Student Movement – Concept, causes and consequences

We explain what the student movement is and the causes for which it originated. Also, its consequences and who were its leaders.

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The ’68 Student Movement took place on July 26 in Mexico City.

What is the student movement of ’68?

It is known as the student movement of ’68 the social movement in which students from the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) participated, among other educational institutions as well as professionals, workers, teachers and other social sectors.

This movement was established in Mexico City in response to a series of attacks that, days before, a group of students had suffered by grenadiers. They had used tear gas to arrest and pursue the youths.

So it was that on July 26, 1968, that conglomerate went to the Plaza Constitución to protest. But before they arrived the police cracked down, leaving three dead and hundreds wounded. Many of the young people, in the midst of the repression, took refuge in the buildings of the University and the Colegio de San Ildefonso and were besieged by the security forces.

One day later the students took to the streets again, took the UNAM, while the clashes with the police continued to grow as new schools were added. As the grenadiers did not achieve their objective – to reduce the mobilizations – the government summoned the army to join.

For 100 days, the students, who they opposed the president and authoritarianism, they were made from the Mexican streets.

On October 2 this situation came to an end, when the military opened fire in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, where students and journalists had gathered. The explanation is that flares were thrown from a helicopter to confuse the military and make them believe that it was the students who were attacking them. So it was that the security forces targeted the protesters in the square.

The day of the date the exact number of deaths remains unknown in what became known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. While the Mexican government spoke of about 20, the calculations made by relatives of victims amount to 65, and there are those who give the figure of 500.

Causes of the student movement of ’68

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Students from IPN and Isaac Ochoterena High School face two groups of porriles.

The student movement of ’68 did not originate from a single cause, but rather several factors had an impact on its development. To analyze this fact the history of Mexico and the international context must be taken into account, beyond the confrontations of the students with the security forces that were, perhaps, their trigger.

Here are some of the causes:

  • Student clashes. On July 22, 1968, students from IPN and Isaac Ochoterena High School faced two groups of porriles (shock forces) that instigated them. These groups called themselves Los Ciudadelos and Los Arañas. The grenadiers intervened in the confrontation and wounded several students by throwing stones at them. This fact was the trigger for the series of marches.
  • Inequality and lack of representation. The economic growth that the country was going through in that decade did not translate into a distribution of wealth. To this was added that, since the Second World War, the lower classes have been victims of the security forces of that country. An extra factor was that the young middle-class students did not find a representative among the political figures and spaces of the time. These two social actors were protagonists of the mobilizations of those days of ’68.
  • International context. Out doors in the world, the students also led a series of mobilizations that had various objectives, such as the end of the Vietnam War in the United States, or a socialism “with a human face” in Czechoslovakia. What happened in Mexico was not an isolated event but one more example of young people who wanted to play a leading role in a series of transformations or revolutions that they considered necessary for society.
  • Cuba as north. A specific case of those years and that was inspiring for young people from different parts of the Western world was the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro. It was an example that revolution was possible.

Consequences of the student movement of ’68

The consequences attributed to the student mobilizations of 1968 are also various. Some of them are:

  • Transformation. After the social rejection that the Mexican government received as a result of what happened, the arrival of a new president (Luis Echeverría) to replace Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, brought about a series of internal changes. The brand new president of those years chose to leave out of power all the officials whom society pointed out as responsible for the student massacre.
  • Criticisms and transformations. The students were the ones who inaugurated something never seen before in that country: a harsh questioning of who the president was at that time. Despite the social discontent of those years, it was the student movement that led the way against the authorities. The violence and repression by the State did nothing more than convince and mobilize other sectors of society to demand a series of transformations.
  • Slaughter. The number of students and protesters killed in Tlatelolco remains unknown, but there is talk of between 300 and 400 deaths by the security forces. To this must be added more than 1200 arrests.

Leaders of the student movement of ’68

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Raúl Álvarez Garín was studying at the Faculty of Sciences of the UNAM.

Although the list is much more extensive, some of the young people who led the student movement of 1968 were:

  • Raúl Álvarez Garín. At that time he was 27 years old and studying at the Faculty of Sciences of the UNAM.
  • Pablo Gómez Álvarez. He was a member of the Communist Youth since he was 17 years old. In 1968 he was 21 and was president of the student society of the Faculty of Economics.
  • Socrates Campus Lemus. He was a member of the Communist Youth, a delegate from the IPN and was 22 years old.
  • Luis Cabeza de Vaca. He was described as one of the most “radical” in the movement. He was 25 years old and a student at the Chapingo School of Agriculture.