’68: The students, the president, and the CIA
El 68: Los estudiantes, el presidente y la CIA
English translation by Tanya Huntington
The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of the book of the same title, available online through Gandhi Publica.
The golden age began one Sunday in August, 1958. That morning, a breakfast meeting was held between the presidential candidate for the PRI, Adolfo López Mateos, and the CIA Station Chief in Mexico, Winston Scott. From that day forward, a collaboration developed that would become strategic following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution a few months later. Mexico became one of the main arenas of confrontation between the superpowers, and Scott occupied a privileged niche in the highest circles of Mexican political power. His access was so important that Washington left him in charge for thirteen years, when station chiefs are customarily relieved every four years.
The CIA Station in Mexico was considered by Washington to be “the best in WH [Western Hemisphere] and possibly one of the best in the Agency.” There were 50 U.S. agents stationed in Mexico, with 200 Mexicans as agents and informers. The jewel in the crown were the 14 agents of LITEMPO.
In 1960, Scott created the LITEMPO program, described by Anne Goodpasture —a CIA official who worked closely with Scott— as “a productive and effective relationship between CIA and select top officials in Mexico,” There were fourteen top-level officials In LITEMPO: three presidents (Adolfo López Mateos, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, and Luis Echeverría Álvarez), two directors of the Federal Security Division (Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios and Miguel Nazar Haro) and possibly, the Chief of Díaz Ordaz’s Presidential General Staff (General Luis Gutiérrez Oropeza). The essential point here is that all of them were on the CIA payroll: they were paid agents of the CIA. The exact sum of their salaries is unknown.
We do know that when Díaz Ordaz was named presidential candidate, the CIA collaborated with his campaign by delivering “400 [dollars] per month as a subsidy from December 1963 to November 1964” This figure “was in addition to a regular salary of [deleted] per month paid to LITEMPO-1 as a station support agent”.
This rapport benefited both governments. The DFS helped the United States monitor and control the Cubans, the Soviets, and the disenchanted Americans and exiles who were passing through Mexico. The CIA corresponded by informing the president what the enemies of the regime were doing on a daily basis and if necessary, collaborating in their neutralization.
Instances of active CIA involvement in repression include the joint DFS-CIA operation against Víctor Rico Galán, a well-known, critical journalist in those years. According to Morley, “Win helped build the case against [Rico] Galan. In September 1966 he and twenty-eight associates were arrested.” The journalist was imprisoned in Lecumberri for seven years.
The relationship between Scott and Díaz Ordaz was so close that, according to Morley, in the sixties Winston Scott was the “second most powerful man in Mexico” after the president. Here are a few examples of his status: in December 1962, López Mateos and Díaz Ordaz signed their names as witnesses to Scott’s second wedding ceremony; in April 1964, Scott learned from the president that Díaz Ordaz was to be revealed as the PRI presidential candidate and in May 1969, Díaz Ordaz confided to him that he had hand-picked Luis Echeverría to become the next president of Mexico. He had vital pieces of information months ahead of the events.
Scott and Díaz Ordaz were passionate anti-communists, and there is evidence that both the American and the Mexican contributed to the official narrative according to which the Movement of ’68 formed part of an international conspiracy assembled by the Soviets and the Cubans, among others. By transforming the Movement into an enemy of the fatherland, the president and the United States, they justified its repression. According to them, as well as other members of the upper echelons of power, the Mexicans largely responsible were Javier Barros Sierra, the president of the UNAM, and university professor Heberto Castillo.
After the night of Tlatelolco, Díaz Ordaz essayed an explanation that held the Movement responsible for the massacre: one that allows us to appreciate the intensity of his relationship with the CIA Station Chief. At that crucial moment, Scott defended the flimsy official story to his superiors in Washington and as a result, he lost credibility. An official from the United States Embassy in Mexico wrote that Scott presented “fifteen differing and sometimes flatly contradictory versions of what happened at Tlatelolco”. A few months later, they withdrew his appointment, adducing the excessive time he had spent in Mexico; in my opinion, Washington could no longer defend someone who had lost all objectivity.
These facts are related to a crucial aspect of our history that has been ignored: those aggressions against the population in which other governments knowingly participated. As a working hypothesis, it may be argued that the CIA was jointly responsible for the deaths and suffering caused on October 2, and that the same holds true for other Mexican tragedies. A similar argument may be made regarding the role played by Cuba and other international players during ’68. It is one of my long-term research goals to continue exploring this hypothesis.
Re-examining ’68 is also relevant in light of the crisis being experienced in Mexico today, in 2018. Fifty years have gone by and yet, the political elite continues to do everything in its power to prevent citizen participation in public affairs, despite the fact that a convergence between society and State seems to be the best way to confront criminal violence, government corruption, inequality, impunity and the hostility of Donald Trump and his followers.
Rethinking ’68 allows us to evoke a movement born out of the hope that a better Mexico is possible. Reliving that feat is one way to dispel uncertainty and discouragement: if it could be done then, we can do it now.
Sergio Aguayo Quezada is a full-time Professor at El Colegio de México since 1977. In 2014, he joined the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights of Harvard School of Public Health as a Research Associate. Aguayo has authored dozens of books and academic articles. He publishes a weekly syndicated column in the newspaper Reforma and since March 2001, he has appeared on Primer Plano, a weekly television program broadcast on Canal 11. Throughout his career, he has actively promoted democracy and human rights. His Twitter is @sergioaguayo