11 junio, 2024

Student movement of 1968: causes, development, consequences

He student movement of 1968 It was developed in Mexico from July of that year. As in other countries around the world, which also experienced demonstrations and protests, Mexican university students took to the streets to request social, political and economic improvements.

At the time, Mexican politics was dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had ruled for nearly forty years straight. The repression against opponents, especially those on the left, was frequent and there were many complaints about electoral fraud. In this context, Mexico had to organize the 1968 Olympic Games.

Students from the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and almost all high and middle schools in the country participated in the student protests. Although the demonstrations with the most participants took place in the capital, students also mobilized in other parts of Mexico.

The students were joined by other social groups, such as teachers, workers, intellectuals or housewives. The common request was to democratize the country and the expansion of political and intellectual rights. The movement was bloodily repressed on October 2, when the so-called Tlatelolco massacre took place in the Mexican capital.



Student movements against the PRI government were not new in Mexico. For several decades, government repression and the country’s democratic and economic deficiencies had led to various protests by students and other sectors.

First student massacre

The first massacre that affected the students occurred in 1942. That March of that year, the IPN students called a strike for purely academic reasons. Likewise, they prepared a march that was to reach the Zócalo square in the capital.

The demonstration took place in March and was suppressed by police shooting, aided by firefighters. The result was four deaths.

This movement was the beginning of a new stage in the student protests. Similar mobilizations took place in 1949, 1952 and 1956.

Revolutionary Movement of the Magisterium

The Movimiento Revolucionario del Magisterio was founded in 1956, when a teacher called a demonstration to protest the way in which the National Union of Education Workers (linked to the PRI) had negotiated a salary increase.

At the same time, 120,000 students from popular education centers went on strike for financial reasons. The government sent in the army and imprisoned its leaders.

Mexican social movements

In 1958, the Mexican social movements gained great importance. Sectors such as electricians, oil workers or teachers began a series of protests that lasted throughout the entire term of President López Mateos. In addition, peasant organizations staged numerous protest actions.

university movements

The students of the Michoacana University (Morelia) and collective citizens of the city protested on October 1, 1966 against the increase in the prices of public transport. On the 2nd, a large demonstration was attacked by PRI gunmen.

Two days later, the students called a strike to protest the repression of the demonstration, which had caused one death. The mobilizations continued during the following days, until on the 8th the local Congress ordered the security forces to take over the university and detain dozens of students.

Something similar happened in 1967, this time in Sonora. The students led a popular proposal that stormed a police station. Finally, the army intervened and took over the university campus.

Causes of student movement

All of the foregoing antecedents are an example of the atmosphere of political tension that exists in some sectors of the country. In this context, the 1968 movement was the next step of the protests. In addition, some external causes also played a role.

PRI governments

The PRI (or its PNR and PRM antecedents) had been in power since the 1930s. Although some of its governments had been popular, over time it had established a regime that was denounced as authoritarian and repressive by its opponents.

In addition, the party had created a political network that included the unions, the institutions and the judicial life. Finally, the cases of corruption were growing.


It was not only accusations of corruption or political repression that motivated the mobilizations of students and other sectors.

At that time, Mexico was experiencing a period of economic growth. However, the wealth created did not reach a large part of the population and inequality was increasing.

unrest among youth

It has been estimated that during the 1960s there were more than 53 student revolts in the country. This shows that there was great discontent among the youth due to the lack of freedom, police repression and economic inequality. For this reason, the main demand in 1968 was freedom in all areas.

Paramilitary groups

The State had developed a strategy to try to control student political movements. One of the points was the infiltration of agents in student organizations and educational centers.

Likewise, the government created and sponsored the so-called porros, a kind of paramilitary shock groups. Its components, at least in the IPN and UNAM, were radical fans of university soccer teams. These groups were dedicated to repressing and attacking students who opposed the rulers.

international influence

Mexican students were not oblivious to what was happening in much of the world. On the one hand, movements encompassed in what was called the Cultural Revolution of 1968 were taking place in many countries.

That year in Europe there were movements such as the Prague Spring, which sought to establish a socialism with a “human face”. In France, for its part, the so-called May 68 broke out, with a clear student leadership. Its purpose was to change society and obtain greater freedoms.

Due to its geographical proximity, one of the movements that most influenced Mexicans was the one developed in the United States against the Vietnam War. In addition, young Americans also called for freedom in their sexuality and supported feminism and civil rights.

Finally, the Cuban Revolution of 1959 had become a benchmark for many young people throughout the world, as it demonstrated that it was possible to make a revolution.


Although it was not a cause of the mobilizations, the Olympics were one of the reasons for the fierce government repression of the protests.

Those Olympic Games, which were to begin on October 12 of that year, were to show that Mexico was in a good situation. Everyone was going to be able to watch the Games via satellite and the government didn’t want the positive image it was trying to show to be tarnished by anything.

CIA influence

The repression of the protests was encouraged by the US CIA, according to documents declassified by the government of that country.

These documents prove that the student movement had been monitored for years. The Americans, in the middle of the Cold War, thought that it was a communist conspiracy and that Cuba and the Soviet Union were behind the student leaders.

development of events

The sports rivalry between the UNAM and IPN teams had been constant since the 1930s. Over time, this rivalry began to take on political overtones, since the students of the Polytechnic Institute used to be of rural and working-class origin and leftist ideology.

For their part, UNAM students were from the middle class, although there were also many supporters of the political left.

The porriles groups of both educational centers had maintained several violent confrontations, something that was repeated at the beginning of 1968.

One of those confrontations became the immediate antecedent of the student movement of that year. On July 22, students from the IPN and from the Isaac Ochotorena High School, attached to UNAM, confronted two groups of porriles that were harassing them. The grenadiers, a police group, entered the educational facilities and arrested several students.


After that incident, on July 26, two different student demonstrations were called, with different itineraries.

One of the mobilizations was called by the students of the IPN in protest against the intervention of the riot police. The other was organized by the Communist Youth, the CNED and UNAM students and had the purpose of showing solidarity with the Cuban revolution.

The IPN students, after completing the tour, decided to march towards the Zócalo and were attacked by the grenadiers along the way.

When they were able to get rid of the police, they went to the place where the participants of the other march were to inform them of what had happened and ask for their support. The two groups came together and headed towards the Plaza de la Constitución.

On their way they met again with the grenadiers and the police. Given the order to withdraw, the students responded with a shower of stones, which provoked an attack by the security forces. This clash ended with more than 500 injured and dozens of detainees.

The authorities, for their part, denounced the burning of several buses and the use of explosive devices.

The government deployed tanks in the Zócalo square, as well as dozens of soldiers. In addition, he ordered the arrest of all those related to the disorders.

The rest of the month, the student mobilizations increased. The students called a strike that was followed by the UNAM, the IPN and other educational centers. Several of these schools were attacked by the grenadiers.


A police attack on UNAM prompted the UNAM rector to join the students and lead a march on August 1 using the slogan “Unite people!”

However, the students were dissatisfied with the participation of the rector, since they considered that he had only limited himself to defending university autonomy and had left aside other requests from the organizations that organized the march. On the 2nd, the National Strike Council (CNH) was created.

The next day, the Mexican newspapers positioned themselves for and against the students. The same happened with the unions, divided according to their proximity to the PRI.

On August 26, in a new march to the Zócalo, the students insulted the country’s president, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, for the first time.

Another new demonstration, equally massive, tried to occupy the Zócalo on the 27th. However, the army violently evicted the participants.

Sócrates Campos, one of the student leaders who years later was identified…

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