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Former Mexican President Luis Echeverría dies at 100

Former Mexican President Luis Echeverría Álvarez, who took office in 1970 promising a democratic opening for the country but oversaw six of the harshest years of a so-called “dirty war” against dissidents, has died aged 100.

Echeverría escaped attempts by Mexican prosecutors to indict him for genocide for his role in two infamous massacres of student protesters in 1968 and 1971. The former president denied any wrongdoing and said his conscience was clear. He refused to testify about the crimes committed during his term.

Echeverría belonged to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which ruled Mexico for 71 years until losing the 2000 election. Prior to his 1970-1976 tenure as President, he served as the Minister of the Interior. On October 2, 1968, days before he ordered troops to open fire on thousands of peacefully demonstrating students in Mexico City, days before the inauguration of the Olympic Games hosted by the Mexican capital. Witnesses reported many more bodies were carted off from the scene. Following the protests, hundreds of students were beaten and jailed.

When he became President, Echeverría promised a “democratic opening”. He released people imprisoned after the massacre and courted the intellectual left, promoting them to prominent positions in government. But PRI security forces were responsible for a brutal campaign against leftist intellectuals and critical journalists, many of whom were killed and disappeared, into the 1980s.

On June 10, 1971, the Catholics celebrated Corpus Christi, a paramilitary force known as Los Halcones, or The Falcons, attacked a student protest with pistols, rifles, tear gas, and batons, killing or wounding dozens of demonstrators.

Echeverría’s policies cannot be easily pigeonholed. He cracked down on the left at home but had plans to redistribute lands of the wealthy to peasants and espoused a protectionist economic policy of high tariffs, state intervention and preference for domestic products. He was known for embracing a leftist foreign policy, yet at the same time, he was cosying up to Washington, and President Richard Nixon was reportedly fond of Echeverría.

During Echeverría’s presidency, the public sector ballooned and government borrowing soared, alienating the business class. Mexico’s foreign debt sextupled and the peso’s value almost halved, leading to a currency devaluation shortly before his term expired.

In 2006, a judge ordered Echeverría to be placed under house arrest for his connection to the student killings. But in March 2009, a court ruled the army crackdown did not qualify as genocide and therefore was subject to a 30-year statute of limitations.

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