A silent memorial for former Mexican President Luis Echeverría

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The remains of former Mexican President Luis Echeverria were cremated Sunday after a quiet memorial service.

There were few mourners for Echeverría, who was blamed for some of the worst political assassinations of the 20th century in Mexico.

Juan Velásquez, the lawyer who defended Echeverría, said that a memorial service was held at a funeral home for the former president on Saturday and his remains were cremated on Sunday.

Echeverría died Friday night in one of his homes at the age of 100. Current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed the death on Saturday. On his Twitter account, López Obrador did not give a cause of death for Echeverría, who ruled from 1970 to 1976.

Friends and allies suggested that Echeverría should be remembered for his attention to foreign policy and his expansion of national programs and state enterprises. Echeverría presented himself as a friend of the leftist governments.

“Echeverría did a lot for Mexico,” Velásquez said. “For example, when Echeverría took office, Mexico had diplomatic relations with 50 countries, and when he left there were 150.”

But Echeverría’s successors later had to reverse much of his government’s expansion, because his ambitious public spending programs had left Mexico deeply in debt.

But he was most remembered for what is known as the Tlatelolco massacre.

On October 2, 1968, just weeks before the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, government snipers opened fire on protesting students in the plaza of Tlatelolco, followed by soldiers stationed there. Estimates of the dead have ranged from 25 to more than 300.

Echeverría had denied any involvement in the attacks, although he was secretary of the interior at the time, the top national security post.

In June 1971, during Echeverría’s own term as president, students marched out of a teachers’ college just west of the city center for one of the first large-scale protests since the Tlatelolco massacre.

They didn’t get more than a few blocks before they were assaulted by plainclothes thugs who were actually government agents who beat up or shot dead at least a dozen people.

In 2005, a judge ruled that Echeverría could not be tried on genocide charges stemming from the 1971 killings, saying that while Echeverría may have been responsible for homicide, the statute of limitations on that crime expired in 1985.

In March 2009, a federal court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Echeverría did not face genocide charges for his alleged role in the 1968 student massacre and ordered his release, although Echeverría’s opponents noted that the case against him was never closed.

“It seems to me very premature to pass judgment and unfortunately the memory of Don Luis has been contaminated by these unfortunate events,” Velásquez said.

For decades after leaving office, Echeverría refused to take any responsibility for the massacres.

“It delayed for a long time the inevitable process of democracy that began in 1968,” said Félix Hernández Gamundi, a leader of the 1968 student movement who was in the Tlatelolco plaza on the day of the massacre. “October 2 marked the beginning of the end of the old regime, but it happened many years later.”

It would not be until 2000 that Echeverría’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico with an iron fist for seven decades, was forced to concede its first defeat in a presidential election.


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