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When Presidents Commit War Crimes, Justice is the Final Victim
by Gil Villagrán, MSW (Gvillagran [at]
Saturday Mar 21st, 2009 8:57 AM
When presidents commit war crimes, justice is the final victim
Will our nation's courts or the International Criminal Court ever prosecute George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, and their underlings for Crimes Against Humanity?

Could there be a lesson for President Bush in the expected prosecution of Mexican President Luis Echeverria, charged with genocide 38 years after his crimes against humanity?
When presidents commit war crimes, justice is the final victim. Could there be a lesson for President Bush in the expected prosecution of Mexican President Luis Echeverria, charged with genocide 38 years after his crimes against humanity?

The majestic Plaza of Tlatelolco (Plaza of the Three Cultures) in the heart of Mexico City celebrated the nation’s cultural and biological roots of Europeans, Native Indians, and the blending of these two to create the new race—La Raza. On October 2, 1968 that place of pride transmogrified into a plaza of grotesque brutality where students protesting huge governmental spending for the Olympics, which opened ten days later, were shot by government snipers, jailed, tortured and finally killed. While the official death toll is 38, human rights organizations place the figure at 300, and witnesses reported as many as 3,000 students hauled away in military trucks, most never seen again.

The ruling party since the Mexican Revolution, the PRI, ran the country as an authoritarian, paternalistic, bureaucratic dictatorship (under a mask of democracy), where justice was a commodity, to be purchased by those with money and connections, while those with neither had to be content with justice in the next life.

After 71 years of single party PRI rule, one of the electoral promises of PAN, the party of President Vicente Fox, was to open up the three decades old files of that infamous day and aftermath by appointing a Special Prosecutor for Social and Political Movements of the Past. Now, just days before the end of Fox’s term in office, and perhaps to tilt the election on July 1 toward his party candidate, some degree of justice appears on the Mexican horizon.

Luis Echeverria was minister of the interior in 1968, commanding police and other governmental units to “deal” with dissidents who had been protesting governmental spending of millions while the majority of Mexicans lived in destitute poverty. He was determined to ensure that the Olympics, a source of great pride to the PRI government, went off without demonstrations. Pre-trial court testimony documents that at least 360 snipers were placed on the rooftops of buildings surrounding the plaza where the students planned a rally. Testimony is that some snipers were even placed in an apartment belonging to Echeverria’s sister-in-law.

There is conflicting testimony of who controlled the snipers, with Echevarria’s lawyer stating, “There was no genocide, and the deaths came during a confrontation between the snipers and the authorities.”
But this specious defense is the height of hypocrisy as the snipers were agents of the authorities under the command of Minister of the Interior Luis Echeverria! His reward for eliminating protestors from the Olympic Celebrations: selected to be the next president of the nation by “el dedazo (fingered)”as the PRI’s most loyal servant to the prior president, Diaz Ordaz.

And it was with Echeverria as president, from 1970-76, when the most widespread brutality took place. The so-called “Dirty War” included secret bases for interrogation by torture, death squads to kill dissidents and napalm-burned villages. Rape served as a fringe benefit for members of the secret police, snipers, interrogators and death squads. The final end for the victims? Burned alive, tortured to death, or dropped into the ocean.

But the 84 year-old Echeverria may still escape the justice he has eluded for 38 years. Being older than 70 years, he is eligible for house arrest instead of a jail cell, served at his home in the outskirts of Mexico City—a mansion with gardens, a pool and other luxuries.

Let us hope that old age will not spare President Bush, years from now, from the consequences of his crimes against humanity: secret prisons without charges or trials, torturous interrogations, invasion of a country based upon manipulated (if not manufactured) intelligence, thousands of Iraqi and American deaths, all at a cost, so far, of more than half a trillion dollars. Let us hope that either does not escape justice Luis Echeverria or George W. Bush.

By Gil Villagran, MSW

Lecturer, School of Social Work
San Jose State University
gvillagran [at]

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