June 10, 1971—the “Halconazo,” or “Hawk strike,” named for the “Halcones,” the paramilitary unit that inflicted the violence. Also known as the “Corpus Christi massacre” because it fell on a Thursday during that holiday.


Echeverría runs as a liberal in 1970 and, for a time, governs as one. At the same time, the government is training the Halcones for use against demonstrators with US assistance, though both sides subsequently deny this. The US embassy notes that “this group was responsible for putting down the ostensible student rally [on November 4, 1970] to celebrate the election victory of Chilean president Allende [. . .]. Halcones used bamboo sticks in this endeavor, were identified by the students, and described as ‘army-trained toughs.’ Embassy understands that this organization numbers approximately 2000 individuals who assist GOM [Government of Mexico] in the above manner….This project and request for USG [United States Government] assistance had full blessing of President Echeverría.” It should be noted that the US actually played a larger role in training the militaries of other Central/South American countries in counterinsurgency at its notorious School of the Americas; it did not do so in the Mexican case because, ironically, it trusted the “authoritarian core” of the PRI system to handle its own internal business without US "instruction." Previous iterations of this idea included the right-wing student group MURO, which was supported by government officials, and the Olympic Battalion in 1968.

Spurred by a conflict over authority at the University of Nuevo León in Monterrey that leads the state’s Governor to send in police to occupy the campus, in May 1971 students rally support at other schools, including the National Autonomous University and the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) in Mexico City. Even after Echeverría imposes a new law that resolves the conflict, which causes the Governor to resign in anger, protests continue, many hoping that the government will show that it has grown less repressive in dealing with the first major student protest since Tlatelolco. This does not happen.

What happened?

The peaceful march of 7-10,000 students, which takes place near the IPN, is blocked by about 900 special police, who taunt them and spray tear gas, and then attacked by about 1000 Halcones, who pull up in buses

dressed as civilians, first with their sticks,

which the students repel, and then rifles, which they don’t.

The police do not intervene.

The Halcones pursue the students into churches, stores, and movie theaters; then, when the injured are taken to the hospital, the Halcones attack them there, many of them in the operating rooms and wards.

The death toll is estimated at 16-50, depending on the source. 25 seems to be the most common estimate, with Wikipedia coming in at 120, with no clear citation. (A recent study of Mexico's Cold War says 50.) American newspapers more or less instantly accuse right-wing elements of inflicting the violence. Mexican newspapers identify four Halcones leaders who had received police training in the US.

Who's to blame?

Echeverría appears on TV that night, announcing, “If you are infuriated, I am even more so,” and promising that he will investigate and punish the guilty, whom he accuses of being “foreign interests and reactionaries” who “instigated the massacre,” wishing to undermine his “progressive” leadership of the Third World. (Some US coverage agrees with this, as well as some subsequent scholars [see pp. 201-03].) The mayor of Mexico City, the attorney general, and the police chief deny any and all military involvement (the mayor, Alfonso Martínez Dominguez, denies that the Halcones even exist, calling them "a legend") and blame the students.

A week later, the police chief admits the Halcones’ presence but denies their involvement, though abundant eyewitness testimony contradicts this. The mayor and police chief resign under pressure five days later, Echeverría declaring that “we will close the door on emissaries from the past,” which marks perhaps the only advance over 1968. Historians argue that this represents his attempt to simultaneously atone for his role in 1968, benefit from repressing the students, and blame the repression on right-wing elements within the PRI. The move mostly works: an editorial in Excélsior calls this "a first, unequivocal break with the past." Noted intellectual Octavio Paz declared, "Echeverría deserves our trust." Thousands march to demonstrate their support and publish "fawning" notes in the newspapers, one of them reading, "Mr. President: You have such honor and such quality that you alone have saved the dignity of the Republic."

The government’s attempt to find the guilty ends there (the US embassy calls it a “whitewash,” the US Ambassador noting in December 1971 that “[i]t is becoming increasingly clear that the GOM has no intention of ever issuing a full report and no doubt hopes that the whole matter can be allowed to slide quietly into oblivion”), though Echeverría is indicted for his role in 1995 (thrown out for lack of evidence) and again 2004 for "genocide" (the attempted murder of a people) but let off in 2007 because the court decides that the charge should be murder rather than genocide and the statute of limitations for a murder charge has expired.

Real culpability is not hard to figure out: Internal US documents make clear that “the Halcones are an officially financed, organized, trained and armed repressive group, the main purpose of which since its founding in September 1968 has been the control of leftist and anti-government students. Its existence and function were well-known to all top GOM law-enforcement and political officials….They and the related (if not identical) Francisco Villa Group [think of all that we’ve talked about concerning the PRI’s control of symbols of the Revolution] had been used to intimidate (and sometimes kill) students during the past six months. These actions had brought no official reproof…[and it] stretches the imagination to believe that Echeverría could not have forced the disbandment of the Halcones had he so desired or that he was not aware of plans to severely repress the June 10 demonstration, with consequent damage to many of his policies since taking office.”

Based on the reports it had received from its embassy in Mexico, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) also prepared an analysis of the massacre on June 17, in which it, too, contradicted government denials about its role. In particular, the INR assessment cited an intelligence report which offered details on how the regime controlled and managed the Halcones.
Who are the Halcones? The government has been asserting that there is no connection between the Halcones and any government agency and that they are simply a manifestation of right-wing dissent and equally as repugnant as the leftist student "struggle groups." A clandestine report, however, indicates that the Halcones membership is recruited from university age students who are sons of people friendly with PRI officials enjoying the personal confidence of President Echeverría. The recruits are given some university education plus some pay and the assurance of a bright future in the PRI. They are trained by army personnel and have been supplied with close to $200,000 worth of weapons and equipment, including 100 M-1 carbines.…Echeverría was playing a double game by meeting student demands at the same time he was supporting the Halcones as a counterfoil to the activist left-wing "struggle groups." Possibly out of anger over the fact that the students insisted on demonstrating even after he had gone to such great lengths to meet their aspirations, Echeverría may well have given his blessing to the use of the group against the IPN demonstrations. He subsequently bans left-wing parties from running for office.

Unlike with the events at Tlatelolco, the Mexican government has never acknowledged its guilt. A commemorative march takes place every year.