’ (‘la otra cara de la patria’). She redefined
the corrido as ‘the voice of the people’ at a time when ‘the idea you had of
[corridos] was of those you heard on [commercial] radio … but with Judith
Reyes, you start[ed] to take on another way of understanding the corrido’
(Ismael Colmenares quoted by Garc´ıa, 2008b).
The corrido is a ballad form that emerged in mid- to late nineteenth century
Mexico. It is usually seen to embody lower-class notions of justice, which often
defy the authority of the state, and to act as an archive of popular history
that provides insights into the opinions, values, grievances and heroes of
common people (Frazer, 2006: 131). It appears that the corrido evolved from
the Castilian romance and that it retained the latter’s emphasis on epic-lyric
narrative as an oral form of reporting and commenting on current affairs and
issues within a predominantly illiterate population (Frazer, 2006: 136). The
corrido developed its modern form between 1875 and 1910 (Nicolopolous,
1997). After the 1930s, with the growth of the Mexican film industry and
the commercial recording industry, new corrido compositions contained few
narratives about contemporary challenges to the status quo. At the same time,
many earlier corridos celebrating the Mexican Revolution (1910–17) were
appropriated by the state and became vehicles of hegemonic PRI ideology:
At the moment of composition, these ballads went beyond expressing
alternative values to posit those that were profoundly oppositional. When
these historical moments passed, these corridos became integrative in
relation to elite domination and hegemony … these corridos helped
to fashion a lower-class historical memory that encouraged the lower
classes to accept elite domination. Yet these corridos also contained latent
elements of instability, for they implied the legitimacy of rebellion against
injustice and bad government. (Frazer, 2006: 139)
Reyes aimed to reclaim the corrido and to restore its function as a form of
history ‘by and for the people’ in an atmosphere where political dissent was
4 Quoted in Reyes (2006 [1973]), sleeve notes.
148 Hazel Marsh
difficult or impossible to articulate via the media or electoral politics. In his
memoir of 1968, Paco Ignacio Taibo II writes of a sense that the press at the
was lying … [but] their lies strengthened our convictions. For our part,
we knew the truth; we got our news by word of mouth. Eyewitness
accounts were told and retold; everything had been seen by someone,
heard by someone, and was recounted by everyone (2004 [1991]: 34).
Reyes’s corridos were an important means of circulating such eyewitness
accounts. On 2 May 1969, she embarked upon a series of recitals.5 At the
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de M ´ exico (UNAM), she gave two or ´
three concerts a day, and later performed at the universities of Zacatecas
and Oaxaca, and at prisons, markets and town squares in Mexico City
and throughout the nation (Garc´ıa, 2008b). As Soldatenko explains, Reyes’s
compositions were among those embraced by and circulated among urban
students and leftist intellectuals as a form of ‘oral reporting’ with which to
counteract the perceived ‘lies’ of the ‘sell-out’ press:
The rupture of official political discourse [caused by events of 1968]
paralleled the rise of a new language … often captured in songs that
students sang on buses, on street corners, and at school assemblies.
Songs by Judith Reyes, Oscar Chavez, Margarita Bauche and Jos ´ e de ´
Molina became popular, and less well-known songwriters and musicians
proliferated (Soldatenko, 2005: 123).
It is significant that song should be referred to as the carrier of a new
language. While speech is directly expressive of mental states, it ‘cannot
allow many people to talk all at once without destroying meaning and
coherence’ (Cochrane, 2007: 5). Music, however, appears to contain the
capacity to allow large groups of people to share emotional and mental
states (Cochrane, 2007: 7). Emotional perceptions are significant determiners
of human behaviour because they ‘inform us about our relationship to the
world, they embody our convictions, and they factor intelligibly into our
decisions in life’ (Jesse Prinz quoted in Cochrane, 2007: 25–26). Empirical
evidence suggests that listeners are able accurately to interpret the emotion
that a performer of music intends to express with a success rate comparable
5 During the latter half of 1968, Reyes was convalescing following surgery to remove
a tumour. She had reportedly postponed this surgery in order to participate in the
Student Movement. Consequently, the lyrics for her Chronology are largely based
on information she received at second-hand from witnesses and other participants
(Garc´ıa, 2008b).
Judith Reyes, Popular Music and the Student Movement of 1968 149
to the decoding of vocal expressions (Cochrane, 2007: 88).6 This basic form
of emotional recognition is often the foundation of more sophisticated acts
of empathy that may lead to the arousal of similar emotional states in
the listener to those perceived in the music (Cochrane, 2007: 307). Music
may therefore at times alter or intensify the emotional state of listeners.
Lyrics add another dimension to this experience. Collective singing can
have the power partially to subsume individual experience in shared images,
reinforcing bonds of social solidarity (Stewart, 1997: 200–201). Shared musical
experiences may at times create a profound sense of reaching beyond the
normal boundaries of the self (Cochrane, 2007: 311) and can assert collective
identity and distinctiveness from other social groups. It has been suggested
that the group cohesion encouraged by shared musical production may even
be the evolutionary reason for the development of music (Cochrane, 2007: 5).
Judith Reyes: The Mother of ‘Revolutionary’ Song
The violent repression of the Student Movement of 1968 exposed the
contradictions of the official ‘Mexican miracle’ of development and led a
number of musicians and singers to seek to become ‘independent from
official influence’ (Jimenez, 2008). These young artists sought to work
outside the culture industries that were perceived to lie ‘in the hands of
the hegemonic sectors of society which propelled the industrialisation of the
country’ (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 28). Judith Reyes was one of many artists
who, after 1968, provided the model for ‘the beginning of the movement of
alternative popular music’ in Mexico (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 19). Francisco
‘El Mastuerzo’ Barrios of Los Nakos, a group founded in 1968 to diffuse the
slogans and ideologies of the Student Movement via songs, has said that
Reyes is referred to by many leftist artists as one of ‘the originators, who
started to construct a song that we can call revolutionary’ (2008).
By 1968, Judith Reyes was already known as a politically active
singer.7 Born in 1924 in Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas, she experienced
economic hardship in her youth and reportedly witnessed discrimination
and oppression of the rural poor in her home state. Reyes saw little of
her father until she was nine years old, because he – unable to support his
family through farming locally – lived and worked as a labourer in the United
States. In her 1974 autobiography, La otra cara de la patria, Reyes (Reyes, 1974)
recalls the anger and resentment that her father’s experiences of racism and
6 Currently, the main theories regarding the relationship between music and emotional
states differ in where they locate the emotion being expressed.
7 Biographical material selected from Garcia (2008a, 2008b), and Reyes and Perez (1997). ´
150 Hazel Marsh
discrimination in the United States caused her to feel, suggesting that this
early experience of social injustice was to influence the development of her
political consciousness.
Known as La Tamaulipeca (she who comes from Tamaulipas), the young
Reyes worked in carpas (large circus-like tents; common places for popular
entertainment for rural and urban lower classes) and appeared on radio
shows. She composed several songs that the film star Jorge Negrete recorded
and made famous. However, her growing political involvement caused
conflicts with radio managers, and after the death of Negrete in 1952, Reyes
gave up writing commercial songs and turned instead to journalism in order
to be able to report on the struggles of the campesinos for land reform. In
Chihuahua, Reyes reportedly promised one campesino: ‘I am going to write
about your problems. And not only write … I am going to sing! I am going
to write songs about the things that happen to you!’ (Reyes and Perez, 1997). ´
As she later recalled in her autobiography: ‘I said this in a low voice, but I
really wanted to shout it out … I would write songs again, this time with
a reason and a will, […] from now on, my songs would have the taste of
history to be sung at the top of the lungs!’ (Reyes and Perez, 1997). ´
Reyes travelled throughout Chihuahua and Durango, accompanying
herself on guitar as she sang her compositions at meetings and rallies, and
participating directly in tomas de terreno.
8 In 1962, the governor of Chihuahua
ordered her arrest and she spent time in prison because of her ‘subversive’
songs and activities. After her release, she founded the daily newspaper
Accion: Voz Revolucionaria del Pueblo ´ (Action: The Revolutionary Voice of the
People) and published news sympathetic to the struggles of the campesinos
of Chihuahua. As a result of these actions, in 1963 she was banned from the
state and moved to Mexico City.
In the capital over the next few years, Reyes performed her corridos on
university campuses and in schools, and became involved in supporting the
Preparatoria Popular, an educational project that sought to provide opportunities for students who could not afford to attend state high schools. She
composed corridos chronicling events centred on many of the leftist struggles and movements with which she had links at that time, such as those
of railway-workers, guerrilla movements in Madera, Chihuahua, teachers,
doctors, telegraph operators, as well as students.
As Luis Tomas Cervantes underlines, the soci ´ al and political movements of
the late 1960s had a significant impact on many cultural forms of expression:
8 This translates as ‘taking of land’; a strategy used by rural/urban peoples to take over
unused land for the self-construction of housing or for farming, usually involving a
high degree of organisation and the physical, unarmed ‘invasion’ of unused land at
night by large groups.
Judith Reyes, Popular Music and the Student Movement of 1968 151
The 1968 movement was a song to life. We were living through the
triumph of the Cuban Revolution … the protests against the Vietnam
War … the Prague Spring, … the Beatles and the Rolling Stones …
In Mexico, we liked rock music … At that moment you had on the
one hand los Teen Tops, … Angelica Mar´ ´ ıa, Cesar Costa ´ … and los
Hermanos Carrion. On the other hand, there was Judith Reyes singing ´
for the people’s liberation, throughout Latin America there were singers
like Atahualpa Yupanqui, Mercedes Sosa or Soledad Bravo. … It was a
renaissance of culture, of life, of poetry. (Cervantes, 1998)
The repression of the Student Movement in 1968 profoundly marked many
Mexicans. Reyes confessed at the time that she would ‘never be the same
again’ (Garc´ıa, 2008b). She completed her Chronology of the Student Movement
that year and, as soon as her health allowed, began to travel and perform
directly to audiences throughout the nation. On 21 July 1969, she was again
arrested and held incommunicado for three weeks. She was released on
condition that she leave the country, and she spent the next four years in exile
in Europe and the United States.
Nueva Cancion and the Mexican State ´
Throughout Latin America there were indeed many leftist singers and
songwriters who sang for the ‘people’s liberation’ from economic, political
and social injustice. The Cuban Revolution and the social and political
confrontations of the 1960s had led many urban, educated artists to become
more ‘conscious of the contradictions and conflicts inherent in their national
situations’ and begin to recognise them as ‘features of a larger phenomenon:
underdevelopment and economic and cultural dependency’ (Reyes Matta,
1988: 452). Nueva cancion´ , a folk-based song movement with vernacular
and poetic lyrics that emerged in the Southern Cone in the 1950s, has
been described by Carrasco as a ‘reaction in national terms’ to the dangers
perceived to lie in the increasing influence of the recording industry (Carrasco,
1982: 601–602). It was an attempt to redefine popular music as ‘made by
and for the people’ that would ‘rescue’ the form of cultural expression
from the perceived effects of a capitalist system that had turned songs
into commercial products. Nueva cancion´ practitioners sought to counteract
the massive penetration of foreign (mainly Anglo-US) music that, it was
argued, threatened to stifle local production and erase popular memory
(Carrasco, 1982: 601–602). The arrival of radio and cinema in the region had
provided a massive boost to the diffusion and popularity of a first wave of
early twentieth-century Latin American music styles such as the Mexican
ranchera, the Cuban son and the Argentine/Uruguayan tango. Radio and
152 Hazel Marsh
cinema, however, were also vehicles for the diffusion of foreign music, which
by the 1950s ‘occupied a central place’ in the region and left little space
for the diffusion of national forms (Carrasco, 1982: 602). For many nueva
cancion´ artists, folk music provided a resource with which to resist what
they perceived as ‘cultural colonialism’. In Mexico, the raising of political
consciousness associated with the Student Movement initially privileged
the role of Latin American folk and the rediscovery of indigenous roots
over foreign rock, which was widely perceived by leftist intellectuals to
colonise the mind. In a public statement, the Mexican nueva cancion´ group
Los Folkloristas proclaimed:
[We are] pledged to spread the best music of our continent, [we are]
dedicated to the youth of our country who have discovered their own
music, [we are] opposing it to the colonising assault and alienation of
Rock and commercial music. (quoted in Zolov, 1999: 229)
Throughout Latin America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, leftist
intellectuals criticised rock for its perceived capacity to distract young people
from political action and to reinforce subservience to foreign, capitalist
values. The prevalence of Anglo-US mass culture throughout Latin America
was perceived by leftist intellectuals such as the Chilean Ariel Dorfman
(author of How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in Disney Comics, 1971)
as a cultural invasion aimed at the promotion of US consumer values and the
erasure of indigenous and traditional ways of life. In the hugely influential
1973 volume The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a
Continent, Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano argued that Latin America was not
an under-developed region because of a lack of natural resources but rather
because those resources were extracted and used to finance the development
of wealthy nations. Dependency theorists in the 1960s and 1970s: ‘tended to
place all of Latin America’s economic ills at the door of the rich metropolitan
countries of the North, blaming them for having locked the region into
an endless cycle of commodity dependence and poverty’ (Green, 2003: 70).
Musical traditions were compared to raw resources that needed protection
from such relations of dependency. As one participant at a meeting of Latin
American music held in Cuba in 1972 expressed it:
As with other deeply rooted popular and nationalist expressions, but with
particular emphasis on music for its importance as a link between us, the
colonialist cultural penetration seeks to achieve not only the destruction
of our own values and the imposition of those from without but also
the extraction and distortion of the former in order to return them [now]
reprocessed and value-added, for the service of this penetration. (quoted
in Zolov, 1999: 226).
Judith Reyes, Popular Music and the Student Movement of 1968 153
These sentiments coincided in many ways with official and right-wing
discourses in Mexico at the time that provided support for folk music and
nueva cancion´ . According to V´ıctor Guerra, in the early 1970s there was a
‘boom’ in the popularity of Chilean nueva cancion´ in Mexico, with Chilean
groups such as Inti Illimani and Quilapayun representing the ‘inconformity ´
and rebelliousness’ of the peoples of Latin America. Nevertheless, Guerra
points out, these groups sang about the governments and problems of their
own countries, but did not sing about the Mexican system. In the 1970s,
according to Guerra, there were two tendencies in nueva cancion´ in Mexico:
[There was t]he official music associated with President Luis Echeverr´ıa,
like that of Los Folkloristas. This music was about the problems of South
America, but not those of Mexico. [On the other hand there were]
the Chileans, who gave ‘legitimacy’ to the democracy and freedom of
expression that Echeverr´ıa boasted about so much; he gave them official
spaces to criticize Pinochet, but not the massacre of 2 October. (V´ıctor
Guerra quoted in Llaven, 2008)
The government neither censored nor withdrew its support from either
of these tendencies, indicating that folk music and nueva cancion´ were not
perceived to pose a threat to the hegemonic order (Zolov, 1999: 227). The
state donated space previously occupied by the National Symphony for the
founding of Discos Pueblo, the label on which Los Folkloristas recorded, and
in addition made concert halls such as the Palacio de Bellas Artes available
for performances by Mexican and foreign nueva cancion´ artists (Zolov, 1999:
228). However, while nueva cancion´ was widely interpreted as a direct challenge to the status quo in other Latin American nations (Fairley, 1984, 2000;
Mart´ın, 1998; Morris, 1986; Reyes Matta, 1988; and Scruggs , 2004), in Mexico
it served to focus the attention of protest away from the government and
towards the more general concept of imperialism, as well as to reinforce a
notion of cultural ‘authenticity’ and to reassert the boundaries of ‘respect and
discipline’ between audience and performers that rock music undermined
(Zolov, 1999: 230). Rock musicians received neither official performance
spaces nor support. Consumed in semi-underground cafes cantantes ´ and hoyos
funquis (improvised outdoor concerts), the performance of rock music created
unmonitored spaces in which (initially only middle- and upper-class, but later
also lower-class) youths imitated the styles, sounds and gestures of youth
culture from abroad (Zolov, 1999: 100). The Mexican state perceived rock
audiences’ embracing of sexual liberation, drug experimentation and ‘hippy’
fashions and their questioning of authority as a direct threat to a hegemonic
value system that was ‘grounded in patriarchy and heroic nationalism’ (Zolov,
1999: 134).
154 Hazel Marsh
While the Mexican government did not criticise rock for the same reasons as leftist intellectuals, for President Echeverr´ıa (1970–1976) the leftist
language of cultural and economic imperialism and of Third World struggle
became a ‘useful polemical tool’ (Zolov, 1999: 190). The PRI ‘manipulated
conflicts over cultural issues as a way of absorbing criticism without directly
threatening its hold on power’ (Zolov, 1999: 53). In February 1968, the federal
Judicial Police began a campaign to ‘clean up’ Mexico City of ‘dangerous’
hippies, marijuana smokers and LSD ‘addicts’ (Zolov, 1999: 110). Such official
condemnation contributed, towards the end of the 1960s, to the gradual conversion of rock music into an arena where young people could express their
cynicism and disillusionment about the likelihood of political change. The
Student Movement’s demands and marches had not led to greater democratisation but had been met with state violence, provoking the radicalisation of
a minority and a retreat from political action by the vast majority (Zolov,
1999: 110). Underground rock represented for many young people a focal
point for the expression of anger, fear and mistrust towards authority. As one
participant expressed it: ‘We fought against a corrupt society, [one] that was
suffocating us, that was deceiving us … and rock [music] helped us scream;
rock for me is about that scream, a universal scream’ (Zolov, 1999: 133).
Rock versus Folk
Like V´ıctor Guerra, Mexican singer/songwriter Leon Chavez Teixeiro (2008) ´
identifies two musical tendencies in Mexican nueva cancion´ and folk music
after 1968. However, for Chavez Teixeiro, these tendencies differ from those ´
delineated by Guerra. For him, the first type was characterised by folk music
forms from across the continent and lyrics concerned with the general problems of South America. It was diffused via media coverage, record sales,
festivals financed by the Communist Party, and by official performances,
and it was closely linked to the continental nueva cancion´ movement and to
political parties financed by and in dialogue with the state. The second type
was diffused in urban barrios and rural zones via Brigadas Populares (Popular
Brigades), groups of artists who used theatre and song to bring attention to
and give information about the ideas and demands of the Student Movement
and to link this movement with pre-existing social movements such as those
of campesinos and railway-workers. In the early 1970s, the Centro Libre de
Experimentacion Teatral y Art´ ´ ıstica (CLETA; the Free Centre of Theatrical
and Artistic Experimentation) was established in order to continue this work:
CLETA is an organisation of people working in art, [who are] dedicated
to getting to know, digging out, diffusing and generating – together
with workers, campesinos and the marginalised – our cultural values,
Judith Reyes, Popular Music and the Student Movement of 1968 155
thereby contributing to the development of a class consciousness and
to the political organisation of groups whose struggle is directed at the
extermination of the system of exploitation of man by man. We are not
the cultural arm of any political party, we have an open politics, which
we understand as the participation of different tendencies within the left
that we adopt with the common and fundamental aim of constructing
the socialist revolution. (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 85–6)
Unlike officially-backed nueva cancion´ artists, Judith Reyes lived, worked
and travelled in urban barrios and rural zones, and maintained a much
stronger commitment to ordinary Mexicans than many other artists (Chavez ´
Teixeiro, 2008). She has been described as an artist who ‘sang and told of
the truth in the country’ (Guerra, 2008) and who dared to denounce Mexican
authorities at a time when many other folk and nueva cancion´ artists preferred
to sing about more general problems of poverty and imperialism in other
nations. While in the early 1970s the Echeverr´ıa government allowed folk
groups like Los Folkloristas to perform in official spaces such as the Palacio de
Bellas Artes and facilitated recording opportunities for these groups, Reyes
was threatened, arrested, imprisoned and exiled. In Cantares de la memoria,
musician Rene Villanueva describes how: ´
after the terrible night of Tlatelolco, to present Judith to the students
was like a guerrilla operation of the most rigorous clandestinity … being
kidnapped [and] the threats against you and your family that came from
the highest political level, forced you into exile. (Reyes and Perez, 1997) ´
Apparently unconcerned with recording her compositions,9 Reyes was
uncomfortable with what she perceived as the ‘opportunism’ of some artists
within CLETA, and she remained on the outskirts of the organisation (Chavez ´
Teixeiro, 2008). At a meeting of political song held in San Luis Potos´ı in 1978,
during which folk and nueva cancion´ artists discussed the development of
their music in Mexico, Reyes disagreed with other artists who sought a space
in the mass media and official institutions to diffuse their music, arguing that
popular movements should not cede any concessions to representatives of
the dominant classes (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 90). Out of this meeting the Liga
Independiente de Musicos y Artistas Revolucionarios (LIMAR; Independent ´
League of Revolutionary Musicians and Artists) emerged in order to ‘struggle
for the creation of an art in agreement with the present and historical interests
of the proletariat’ (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 93). Reyes, who had been sceptical
9 The recordings that exist of Reyes were made while the singer was living in exile in
France and Italy (Garc´ıa, 2008b).
156 Hazel Marsh
of such organisations (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 92), did become a member of
LIMAR, but according to Chavez Teixeiro (2008) she remained on the margins ´
of the organisation, preferring to ‘really throw herself into participating in
the movements’ of the time.
The events of 1968 deepened Reyes’s political commitment. The Tlatelolco
massacre had succeeded in dismembering a political and social movement.
While one element of the student population became further radicalised and
took to organising armed struggle, for the majority the repression produced
feelings of ‘a terrible sense of frustrated impotence’ (Zolov, 1999: 133). Reyes
belonged to the minority who were radicalised by the repression of the
Student Movement, and in the 1970s she lent her explicit support to the
guerrilla movements that had emerged as a result of this radicalisation
(Chavez Teixeiro, 2008). Choosing to live in a lower class ´ barrio that had been
established as the result of a land invasion, Reyes continued to chronicle the
everyday concerns of her neighbours:
According to Quiroz Trejo, many urban youths in the late 1960s and early
… moved without problem between hippie dogmas and the dogmas of
the militant new-old left. … The relationship between rock and folk music
was evident in the 1960s. People listened to anything from the militant
corridos of Judith Reyes and Jose de Molina which, at times, could sound ´
like a pamphlet, to the protest music of Margarita Bauche – who later
became a hippie – and Oscar Chavez, and also the music of Joan Baez, ´
Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles,
The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Pink Floyd, The Who, etc. (Quiroz Trejo,
With the massacre of 2 October 1968, the PRI revealed its commitment
to one-party rule. Official cultural policy supported and promoted folk and
nueva cancion´ as long as these genres addressed general problems of poverty
and imperialism, or of political repression in other nations. By the mid 1970s,
urban youth had rejected officially sanctioned folk and nueva cancion´ , and
anything that sounded like it, as channels for the expression of their values
and preoccupations. Rock music took centre stage as the vehicle for the
expression of a general loss of respect for authority both in the family and
for the government (Ponce, 1998: 59). The role of rock music in the Student
Movement was reassessed and redefined. As one participant wrote:
If they ask me what the student movement of 1968 was all about …
I could tell them that it was the history of how a son rebelled against his
government because he could not confront his father, while a president
Judith Reyes, Popular Music and the Student Movement of 1968 157
who felt impotent against his own son’s rocker lifestyle took revenge
against hundreds of students. (quoted by Zolov, 1999: 131)10
Folk music and nueva cancion´ were no longer perceived to be the only
genres capable of articulating popular feelings. For leftist intellectuals such
as Carlos Monsivais, the emergence of the Mexican rock movement was an ´
indication of the depoliticisation of youth and the transference of political
action to cultural rebellion. By 1971, political repression, and the widespread
incorporation of the lower classes through outdoor performances on the
outskirts of Mexico City, had transformed rock into a space for Mexican
youth to imagine an alternative community free from state control. Rock
music did not so much represent a shift away from political action as ‘the
rupturing of the state’s monopoly over cultural capital’ (Zolov, 1999: 177).
It was precisely the exclusion of rock from leftist and official spheres that
allowed the genre to shift from being perceived as a consumer product
imported from the United States to becoming a form of popular urban music
that provided space for the symbolic creation and re-creation of cultural and
political identity (Velasco Garc´ıa, 2004: 136). Many Mexican former folk and
nueva cancion´ artists created rock and fusion groups in the late 1970s. Though
their lyrics were not directly political, they were concerned with the lives of
‘the people’.11 As the drummer for rock bands La Maldita Vecinidad and los
Hijos del Quinto Patio commented:
Our work is not political, if by political you mean doctrinaire, ideological
songs, like the ’60s protest songs were and the ’70s, with the folkloric
Chilean music and nueva cancion´ . We don’t intend to educate anyone, we
don’t believe in ideologies or doctrines. It is political in the broader sense
of the word since we speak of the street life, of the everyday person.
If you write about them, you’re going to confront things that could be
considered to be political. (quoted in Zolov, 1999: 258)
As rock shifted to central stage as the voice of urban protest, young
Mexicans began to look upon the songs of Judith Reyes as ‘primitive’ and
to reject corridos, which they perceived to be written in ‘a very campesino
style in versification and lyrics’ (Chavez Teixeiro, 2008). Reyes was never ´
interested in performing for the government or in official spaces; her work
remained ‘hidden from the media’ and other folk and nueva cancion´ artists
10 Zolov’s informant is referring to Alfredo D´ıaz Ordaz, the president’s son who was
considered to be a hippy.
11 This rock movement led to the rupestre urban rock movement of the 1980s (associated
with Rockdrigo Gonzalez) and in the early twenty-first century to gronch (a Spanish
pronunciation of ‘Grunge’), a movement of self-titled ‘urban poets’.
158 Hazel Marsh
held her work in contempt in aesthetic terms because by the 1970s, according
to Chavez Teixeiro, ‘if you made a song about a problem it was considered
to be a pamphlet’. While nueva cancion´ was ‘sold to the highest bidder’ and
Los Folkloristas used media and official support to diffuse their work, Reyes
showed no interest in compromising her performances and continued to sing
directly to the public in informal, outdoor contexts (Chavez Teixeiro, 2008). ´
In 1973, releasing a collection of Reyes’s songs in the United States on the
Paredon label,12 Barbara Dane commented in her sleeve notes:
She’s pretty marginalised from the mainstream of the left … because she
really is a woman of the lower classes … she’s not an intellectual … she
doesn’t cater to [being sponsored by middle class intellectuals]… [her]
real fame is among peasants and workers. (Dane, 2006)
Reyes became marginalised by the dogma of the political left, which
supported nueva cancion´ . It is this very same ‘compact culture of iron-fisted
militants, who were seeking a single totality into which all ideas, customs
and hobbies as exclusively defined by the heads of … political parties should
fit’ (Quiroz Trejo, 2000), which also led urban youth to turn to rock as an
expression of their rejection of state authority.
Conclusion: Song as Oral History
In Footsteps in the Dark: the Hidden Histories of Popular Music, George Lipsitz
argues that in modern societies ‘control over electoral politics by the rich and
monopoly control over media outlets preclude meaningful public dialogue
about political issues … yet people continue to long for better and more
meaningful lives in the arenas open to them and with the tools they
have available’ (Lipsitz, 2007: xv). Popular music is one arena open for
people to engage in meaningful public dialogue about political issues. While
the PRI was able to use folk protest music as a vehicle for its own hegemonic
ideologies, rock music was redefined by Mexican youth and made into an
arena for the expression of anger and disagreement with the prevailing order.
It is in the lyrics of the corridos of Judith Reyes, however, that we find a
form of ‘oral reporting’ that, though excluded from official representations
of the events of 1968 and marginalised by subsequent generations, vividly
depicts the ways in which Mexicans experienced and thought about 1968 at
that time:
12 These had originally been recorded in exile in France on the Chants du Monde label.
Judith Reyes, Popular Music and the Student Movement of 1968 159
through [Judith Reyes’s] compositions, the history of Mexico can be
known, the real history, not the official version, because these corridos
carry information about events and people’s feelings. The work of Judith
Reyes fulfils this function too; it gives the [1968 student] movement its
just and popular historical significance. (Grupo Martires de Tlatelolco, ´
1968, quoted in Alarcon, 2008) ´
Paco Ignacio Taibo II ([1991] 2004) refers to the year 1968 as a ‘ghost’,
arguing that the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of the events
of that year turns it into a mythology while its lived experience fades into
oblivion. More than 40 years later, the songs of Judith Reyes act as direct links
to the lived experience of that time.
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Aguayo Quezada, S. (1998) 1968: Los Archivos de la Violencia. Grijalbo: Mexico, DF. ´
Alarcon, Y. (2008) Personal communication with Hazel Marsh, 15 September. ´
Alvarez del Villar, P. (1968) ‘El Antisubdesarrollo’. ´ Excelsior ´ , 10 July.
Alvarez Gar ´ ´ın, R. (1998) La Estela de Tlatelolco: una Reconstruccion Hist ´ orica del Movimiento ´
Estudiantil del 68. Grijalbo: Mexico, DF. ´
Arnaud, P. and Terret, T. (1993) Le Reve blanc, Olympisme et Sport d ˆ ’hiver en France: Chamonix
1924, Grenoble 1968. Presses universitaires de Bordeaux: Bordeaux.
Bajter, I. (2009) ‘Tras las huellas de Alcira Soust’ La Lupa, supplement to Brecha, 9 January,
Barrios, F. (2008) Personal communication with Hazel Marsh, 19 September.
Bass, A. (2002) Not the Triumph but the Struggle – The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the
Black Athlete. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis.
Benneworth, P. and Dauncey, H. (forthcoming) ‘International Urban Festivals as a Catalyst
for Governance Capacity Building: The Legacy of Lyon’s Failed Olympic 1968 Bid’.
Berthet, A. (1963) ‘Correspondance a propos des jeux olympiques’. ` Resonances ´ 114: 4–6.
Bertrand, T. (1994) Si j’ai bonne memoire ´ . Imprimerie du batiment ˆ . Imprimerie du batiment: ˆ
Bolano, R. (1999) ˜ Amuleto. Anagrama: Barcelona.
Bolsmann, C. and Brewster, K. (2009) ‘Mexico 1968 and South Africa 2010: Development,
Leadership and Legacies’. Sport in Society 12(10): 1284–1298.
Booth, D. (2003) ‘Hitting Apartheid for Six? The Politics of the South African Sports
Boycott’. Journal of Contemporary History 38(3): 477–493.
Brewster, C. (2002) ‘The Student Movement of 1968 and the Mexican Press: The Cases of
Excelsior and Siempre!’. ´ Bulletin of Latin American Research 21(2): 171–190.
Brewster, C. (2005) Responding to Crisis in Contemporary Mexico: The Political Writing of Paz,
Fuentes, Monsivais and Poniatowska ´ . University of Arizona Press: Tucson.
Brewster, C. and Brewster, K. (2006) ‘Mexico 1968: Sombreros and skyscrapers’ in A.
Tomlinson and C. Young (eds.) National Identity and Global Events: Culture, Politics and
Spectacle in the Olympics and Football World Cup. State University of New York Press:
Albany, 99–116.
Brewster, K. (2004) ‘Redeeming the ‘‘Indian’’: Sport and Ethnicity in Post-revolutionary
Mexico’. Patterns of Prejudice 38(3): 213–231.
Brewster, K. (2005) ‘Patriotic Pastimes: The Role of Sport in Post-revolutionary Mexico’.
International Journal of the History of Sport 22(2): 139–157.
Brewster, K. and Brewster, C. (2010) Representing the Nation: Sport, Control, Contestation, and
the Mexican Olympics. Routledge: Abingdon.
Brohm, J.-M. (1981) Le Mythe olympique. Editions Bourgois: Paris.
Brohm, J.-M., Perelman, M. and Vassort, P. (2005) ‘Paris 2012: Non a l’imposture `
olympique!’. Le Monde diplomatique, 3 July.
Butler, R. (1968) ‘Mexico Awaits Starting Gun’. Seattle Post Intelligencer, 7 April.
Callede, J.-P. (2000) ` Les Politiques sportives en France. Elements de sociologie historique ´ . Editions
Economica: Paris.
Campos Bravo, A. (1963) ‘Reconocen el Esfuerzo del Pueblo Mexicano’. El Nacional, 19
Cape Argus (2009a) ‘Ready for Kick-Off’. 12 June.
Cape Argus(2009b) ‘Free Cup Tickets to Counter ‘‘Serious Embarrassment for SA’’’. 18 June.
Cape Argus (2009c) ‘Ban the Noisy Vuvuzela, Says Spanish Star Xabi Alonso’. 18 June.
Cape Times (2009a) ‘A Golden Goal’. 11 June.
References 161
Cape Times (2009b) ‘FIFA Slams Empty Seats’. 16 June.
Cape Times (2009c) ‘Pitch Perfect’. 29 June.
Carey, E. (2005) Plaza of Sacrifices: Gender, Power and Terror in 1968 Mexico. University of
New Mexico: Albuquerque.
Carmichael, S. and Hamilton, C. V. (1968) Black Power – The Politics of Liberation in America.
Pelican Books: London.
Carrasco, E. (1982) ‘The nueva cancion´ in Latin America’. International Social Science Journal
34(4): 599–623.
Caruth, C. (1996) Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Johns Hopkins
University Press: Baltimore.
Casellas, R. (1992) Mexico 68: Confidencias de una Olimpiada. Editorial Jus: Mexico, DF. ´
Cerny, P. G. (1980) The Politics of Grandeur: Ideological Aspects of de Gaulle’s Foreign Policy.
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Cervantes, L. (1998) ‘En 68, todo para todos, nada para nosotros’. [WWW document]. URL
http://www.geocities.com/athens/troy/2268/vaca28 [accessed 3 August 2008].
Chafer, A. and Godin, E. (eds.) (2009) The French Exception. Palgrave MacMillan: London.
Chavez Teixeiro, L. (2008) Personal communica ´ tion with Hazel Marsh, 23 September.
Chifflet, P. (2005) Idelogie sportive et service public en France: mythe d’un syst ´ eme unifi ` e´. Presses
universitaires de Grenoble: Grenoble.
Chomsky, N. (1992) Deterring Democracy. Vintage: London.
Cochrane, T. (2007) Shared Emotions in Music. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham, Nottingham. [WWW document]. URL http://etheses.nottingham.ac.
uk/archive/00000286/ [accessed 21 April 2009].
Confederacion Deportiva Mexicana (1965) ´ Memoria deportiva mexicana. Confederacion´
Deportiva Mexicana: Mexico, DF.
Corominas, J. (1991) Diccionario Cr´ıtico Etimologico Castellano e Hisp ´ anico ´ . Gredos: Madrid.
Dane, B. (2006) ‘Sleeve Notes’ in J. Reyes Mexico: Days of Struggle [CD]. Smithsonian
Folkways Recordings: Washington.
Dauncey, H. (1997) ‘Choosing and Building the ‘‘Grand stade de France’’ – National
Promotion through Sport and ‘incompetence technocratique?’ ´ French Politics and
Society 15(4): 32–40.
Dauncey, H. (1998) ‘Building the Finals: Facilities and Infrastructure’. Culture, Sport, Society
1(2): 98–120.
Dauncey, H. (2004) ‘Les Jeux Olympiques de Londres de 1948: ‘‘figure imposee’’ ou ´
‘‘vitrine’’?’ in P. Milza, F. Jequier and Ph. T ´ etart (eds.) ´ Le Pouvoir des anneaux. Vuibert:
Paris, 183–198.
Dauncey, H. (2008) ‘Londres 1908’ in C. Boli (ed.) Les Jeux Olympiques. Fierte nationale et ´
enjeu mondial. Musee national du sport/Editions Atlantica: Biarritz, 201–210. ´
Dauncey, H. and Hare, G. (eds.) (1999) France and the 1998 World Cup: The National Impact
of a World Sporting Event. Frank Cass: London.
de Vaan, M. (2008) Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages. Brill:
Delfante, Ch. (1963) ‘Correspondance a propos des Jeux olympiques’. ` Resonances ´ 114: 4–6.
Deriol, C. (1963) ‘Le Dossier lyonnais des Jeux olympiques’. ´ Resonances ´ 113: 37–39.
Derrida, J. (1981) Dissemination (trans. B. Johnson). The University of Chicago Press:
Derrida, J. (1994) Specters of Marx (trans. B. Magnus and S. Cullenberg). Routledge:
New York and London.
Derrida, J. (1996) Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (trans. E. Prenowitz). The University
of Chicago Press: Chicago and London.
Doyle, K. (2006) The Dead of Tlatelolco. 1 October. [WWW document]. URL
http://www.gwu.edu/∼nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB201/index.htm [accessed 24
September 2008].
du Preez, M. (2009) ‘Cup Will Change How World Looks at Africa’. Cape Argus, 11 June.
162 References
Edwards, H. (1969) The Revolt of the Black Athlete. Free Press: New York.
El D´ıa (1966) ‘Puntualidad’. 9 June.
El Nacional (1967) ‘Un Pueblo Maduro’. 4 May.
El Nacional (1968a) ‘El Debate Mundial en Torno a la Olimpiada’. 29 February.
El Nacional (1968b) ‘Continuan las Censuras al Hitlerista que Injuri ´ oaM ´ exico en ‘‘Der ´
Spiegal’’. 3 March.
El Nacional (1970) ‘El Deporte, Expresion Vital del Mexicano’ (editorial). 25 May. ´
El Universal (1963) ‘No se Mostraron Complacidos los Sovieticos con la Elecci ´ on Final’. ´
20 October.
El Universal (1966) ‘Seccion Editorial: Juegos Ol ´ ´ımpicos’. 14 September.
Ernout, A. and Meillet, A. (2001) Dictionnaire Etymologique de la Langue Latine: Histoire des
Mots, revised 4th edn. C. Klinksieck: Paris.
Estrada Nunez, A. (1965) ‘Campa ˜ na Nacional Para Crear una ‘‘Conciencia Ol ˜ ´ımpica’’’.
Excelsior ´ , 29 August.
Evans, S. and Mazola, M. (2009) ‘FIFA Gives SA 2010 Thumbs Up’. Sunday Times, 23 June.
Excelsior ´ (1966) ‘Foro de Excelsior’. 22 December. ´
Excelsior ´ (1968a) ‘Principio Unificador’. 25 February.
Excelsior ´ (1968b) ‘Decision de los 32’. 27 February. ´
Eyerman, R. and Jamison, A. (1998) Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the
Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Fairley, J. (1984) ‘La Nueva Cancion Latinoamericana’. ´ Bulletin of Latin American Research
3(2): 107–115.
Fairley, J. (2000) ‘An Uncompromising Song’ in S. Broughton and M. Ellington (eds.) World
Music: the Rough Guide, Vol. 2. Rough Guides: London, 362–371.
FIFA (2004) Inspection Group Report for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. FIFA: Zurich.
Foner, P. S. (ed.) (1995) The Black Panthers Speak. Da Capo Press: Cambridge.
Forsdick, C. (1999) ‘Edward Said after Theory: The Limits of Saidian Counterpoint’ in
M. McQuillan, G. Macdonald, R. Purves and S. Thompson (eds.) Post-Theory: New
Directions in Criticism. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 188–199.
Fourastie, J. (1979) ´ Les trente glorieuses, ou la revolution invisible de 1946 ´ a 1975 ` . Fayard: Paris.
Franz, C. (2007) ‘‘‘Una tristeza insoportable’’ (Ocho hipotesis sobre la mela-chol ´ e de B.)’. ´
Letras Libres, 64: 38–41.
Frazer, C. (2006) Bandit Nation: A History of Outlaws and Cultural Struggle in Mexico,
1810–1920. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London.
Freud, S. (1961a) Beyond the Pleasure Principle (trans. and ed. J. Strachey). Norton: New York
and London.
Freud, S. (1961b) ‘A Note Upon the ‘‘Mystic Writing Pad’’’ in J. Strachey (ed.) The Standard
Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (trans. J. Strachey), Vol. XIX.
Hogarth: London, 225–232.
Fuentes, C. (2005) Los 68: Par´ıs-Praga-Mexico ´ . Debate: Mexico, DF. ´
Galeano, E. (1973) The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent
Monthly Review Press: New York and London.
Garc´ıa, L. (2008a) L´ınea Abierta: Programa Especial de Cinco de Mayo – Judith Reyes. 5 May
[WWW document]. URL http://www.archivosderb.org/?q=en/node/395 [accessed
21 April 2009].
Garc´ıa, L. (2008b) Personal communication with Hazel Marsh, 28 September.
Garc´ıa Canclini, N. (2004) ‘Aesthetic Moments of Latin Americanism’ (trans. P. Legarreta).
Radical History Review 89: 13–24.
Gleeson, M. (2008) ‘Filling Stadiums a Challenge, Says Jordaan’. Mail and Guardian,
22 November.
Gonzalez de Alba, L. (1997a) ´ Los d´ıas y los anos ˜ . Biblioteca Era: Mexico, DF. ´
Gonzalez de Alba, L. (1997b) ‘Para limpiar la memoria’. ´ Nexos 20(238): 45–49 .
Gravier, J.-F. (1947) Paris et le desert franc ´ ¸ais. Le Portulan: Paris.
References 163
Green, D. (2003) Silent Revolution: The Rise and Crisis of Market Economics in Latin America.
Latin American Bureau: London.
Guerra, V. (2008) La cancion de protesta no morir ´ a mientras en M ´ exico haya injusticias. ´
[WWW document]. URL http://setebc.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/ [accessed 3
August 2008].
Guttmann, A. (1984) The Games Must Go On: Avery Brundage and the Olympic Movement.
Columbia University Press: New York.
Hamnett, B. (1999) A Concise History of Mexico. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Harding, V. G. (1987) ‘Beyond Amnesia: Martin Luther King and the Future of America’.
Journal of American History 74(2): 468–476.
Hartmann, D. (2003) Race, Culture and the Revolt of the Black Athlete. University of Chicago
Press: Chicago, IL.
Hellman, J. A. (1983) Mexico in Crisis. Holmes and Meier: New York.
Hill, C. R. (1996) Olympic Politics: Athens to Atlanta 1896–1996. Manchester University Press:
Hodges, D. and Gandy, R. (2002) Mexico under Siege: Popular Resistance to Presidential
Despotism. Zed Books: London.
Horne, J. and Manzenreiter, W. (2006) ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Sports MegaEvents’ in J. Horne and W. Manzenreiter (eds.) Sports Mega-events: Social Scientific
Analyses of a Global Phenomenon. Wiley-Blackwell: Malden/Oxford, 1–29.
Jameson, F. (2003) ‘The End of Temporality’. Critical Inquiry 29: 695–718.
Jimenez, A. (2008) ‘La ‘‘sacudida del 68’’ marco el final de la ‘‘gran rector ´ ´ıa del
Estado’’ en la cultura’. La Jornada, 13 September. [WWW document]. URL
a04n1cul [accessed 21 April 2009].
Killanin, D. and Rodda, J. (eds.) (1979) The Olympic Games. Macdonald and Jane’s: London.
Kraul, C. (2004) ‘Victims’ Families Hopeful About ’Dirty War’ Case’. Los Angeles Times,
27 July. [WWW document]. URL http://articles.latimes.com/2004/jul/27/world/fgmexico27 [accessed 24 September 2008].
Kukawka, P. (1999) ‘Les Jeux Olympiques d’hiver: enjeux et perspectives. Grenoble
1968 – Nagano 1998’. Revue de Geographie Alpine ´ 87(1): 99–104.
Laget, S. and Mazot, J.-P. (2000) Marceau Crespin: a la Force des Poignets ` . PPL: Mende.
L’Equipe (1962) ‘Paris en concurrence avec Lyon pose sa candidature pour 1968’. 6 August, 6.
Le Progres de Lyon ` (1962) ‘Je suis convaincu que les Jeux Olympiques de 1968 seront organises´
a Lyon, a d ` eclar ´ e M. Armand Massard, vice-pr ´ esident du Comit ´ e international ´
olympique’. 21 July, 21.
Le Progres de Lyon ` (1963a) ‘Devant les principales personnalites lyonnaises, M. Pradel a ´
plaide le dossier de Lyon pour les J.O en 1968’. 5 July, 11. ´
Le Progres de Lyon ` (1963b) ‘Un magistral et precis expos ´ e sur les chances et les possibilit ´ es´
des Jeux Olympiques 1968 a rec¸u l’unanime approbation des ‘‘responsables’’ sportifs
et des elus’. 5 July, 12. ´
Lewis, O. (1964) The Children of Sanchez ´ . Penguin: Harmondsworth.
Lipsitz, G. (2007) Footsteps in the Dark: the Hidden Histories of Popular Music. University of
Minnesota Press: Minneapolis.
Llaven, Y. (2008) La cancion de protesta no morir ´ a mientras en M ´ exico haya injusticias. ´ [WWW
document]. URL http://setebc.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/ [accessed 3 August
Logan, G. (2009) ‘We Must Look Past Problems in South Africa’. The Times, 19 June.
Los Angeles Times (2007) ‘The World – Mexico’s Ex-leader Cleared in ’68 Genocide’. 13 July.
[WWW document]. URL: http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jul/13/world/fgmexico13 [accessed 8 July 2009].
Mail and Guardian (2009) ‘FIFA Hands Out Free Tickets to Confed Cup’. 17 June.
Manzoni, C. (2003) ’Reescritura como desplazamiento y anagnorisis en El amuleto de
Roberto Bolano’. ˜ Hispamerica ´ 32: 25–34.
164 References
Mart´ın, G. (1998) El Perfume de Una epoca ´ . Alfadil: Caracas.
Maslin, J. (2008) ‘The Novelist in His Literary Labyrinth’. The New York Times, 12 November,
Matthews, V. (1974) My Race Be Won. Charterhouse: New York.
Mexican Organising Committee (1969) Official Report of the Organising Committee of the XIX
Olympiad (5 vols.). Mexican Organising Committee: Mexico City.
Michela, I. (1963) ‘Les Lyonnais atterres: le score plus d ´ eprimant que la d ´ efaite’. ´ Le Progres`
de Lyon, 19 October, 13–14.
Mkhize, T., Evans, S., Bradlow, B. and Kamaldien, Y. (2009) ‘All Systems Go for 2010’,
Sunday Times, June 10.
Monsivais, C. (1970) ´ D´ıas de Guardar. Ediciones Era: Mexico, DF. ´
Moore, K. (1991a) ‘A Courageous Stand’. Sports Illustrated, 5 August.
Moore, K. (1991b) ‘The Eye of the Storm’. Sports Illustrated, 12 August.
Moore-Gilbert, B. (1997) Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. Verso: London.
Morris, N. (1986) ‘Canto porque es necesario cantar: the New Song Movement in Chile,
1973–1983’. Latin American Research Review 21(1): 117–136.
Mratz, J. (2001) ‘Today, Tomorrow, and Always: The Golden Age of Illustrated Magazines
in Mexico, 1937–1960’ in G. Joseph, A. Rubenstein and E. Zolov (eds.) Fragments of a
Golden Age: The Political Culture in Mexico since 1940. Duke University Press: Durham,
NC, 116–157.
MSNBC (2006) ‘Ex-Mexico leader cleared of genocide charges’. 9 July. [WWW document].
URL http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13772086/ [accessed 24 September 2008].
Nail, S. (2009) ‘Sound of SA football won’t be silenced’. Cape Argus, 20 June.
News 24 (2008) ‘Fifa gives Vuvuzelas thumbs up’. 11 July. [WWW document]. URL
http://www.news24.com/News24/ Sport/SWC_2010/0,2-9-2188_2356051,00.html
[accessed 23 December 2009].
New York Times (1968) ‘Article’. 26 October, 7.
Nicolopolous, J. (1997) ‘Another Fifty Years of the Corrido: A Reassessment’. Aztlan: A
Journal of Chicano Studies. 22(1): 115–138.
Paz, O. (1961) The Labyrinth of Solitude (trans. H. Lane). Grove Press: New York.
Paz, O. (1993) ‘Posdata’ in E. M. Santi (ed.) El Laberinto de la Soledad. Catedra: Madrid, ´
Pilcher, J. (2001) Cantinflas and the Chaos of Mexican Modernity. SR Books: Wilmington, DE.
Pittsburgh Courier (1968) ‘Article’. 19 October, 45.
Ponce, R. (1998) ‘El 68 y el golpe a ‘‘Excelsior’’ abrieron los espacios, dice el cartonista’. ´
Proceso, 27 September, 16–20.
Poniatowska, E. (1971) La Noche de Tlatelolco. Ediciones Era: Mexico, DF. ´
Poniatowska, E. (1975) Massacre in Mexico (trans. H. R. Lane). Viking: New York.
Poniatowska, E. (1998) La Noche de Tlatelolco: Testimonios de Historia Oral, 2nd edn. Ediciones
Era: Mexico, DF. ´
Pradel, L. (1963) ‘A Propos des Jeux olympiques’. Resonances ´ 115: 41–43.
Pring-Mill, R. (1987) ‘The Roles of Revolutionary Song – a Nicaraguan Assessment’. Popular
Music 6(2): 179–189.
Pron, P. (2008) Archivo I: Entrevista a Roberto Bolano (G ˜ ottingen, 2000) ¨ . [WWW document].
URL http://patriciopron.blogspot.com/2008/07/un-rescate-una-entrevista-robertobolao.html [accessed 30 April 2009].
Quick, S. P. (1990) ‘‘‘Black Knight Checks White King’’: The Conflict between Avery
Brundage and the African Nations over South African Membership in the IOC’.
Canadian Journal of the History of Sport 21(2): 20–32.
Quiroz Trejo, J. (2000) El Rock Mexicano y la Contracultura. [WWW document]. URL
http://www.uam.mx/difusion/revista/abr2000/quiroz.html [accessed 3 August
Real Academia Espanola (1992) ˜ Diccionario de la Lengua Espanola ˜ , 21st edn. RAE: Madrid.
References 165
Revueltas, J. (1978) ‘Gris es toda teor´ıa [II]’ in A. Revueltas and P. Cheron (eds.) Mexico 68: ´
Juventud y Revolucion´ . Ediciones Era: Mexico, DF, 76–84. ´
Reyes, A. and Perez, F. (1997) ´ Recordando a Judith Reyes. [WWW document]. URL
http://www.geocities.com/yellymar/ [accessed 13 January 2008].
Reyes, J. (1974 [1968]) ‘La Cronolog´ıa del Movimiento Estudiantil’ [LP]. Le Chant du Monde:
Arles, France.
Reyes, J. (1974) La otra cara de la patria. Talleres Graficos: Banjudal, Mexico. ´
Reyes, J. (2006 [1973]) Mexico: Days of Struggle [CD]. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings:
Reyes Matta, F. (1988) ‘The New Song and its Confrontation in Latin America’ in C. Nelson
and L. Grossberg (eds.) Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. University of Illinois
Press: Urbana.
Rhone-Alpes (1995) ˆ Jeux olympiques d’et´ e 2004. Etude de faisabilit ´ e : document de synth ´ ese ` .
Mission JO/Traces: Charbonnieres-les-Bains. `
Rivera Conde, S. (1999) ‘El Diseno en la XIX Olimp ˜ ´ıada: Entrevista al Arq. Pedro Ram´ırez
Vazquez’. ´ Creacion y Cultura ´ 1(1): 13–38.
Roche, M. (2000) Mega-events and Modernity: Olympics and Expos in the Growth of Global
Culture. Routledge: London.
Roche, M. (2006) ‘Mega-events and Modernity Revisited’ in J. Horne and W. Manzenreiter
(eds.) Sports Mega-events: Social Scientific Analyses of a Global Phenomenon. WileyBlackwell: Malden/Oxford, 30–49.
Rodda, J. (1968a) ‘After the Games are Over’. The Guardian, 1 November, 10.
Rodda, J. (1968b) ‘Trapped at Gunpoint in Middle of Fighting’. The Guardian, 4 October, 2.
Rodr´ıguez Kuri, A. (1998) ‘El otro 68: Pol´ıtica y estilo en la organizacion de los juegos ´
ol´ımpicos de la ciudad de Mexico’. ´ Relaciones 76(19): 109–129.
Rodr´ıguez Kuri, A. (2003) ‘Hacia Mexico 68. Pedro Ram ´ ´ırez Vazquez y el Proyecto ´
Ol´ımpico’ Secuencia 56: 37–73.
SAFA (2010) Africa’s Stage SA 2010 Bid Book. South African Football Association:
Said, E. (1994) Culture and Imperialism. Vintage: London.
Sauzay, L. (1996) Louis Pradel, Maire de Lyon 1957–1976. Conquete d’un Pouvoir, les Cl ˆ es de ´
l’enracinement Local. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Institut d’etudes politiques de Lyon, ´
Sauzay, L. (1998) Louis Pradel, Maire de Lyon: Voyage au Coeur du Pouvoir Municipal. Editions
lyonnaises d’art et d’histoire: Lyon.
Scherer Garc´ıa, J. and Monsivais, C. (1999) ´ Parte de Guerra, Tlatelolco 1968: Documentos
del General Marcelino Garc´ıa Barragan: los Hechos y la Historia ´ . Nuevo Siglo/Aguilar:
Mexico, DF. ´
Scruggs, T. M. (2004) ‘Music, Memory, and the Politics of Erasure in Nicaragua’ in D.
Walkowitz and L. Knauer (eds.) Narrating the Nation: Memory and the Impact of Political
Transformation in Public Spaces. Duke University Press: Durham, NC and London,
Segura Procelle, R. (1965) ‘‘Cantinflas’’ Encabezara en Televisi ´ on una Cruzada Para Crear ´
el Esp´ıritu Ol´ımpico’. El Nacional, 10 February, 4d.
Shaw, T. C. (2006) ‘Two Warring Ideals: Double Consciousness, Dialogue, and AfricanAmerican Patriotism Post 9/11’ in J. Battle, M. Bennett and A. Lemelle (eds.) Free
at Last – Black America in the Twenty-First Century. Transaction Publishers: London,
Siempre (1964) ‘Correspondencia’. 4 November, 5.
Smith, D. (2009) ‘Footballers Upset as Noisy Fans Blow their Own Trumpets’. Guardian,
19 June.
Soldatenko, M. (2005) ‘Mexico ’68: Power to the Imagination!’ Latin American Perspectives
32(4): 111–132.
Sowetan (2004) ‘Congratulations to Ourselves’. 14 May.
166 References
Steinberg, S. (2009) Unfinished Events: Writing, Visual Culture, and the Durations of Mexico,
1968. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Stewart, M. (1997) The Time of the Gypsies. Westview Press: Boulder, Colorado.
Suarez, L. (1968) ‘Ram ´ ´ırez Vazquez da Siempre el Balance Ol ´ ´ımpico’. Siempre, 13 November,
28, 70.
Sunday Times (2009) ‘Confederations Cup a Successful Rehearsal for FIFA 2010, Says
Experts’. 29 June .
Taibo, P. I. II (1991) 68. Planeta: Mexico, DF. ´
Taibo, P. I. II (2004) [1991] ’68. Seven Stories Press: New York.
Terret, T. (1990) ‘Les retombees des Jeux Olympiques d’hiver: Grenoble 1968’ in P. Arnaud ´
(ed.) Le Sport Moderne en Question: Innovation et Changements Sociaux. AFRAPS:
Grenoble, 45–53.
Terret, T. (2004) ‘Lyon, the City which Never Hosted the Olympic Games’ in I. Okubo
(ed.) Sport and Local Identity: Historical Study of Integration and Differentiation. Academia
Verlag: Sankt Agustin, 238–244.
Torres, C. R. (2007) ‘Stymied Expectations: Buenos Aires Persistent Efforts to Host Olympic
Games’. Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies 16: 43–75.
Tumblety, J. (2008) ‘The Soccer World Cup of 1938: Politics, Spectacles, and ‘‘la Culture
Physique’’ in Interwar France’. French Historical Studies 31(1): 77–116.
Van Deburg, W. L. (1992) New Day in Babylon. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
Velasco Garc´ıa, J. (2004) El Canto de la Tribu. Consejo nacional para la cultura y las artes:
Mexico, DF. ´
Velasco Polo, G. de (1978) ‘Porque los equipos mexicanos siempre pierden’. ´ El Heraldo de
Mexico ´ , 14 June, 7, 16.
Ville de Lyon (1963) Jeux de la XIX Olympiade. Association typographique lyonnaise: Lyon.
Volpi, J. (1998) La imaginacion y el poder: una historia intelectual de 1968 ´ . Biblioteca Era:
Mexico, DF. ´
Vourron, Ph. (1962a) ‘Le Colonel Crespin del´ egu ´ e´ a la Pr ` eparation Olympique: ‘‘J’ai ´ et´ e´
Seduit et ´ Etonn ´ e par les Arguments de Lyon en Fave ´ ur de l’organisation des J.O. en
1968’’. Le Progres` , 19 April, 6.
Vourron, Ph. (1962b) ‘Pour s’imposer en Indiscutable Favori a l’organisation des JO 1968 `
Lyon Devra Compter sur un Important Budget’. Le Progres` , 30 November, 8.
Waddell, T. and Schapp, D. (1996) Gay Olympian. Alfred Knopf: New York.
Wilson, J. (2009) ‘Five Things we’ve Learned from the Confederations Cup’. Guardian,
29 June.
Ya´nez, A. (1958) ˜ Discursos por Jalisco. Porrua: M ´ exico, DF. ´
Yacobazzo, M. (2009) ‘Cuando Alcira fue Mima: Ronda de la nina sola’. ˜ La Lupa, supplement
to Brecha, 9 January, III–IV.
Zea, L. (1968) ‘Golpe Racista a Mexico’. ´ Novedades, 3 March.
Zermeno, S. (1978) ˜ Mexico: Una democracia Ut ´ opica. El Movimiento Estudiantil del ’68 ´ . Siglo
XXI: Mexico, DF. ´
Zolov, E. (1999) Refried Elvis: The Rise of Mexican Counterculture. University of California
Press: Berkeley, London.
Zolov, E. (2004) ‘Showcasing the ‘‘Land of Tomorrow’’: Mexico and the 1968 Olympics’.
The Americas 61(2): 159–188.
Zolov, E. (2005) ‘The Harmonizing Nation: Mexico and the 1968 Olympics’ in A. Bass (ed.)
In the Game: Race, Identity, and Sports in the Twentieth Century. Palgrave Macmillan:
New York, 191–220.
Television and Radio
Black Power Salute, 2008. Television documentary. Directed by Geoffrey Small. UK: BBC.
References 167
1968: Myth or Reality (2008). Radio. BBC Radio 4. 1 March to 31 August. [WWW document].
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/1968/daybyday.shtml [accessed 28 July, 2009]
Archive of the International Olympic Committee (IOC/HA), Lausanne, Switzerland.
Archive of the Pentathlon Deportivo Militar Universitario (PDMU), Mexico City, Mexico. ´
Archivo del Congreso Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico.
Archivo General de la Nac´ıon (AGN), Mexico City, Mexico.
Archives Municipales de Lyon, Lyon, France.
Avery Brundage Collection, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Frederick J. Ruegsegger Papers University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
NAACP Collection, Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA.
United States Olympic Committee Archives, Colorado Springs, USA.
Amdur, Neil (2005), sportswriter (telephone interview with Simon Henderson), November.
Bradley, Bruce (2004) Olympic water polo player (telephone interview with Simon
Henderson), November.
Fosbury, Dick (2004) Olympic high jumper (telephone interview with Simon Henderson),
5 February.
Livington, Cleve (2004) Olympic rower (telephone interview with Simon Henderson),
Lipsyte, Robert (2005) New York Times sports correspondent (telephone interview with
Simon Henderson), June.
Norman, Peter (2004) Olympic sprinter (telephone interview with Simon Henderson),
Oerter, Al (2004) Olympic discus thrower (telephone interview with Simon Henderson),
Ram´ırez Vazquez, P. (2001) Chairman of the Mexican Organising Committee (interviewed ´
by Keith Brewster), 26 April, Mexico City.
Swagerty, Jane (2004) Olympic swimmer (telephone interview with Simon Henderson),
Young, George (2004) Olympic track star (telephone interview with Simon Henderson),
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Reflections on Mexico ’68
Newcastle University
Bulletin of Latin American Research
Book Series
The Bulletin of Latin American Research (BLAR) has a distinguished
history of publishing primary research from a range of disciplines in
Latin American studies. Our readers have long been able to draw
upon ideas from History, Geography, Politics, International Relations,
Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Gender Studies, Development Studies
and, increasingly, Cultural Studies. Many of our articles have addressed
thematic topics and debates of interest to all Latin Americanists, such as
mestizaje, populism or the politics of social movements. This is one of the
great strengths of being an area studies journal rather than a disciplinebased publication. The current book series thus aims to complement the
multidisciplinarity of the journal by publishing original and innovative
research from scholars who are working across disciplines, raising new
questions and applying fresh methodologies. The series seeks to develop into
a major forum for interdisciplinary work in Latin American Studies.
This third volume in the series arose from a conference organised to
reflect upon the fortieth anniversary of the Olympic Games held in Mexico
City, a significant cultural and sporting anniversary which also marked
the chilling commemoration of a violently repressed political protest in the
Mexican capital, just a few weeks before the inauguration of the Games.
The two events form the framework for a collection of essays, edited by
Keith Brewster, that seek to reveal the political, cultural, economic and
social legacies not only in the context of Mexican contemporary history,
but outwith the country and region as whole. The lively debate presented
by the authors spans a range of disciplines and engages with ‘Mexico ‘68’
in provocative, surprising and original ways, and will no doubt stimulate
further reflections on the contemporary context.
Copyright of Bulletin of Latin American Research is the property of Blackwell Publishing Limited and its
content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

Get Professional Assignment Help Cheaply

Buy Custom Essay

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Something unique happened in 1968
Just from $9/Page
Order Essay

Are you busy and do not have time to handle your assignment? Are you scared that your paper will not make the grade? Do you have responsibilities that may hinder you from turning in your assignment on time? Are you tired and can barely handle your assignment? Are your grades inconsistent?

Whichever your reason is, it is valid! You can get professional academic help from our service at affordable rates. We have a team of professional academic writers who can handle all your assignments.

Why Choose Our Academic Writing Service?

  • Plagiarism free papers
  • Timely delivery
  • Any deadline
  • Skilled, Experienced Native English Writers
  • Subject-relevant academic writer
  • Adherence to paper instructions
  • Ability to tackle bulk assignments
  • Reasonable prices
  • 24/7 Customer Support
  • Get superb grades consistently

Online Academic Help With Different Subjects


Students barely have time to read. We got you! Have your literature essay or book review written without having the hassle of reading the book. You can get your literature paper custom-written for you by our literature specialists.


Do you struggle with finance? No need to torture yourself if finance is not your cup of tea. You can order your finance paper from our academic writing service and get 100% original work from competent finance experts.

Computer science

Computer science is a tough subject. Fortunately, our computer science experts are up to the match. No need to stress and have sleepless nights. Our academic writers will tackle all your computer science assignments and deliver them on time. Let us handle all your python, java, ruby, JavaScript, php , C+ assignments!


While psychology may be an interesting subject, you may lack sufficient time to handle your assignments. Don’t despair; by using our academic writing service, you can be assured of perfect grades. Moreover, your grades will be consistent.


Engineering is quite a demanding subject. Students face a lot of pressure and barely have enough time to do what they love to do. Our academic writing service got you covered! Our engineering specialists follow the paper instructions and ensure timely delivery of the paper.


In the nursing course, you may have difficulties with literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, critical essays, and other assignments. Our nursing assignment writers will offer you professional nursing paper help at low prices.


Truth be told, sociology papers can be quite exhausting. Our academic writing service relieves you of fatigue, pressure, and stress. You can relax and have peace of mind as our academic writers handle your sociology assignment.


We take pride in having some of the best business writers in the industry. Our business writers have a lot of experience in the field. They are reliable, and you can be assured of a high-grade paper. They are able to handle business papers of any subject, length, deadline, and difficulty!


We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.


Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.

What discipline/subjects do you deal in?

We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.

Are your writers competent enough to handle my paper?

Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.

What if I don’t like the paper?

There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.

Reasons being:

  • When assigning your order, we match the paper’s discipline with the writer’s field/specialization. Since all our writers are graduates, we match the paper’s subject with the field the writer studied. For instance, if it’s a nursing paper, only a nursing graduate and writer will handle it. Furthermore, all our writers have academic writing experience and top-notch research skills.
  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

smile and order essay GET A PERFECT SCORE!!! smile and order essay Buy Custom Essay

Place your order
(550 words)

Approximate price: $22

Calculate the price of your order

550 words
We'll send you the first draft for approval by September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
Total price:
The price is based on these factors:
Academic level
Number of pages
Basic features
  • Free title page and bibliography
  • Unlimited revisions
  • Plagiarism-free guarantee
  • Money-back guarantee
  • 24/7 support
On-demand options
  • Writer’s samples
  • Part-by-part delivery
  • Overnight delivery
  • Copies of used sources
  • Expert Proofreading
Paper format
  • 275 words per page
  • 12 pt Arial/Times New Roman
  • Double line spacing
  • Any citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard)

Our guarantees

Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.

Read more

Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

Read more

Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

Read more

Privacy policy

Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.

Read more

Fair-cooperation guarantee

By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.

Read more
error: Content is protected !!
Open chat
Need assignment help? You can contact our live agent via WhatsApp using +1 718 717 2861

Feel free to ask questions, clarifications, or discounts available when placing an order.
  +1 718 717 2861           + 44 161 818 7126           [email protected]
  +1 718 717 2861         [email protected]