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When Presidents Commit War Crimes, Justice Is The Final Victim
by Gil Villagran (gilbert.villagran [at] sjsu.edu)
Wednesday Feb 3rd, 2016 3:48 PM
Could there be a lesson for President George W. Bush in the expected prosecution of Mexican President Luis Echeverria, charged with genocide 38 years after his crimes against humanity?
Let us hope that old age will not spare President Bush and Vice-president Cheney, years from now, from the consequences of their crimes against humanity: secret prisons without charges or trials, torturous interrogations, invasion of a country based upon manipulated intelligence, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and American deaths. Let us hope that justice is not escaped by either Luis Echeverria or the George W. Bush gang of war criminals.
When presidents commit war crimes, justice is the final victim

by Gil Villagrán, MSW (Immigrant from Mexico, SJSU professor)
(published in San Jose Mercury News & El Observador)

Could there be a lesson for President George W. Bush in the expected prosecution of Mexican President Luis Echeverria, charged with genocide 38 years after his crimes against humanity?

The majestic Plaza of Tlatelolco (Plaza of the Three Cultures) in the heart of Mexico City celebrated the nation’s cultural and biological roots of Europeans, Native Indians, and the blending of these two to create the new race—La Raza. On October 2, 1968 that place of pride transmogrified into a plaza of grotesque brutality where students protesting huge governmental spending for the Olympics, which opened ten days later, were shot by government snipers, jailed, tortured and finally killed. While the official death toll is 38, human rights organizations place the figure at 300, and witnesses reported as many as 3,000 students hauled away in military trucks, most never seen again.

The ruling party since the Mexican Revolution, the PRI, ran the country as an authoritarian, paternalistic, bureaucratic dictatorship (under a mask of democracy), where justice was a commodity, to be purchased by those with money and connections, while those with neither had to be content with justice in the next life. After 71 years of single party PRI rule, one of the electoral promises of PAN, the party of President Vicente Fox, was to open up the three decade old files of that infamous day and its aftermath by appointing a Special Prosecutor for Social and Political Movements of the Past. Now, just days before the end of Fox’s term in office, and perhaps to tilt the election on July 1 toward his party candidate, some degree of justice appears on the Mexican horizon.

Luis Echeverria was minister of the interior in 1968, commanding police and other governmental units to “deal” with dissidents who had been protesting governmental spending of millions while the majority of Mexicans lived in destitute poverty. He was determined to ensure that the Olympics, a source of great pride to the PRI government, went off without demonstrations. Pre-trial court testimony documents that at least 360 snipers were placed on the rooftops of buildings surrounding the plaza where the students planned a rally. Testimony is that some snipers were even placed in an apartment belonging to Echeverria’s sister-in-law.

There is conflicting testimony of who controlled the snipers, with Echeverria’s lawyer stating, “There was no genocide, the deaths came during a confrontation between the snipers and the authorities. But this specious defense is the height of hypocrisy as the snipers were agents of the authorities under the command of Minister of the Interior Luis Echeverria! His reward for eliminating protestors from the Olympic Celebrations: selected to be the next president of the nation by “el dedazo (fingered)”as the PRI’s most loyal servant to the prior president, Diaz Ordaz.

It was with Echeverria as president, from 1970-76, when the most widespread brutality took place. The so-called “Dirty War” included secret bases for interrogation by torture, death squads to kill dissidents and napalm-burned villages. Rape served as a fringe benefit for members of the secret police, snipers, interrogators and death squads. The final end for the victims? burned alive, tortured to death, or dropped into the ocean.

But the 84 year-old Echeverria may still escape the justice he has eluded for 38 years. Being older than 70 years, he is eligible for house arrest instead of a jail cell, served at his home in the outskirts of Mexico City—a mansion with gardens, a pool and other luxuries.

Let us hope that old age will not spare President Bush and Vice-president Cheney, years from now, from the consequences of their crimes against humanity: secret prisons without charges or trials, torturous interrogations, invasion of a country based upon manipulated (if not manufactured) intelligence, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and American deaths, all at a cost, so far, of more than two trillion dollars. Let us hope that justice is not escaped by either Luis Echeverria or the George W. Bush gang of war criminals.
Gil Villagran, MSW Resume / CV
40+ years experience in Social Work direct practice, management& administration, community development, training, youth gang intervention, workshop presentations, and human service redesign.


1. Gilbert J. Villagrán, MSW
gilbert.villagran [at] sjsu.edu

2. BA in Philosophy, Minor in Sociology
San Jose State University, June 1971
Community College Teaching Credential, 1973

MSW San Jose State University, June 1976
Concentration in Social Planning

3. Academic appointments
San Jose State University
Senior Lecturer
Part time from 1995 to present
2005 Selected as Distinguished Alumni
Keynote Speaker at Alumni Forum

4. Professional Social Work Experience
Santa Clara County Social Services Agency
1973 to 2006 when I retired
Social Worker I, Social Worker II, Social Worker III
Social Work Coordinator II
Management Intern to the Director of Planning
Program Developer, Proposal Writer
Family Resource Center Director
Manager of Community Development & Relations
Media Relations Coordinator
Interim Ombudsman

5. Field Supervisor for MSW student in the Records Clearance
Project, and asked to supervise 1 to 3 students next year.

6. Prior president of the board of directors of Human Agenda--
a human rights and responsibility advocacy ngo, now a supporter.
Social Workers in the Library Project, SJSU-City of San Jose libraries for the past four years, monthly counseling,
I & R, in English & Spanish

7. NASW—Santa Clara County Chapter: Social Worker of the Year, 2012
2011 SJSU School of Social Work Distinguished Alumni Award
Human Relations Commission President’s Award, 2001

8. Workshop presenter on youth gangs, educational success, immigration, cultural competency, human rights,
and economic inequity

9. Editorial writer for El Observador and La Oferta, two bilingual weekly newspapers in San Jose, on issues
affecting the local Latino community, as well articles on global issues affecting our nation. Opinion and
news reports on human rights, immigration issues, police-community relations, education and the social safety net.

Publications: 50+ of my editorials on human rights, social & economic justice, child welfare, human services,
social policy on poverty, homelessness, war & peace have been published in San Jose Mercury News,
El Observador, La Oferta, and posted at San Francisco Bay Area Media Center:
http://www.indybay.org search: gil villagran

10. I have lived in San Jose since I migrated here with my family at the age of 5, and have been an active member of my downtown San Jose community since I attended San Jose State University beginning in 1966. I know most of the community activists, elected officials, newspaper and TV media reporters, and human services professionals. I have extensive historical/institutional knowledge of how San Jose and Santa Clara County has changed, for better and for worse, of issues that challenge our community, our society, our nation, and because of extensive travel and study—our world. I seek to impart this knowledge, and the unique role of social work to serve individuals, families and the community upon our students.
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