I met Lorenzo at the International Students Center at UCLA and we became fast friends. He’s a Peruvian who grew up in Lima and Mexico City, where he was educated at the “American School.” This was around 1977, 1978. We were still young pups. And one day Lorenzo asked me, “Do you know about Tlatelolco?” I did not. Lorenzo proceeded to tell me an amazing story, about a massacre of hundreds of protesters, most of them students, in Mexico City on the eve of the 1968 Olympic Games.
This surprised me, because I’d never heard a thing about it. I’d been thoroughly aware of the Olmpic Games that year: another pointless sports spectacle inflicted on a populace already saturated in the stuff. But a massacre? Of hundreds of students? I knew nothing about it. “Probably because the international press never reported it,” Lorenzo observed. “They knew about it, but they didn’t want to spoil the Olympic Games.”
When we shot El Patrullero, people were talking openly about the massacre. Jorge Fons had made a film about Tlatelolco, titled Rojo Amanecer – directed it in secret, in a warehouse far from the studios, without any state or studio funds. Fons was a bold, resourceful, inspired director (he died last week aged 83). His film doesn’t show the Plaza where the killings took place: he focuses entirely on a family who witness it all from their apartment. Inevitably, the massacre intrudes. (Rojo Amanecer is a remarkable film, finely acted, and hard to find.)
One day, in the cutting room in Mexico City, Carlos the editor told me another amazing story about Tlatelolco. Servando Gonzales, another filmmaker, had just revealed that he had been employed by the Mexican Government to film the mass killings (Gonzales was already under contract to shoot the Olympics). He said he used eight Arriflex 35mm cameras with 400mm lenses, situated on the 15th and 17th floors of a tower which also housed the ministry of foreign relations. Gonzales claimed he processed the negative at Churubusco, and handed it over to the military. He assumed a copy went to the President, Diaz Ordaz.
In 2008, the American writer Jefferson Morley released his book Our Man In Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA. There’s lots of fascinating stuff in here, about a fanatical anti-communist called Win Scott, an ex-FBI agent who bumbled his way into becoming CIA station chief in London,was befriended by Kim Philby – the infamous Soviet spy – and got shifted to Mexico, where, improbably but inevitably, he became the most powerful man in the country.
Scott did this, simply, by putting everybody on the payroll, and having them spy on each other. By everybody, I mean, of course, the highest and most influential policemen, generals, journalists, and politicians in the land. Diaz Ordaz received a monthly stipend and was code-named Litempo 2. A future president, Luis Echeverria, was Litempo 8. And an up-and-coming DFS policeman, Fernando Gutierrez Barios, was Litempo 4. Scott’s wife died in somewhat mysterious circumstances, and when he remarried, the CIA man invited several presidents to the wedding. They all attended, of course. But this was highly irregular. Scott, as station chief, was supposed to remain under diplomatic cover, in the shadows. Instead the US ambassadors, who came and went every four years, were the shadowy ones, subsisting off crumbs from Scott’s table.
Can you imagine my surprise when, three or four years back, I was invited to Mexico to play Scott in a series called Un Estraño Enemigo / the Unknown Enemy? Usually I am cast as disreputable characters: bums, maniac scientists, Fred C. Dobbs-like opportunists like the Gringo in La Ley de Herodes. Whereas Winston Scott is never without a suit and tie. He doesn’t take his jacket off. He’s usually seated, with a folder or a menu or a slim envelope full of money in his hands. And he has a lot to say.
The original Scott spoke Spanish, but not particularly well. The Mexicans liked the big Alabama football boy, because at least he tried, and paid well. But Scott in the series is a true Machiavel, extremely well spoken (the very literate script is by the director, Gabriel Ripstein, and several collaborators), and has a lot of information to convey. Most of the time Scott seems to be playing the other significant characters off against each other: they all want to be President, and he promises them all support. In return, he wants to get the US military and intelligence agencies further imbedded, and constantly winding his colleagues up about the danger of student communism. The Olympics – a huge waste of money at a time of severe social hardships – is a perfect opportunity for Scott to up the ante. IIf he doesn’t order the Tlatelolco Massacre, he certainly creates the circumstances for it to happen.
Since then we’ve seen the model – snipers fire from a tall building into crowds at a large protest, killing both police and demonstrators – used in Managua, in Caracas, and in Ukraine. The intention is part of a strategy of tension: to force a change in government, or to force a hard-line government to become still more hard-line. The victims are numerous, the snipers are anonymous. And the beneficiary is always the same.
There’s a longer trailer for the first season of Un Estraño Enemigo here. The principal character – played by the fantastic Daniel Jiménez Cacho – is loosely based on Gutierrez Barios – Litempo 4. Having ended the first season in disastrous disarray, in the second season – which has just begun and can also be found online – Captain Barrientos climbs to higher echelons of power, and Win Scott finds a whole new line of work for him.