- “To Assault with the Truth”:The Revitalization of Conservative Militancy in Mexico During the Global Sixties
On July 26, 1961, a mob of approximately 500 students affiliated with an anti-castrista group called “Mariano” gathered at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. After splashing the Cuban and Soviet embassies with red paint, they headed toward the School of Economics with the intent to burn an effigy of Fidel Castro. The activists timed their act to coincide with the inaugural celebration of the Mexican-Cuban Institute of Cultural Relations José Martí; the event itself was scheduled on the eighth anniversary of the Moncada Barracks attack that sparked the Cuban Revolution. The anti-Castro protestors denounced the proceedings with chants and signs that read “A direct threat to Mexico.” Warning other students about the “the red hand” manipulated by the “despot Fidel,” the group condemned the entire July 26 Revolutionary Movement, calling it a continental menace that, if allowed to succeed, would introduce “communist tyranny to all Latin America.”1
The burning of the effigy of Castro at the School of Economics was not coincidental. Conservative students saw this part of the university as a “treacherous red cancer” that, if not crushed in its formative stages, would destroy first UNAM, and then the nation.2 In particular, these students wished to express their disapproval of a conference in commemoration of the Cuban Revolution organized by the Spanish-born Economics professor Ramón Ramírez.3 Not surprisingly, [End Page 489] when the conflicting parties met, the result was a violent clash in which one of the professors in charge of the conference was hurt. As a consequence, the university expelled the leaders of the Mariano group, Felipe Coello Macias and Guillermo Vélez, who, school authorities alleged, were solely responsible for the violence.4 In retaliation, the two expelled students formed the Comité General Pro-defensa de la Libertad de Cátedra y Expresión Universitaria (General Committee for the Defense of Academic Freedom of Expression, CGPLCEU). With financial backing from conservative politicians and the support of journalists from the major dailies Excélsior and El Universal, CGPLCEU undertook an unrelenting campaign in the national press against the “Marxist forces” and “corrupt university authorities” who had been involved in their unfair expulsion.5 Eventually, the university’s adjudicating body ordered the readmission of Coello and Vélez. However, CGPLCEU through its campaign had already achieved a significant goal by uniting some of the most militant conservative students, hitherto scattered throughout the university, into a single organization.
In March 1962 the Movimiento Universitario de Renovadora Orientación (MURO), a university-based movement for the renewal of rightist principles, was formed.6 MURO became a central force throughout the decade in the revival of the right inside both UNAM and its preparatorias. For the muristas, MURO members and supporters, the Global Sixties pointed to a new period of political crisis and moral decadence. They saw themselves as righteous warriors leading a well-defined movement aimed at defending the nation from “foreign elements.” Driven by an urgency that matched that of their opponents, they embarked on a three-part program: to defeat the spread of communism in the schools, to halt the influence of U.S. liberal values, and to rescue the nation from cardenistas (sympathizers of leftist President Lázaro Cárdenas who had allegedly taken advantage of the euphoric environment of the 1960s to resuscitate the nation’s Bolshevik past). Like their adversaries, muristas adopted a dual strategy for accomplishing their goals: the battle was to be waged not only “a puños” (violently, “with fists”) in the schools, but also through new journalistic and cultural spaces of contestation.
Diana Sorensen defines this period as not simply a chronological decade (1960–1970) [End Page 490] but as a “heuristic” category (1959–1973). She argues that those years in Latin America were characterized on one hand by a distinct “spirit of utopia” and “revolution,” and on the other by a novel rhythm of “despair” and political violence.7 At the center of this tension emerged an innovative sense of “liberation,” epitomized for a newly aware young...