A quiet memorial for Mexican ex-president Luis Echeverria

FILE - Luis Echeverria Alvarez speaks to party members after becoming the official nominee for the 1970-76 presidential race, during the closing session of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party's conventional at the Olympic Sports Palace in Mexico City, Nov. 16, 1969. Current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador confirmed the death of Echeverria on Saturday, July 9, 2022. Echeverria, who governed from 1970 to 1976, was 100. (AP Photo) (Uncredited, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

MEXICO CITY – The remains of former Mexican President Luis Echeverria were cremated Sunday, after a quiet memorial service.

Mourners were few for Echeverria, who was blamed for some of Mexico’s worst political killings of the 20th century.

Juan Velásquez, the lawyer who defended Echeverria, said a memorial service was held at a funeral home Saturday for the ex-president and his remains were cremated Sunday.

Echeverria died late Friday at one of his homes at the age of 100. Current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed the death Saturday. In his Twitter account, López Obrador didn’t give a cause of death for Echeverria, who governed from 1970 to 1976.

Friends and allies suggested Echeverria should be remembered for his attention to foreign policy and his expansion of domestic programs and state-owned companies. Echeverria cast himself as a friend of leftist governments.

“Echeverria did a great deal for Mexico,” said Velásquez. “For exampe, when Echeverria took office, Mexico had diplomatic relations with 50 countries, and when he left, it was 150.”

But Echeverria's successors later had to reverse much of his government expansion, because his ambitious public spending programs had left Mexico deeply mired in debt.

But he was most remembered for what has become known as the massacre of Tlatelolco.

On Oct. 2 1968, a few weeks before the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, government sharpshooters opened fire on student protesters in the Tlatelolco plaza, followed by soldiers posted there. Estimates of the dead have ranged from 25 to more than 300.

Echeverria had denied any participation in the attacks, though he was Interior Secretary — the top domestic security post — at the time.

In June 1971, during Echeverria’s own term as president, students set out from a teacher’s college just west of the city center for one of the first large-scale protests since the Tlatelolco massacre.

They didn’t get more than a few blocks before they were set upon by plainclothes thugs who were actually government agents who beat or shot to death at least a dozen people.

In 2005, a judge ruled Echeverria could not be tried on genocide charges stemming from the 1971 killings, saying that while Echeverria may have been responsible for homicide, the statute of limitations for that crime expired in 1985.

In March 2009, a federal court 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 release, though Echeverria opponents noted the case against him was never closed.

“It seems very premature to me to make any judgement, and unfortunately the memory of Don Luis has been contaminated by these unfortunate events,” Velásquez said.

For decades after leaving office, Echeverria refused to take any responsibility for the massacres.

“He delayed for a long time the inevitable process of democracy that began in 1968,” said Félix Hernández Gamundi, a 1968 student movement leader who was in Tlatelolco plaza on the day of the massacre. “October 2 marked the beginning of the end of the old regime, but it took many years afterward.”

It wouldn’t be until 2000 that Echeverria’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI — which ruled Mexico with an iron hand for seven decades — was forced to acknowledge its first loss in a presidential election.