Like China now, Mexico had a fast-growing economy and the Government of President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz was eager to position his developing country on the worldwide stage. Like China now, Mexico had a “one-party state, muzzled media and judiciary and an oppressive security apparatus.”
Mexican youth took to the streets in the summer of `68 demanding reform. More than 400K of them rallied in Mexico City on Aug. 27. Another huge protest was set for Oct. 2, ten days before the opening ceremonies.
The President was determined the Games would go on, no matter what the political situation. The Economist (April 26) reports the “self-styled ‘Olympia Battalion’, a shadowy paramilitary force,” infiltrated the protest and began shooting at Mexican troops who were providing security. Chaos followed as the soldiers opened up with machine guns on the crowd while others charged with bayonets.
The Government reported 20 dead and said the soldiers were provoked by snipers. The press went along for the ride. It took three years for the truth to get out about the massacre, in which up to 325 people may have been gunned down.
The Economist calls the Mexico Olympics “an awful example of what governments will do for a superficially successful games.”
Technology is the big difference between then and now. In the era of the Internet and satellite phones, any big Chinese crackdown on protesters would make instant global news and pressure the International Olympic Committee into calling off the big show.