MEXICO CITY — Former Mexican President Luis Echeverria, blamed for some of Mexico’s worst political killings of the 20th century, has died at the age of 100, current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed Saturday.
In his Twitter account, López Obrador sent condolences to Echeverria’s family and friends “in the name of the government of Mexico,” but did not express any personal sadness about the death. López Obrador did not provide a cause of death for Echeverria, who governed Mexico from 1970 to 1976.
Echeverria was hospitalized in 2018 for pulmonary issues
In 2005, a judge ruled Echeverria could not be tried on genocide charges stemming from a 1971 student massacre depicted in the Oscar-winning movie “Roma.”
Judge Echeverria ruled Echeverria could have been guilty of homicide but could not stand trial because 1985 was the expiration of the statute for this crime.
In 1971, students set out from a teacher’s college just west of the city center for one of the first large-scale protests since hundreds of demonstrators were killed in a far larger massacre in 1968. They didn’t get more than a few blocks before they were set upon by plainclothes thugs.
The main female characters in “Roma” are depicted as incidental witnesses to the slaughter when they go to buy baby furniture at a store near the scene. Unwittingly they run across the protagonist’s sometime boyfriend, who is depicted as participating in the repression.
“Roma” won the Oscar for best foreign language film.
Echeverria has suffered from neurological and respiratory problems in the past.
He was the first Mexican former head of state to be formally charged with criminal wrongdoing in 2004. Prosecutors linked Echeverria to the country’s so-called “dirty war” in which hundreds of leftist activists and members of fringe guerrilla groups were imprisoned, killed, or simply disappeared without a trace.
Ignacio Carrillo, special prosecutor filed a motion asking a judge for an arrest warrant. The warrant was issued against Echeverria in connection to genocide allegations in two student massacres. First, the killings at Tlatelolco plaza on 1968. Echeverria was then interior secretary.
A few weeks prior to the Summer Olympics, Tlatelolco was under attack by government-sharpshooters who opened fire on students protesting in the Tlatelolco plaza. Soldiers also opened fire. There have been estimates of between 25-300 deaths. Echeverria has denied having participated in the attacks.
Military reports indicate that at most 360 government snipers were deployed on the buildings around protesters.
In March 2009, a federal court in Mexico upheld a lower court’s ruling that Echeverria did not have to face genocide charges for his alleged involvement in the 1968 student massacre, and ordered his absolute freedom.
While few people in Mexico mourned the passing of Echeverria, Félix Hernández Gamundi — a 1968 student movement leader who was in Tlatelolco plaza on the day of the massacre, and who saw his friends gunned down — mourned what might have been.
“The death of ex-president Luis Echeverría is regrettable, becuse it occurred in total silence, because despite his his very long life, Luis Echeverria never decided to come clean about his actions,” Hernández Gamundi said.
“Of course we don’t mourn his death,” he said. “We mourn the opacity he displayed his entire life and his decision never to make an accounting, to always take advantage of his immense political and economic power that he enjoyed for the rest of his life.”
.”He delayed for a long time the inevitable process of democracy that began in 1968,” Hernández Gamundi said. “October 2 marked the beginning of the end of the old regime, but it took many years afterward.”
Echeverria’s death came as his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI — which ruled Mexico with an iron hand for seven decades, before losing power for the first time in the elections of 2000 — is losing what little power it still had, discredited and riven by internal scandals and disputes.
Born on Jan. 17, 1922, in Mexico City, Echeverria received a law degree from Mexico’s Autonomous National University in 1945.
He began his political career shortly thereafter with PRI. He later held posts in the navy and Education Department, advanced to chief administrative officer of the PRI and organized the presidential campaign of Adolfo Lopez Mateos, who served as Mexico’s leader from 1958-64.
Echeverria received the post of interior secretary in 1964 under President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. That position was held by Echeverria in 1968 when the government crackeddown on student protests against democracy, fearing that Mexico would be embarrassed as host for the Olympics.
Echeverria left the interior post in November 1969, when he became the PRI’s presidential candidate.
He won that race, and was sworn in on Dec. 1, 1970, supporting the regimes of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and leftist Salvador Allende in Chile.
After Allende was assassinated in 1973 during a bloody coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Echeverria opened Mexico’s borders to Chileans fleeing Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Echeverria traveled around the globe promoting himself to be a friend and leader of leftist governments. He was known for his resolute opposition to guerrilla and other groups within Mexico.
According to Carrillo, the prosecutor who tried to charge him, Echeverria “was the master of illusion, the magician of deceit.”
Juan Velásquez, the lawyer who defended Echeverria, said the ex-president died at one of his homes, but did not specify a cause.
“I told Luis that even though nobody — not him, not me, not his family — wanted him to go on trial, in the end it was the best thing that could have happened,” because the charges were dropped, Velásquez said.
In his later years, Echeverria tried to project himself as an elder statesman, and a few times— when his health permitted — held forth unrepentantly before journalists. However, he lived mostly in seclusion in his sprawling residence in the upscale Mexico City area of Mexico City.
Mexican prosecutors allege that Echeverria ordered an elite force of plain-clothes state fighters known as the “Halcones,” or “Falcons,” to attack suspected government enemies. That group participated in 12 student deaths by beating and shooting them to death on June 10, 1971.
Echeverria, in spite of decades of opposition politicians calling for justice, never spent one day in prison. However, Echeverria was temporarily placed under house arrest.
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