Mexico's Dirty War: How a Rebel Newspaper Defied the Government

Mexico's dirty war saw brutal repression and a rebel press to fight back. "Madera," a clandestine newspaper by the Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre, defied the government with fiery rhetoric and reports of revolutionary acts.

Mexico's Dirty War: How a Rebel Newspaper Defied the Government
The Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre, a defiant voice against Mexico's oppressive regime. Credit: AGN

The 1960s and 1970s in Mexico were characterized by a severe human rights crisis and a lack of democratic freedoms. The country was under a series of repressive policies orchestrated by the governments of Presidents Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and Luis Echeverría. In their eagerness to combat any social movement or signs of social organization, they repressed, tortured and disappeared several people. As a result, numerous collectives opted to form armed movements after exhausting legal channels and in the absence of a response from the authorities.

One of the most outstanding characteristics of the Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre was its clandestine newspaper entitled Madera. Its name refers to the failed assault on the Madera Barracks in Chihuahua on September 23, 1965, carried out by the Popular Guerrilla Group, led by Arturo Gámiz and Pablo Gómez. This incident resulted in the assassination of most of the group's members and marked the first contemporary guerrilla uprising in Mexico. The Madera assault became a reference for all subsequent social movements and served as a theoretical basis for the league.

The Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre emerged as a result of a conglomerate of political groupings that sought to become a socialist bloc capable of unifying and leading diverse political organizations. It was created in March 1973, in Guadalajara, Jalisco, by various groups, among them: "the Processes, the Guajiros of Baja California, the Sick of Sinaloa, most of the Ferocious of Guadalajara, the Lacandones of Mexico City, the MAR 23 de Septiembre of Chihuahua and the Red Brigade of David Jimenez Sarmiento", among others. It was present in several states of the republic: Monterrey, Chihuahua, Durango, Baja California Norte, Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, the State of Mexico, Mexico City, Michoacán, Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero and Veracruz. The number of members varies between 400 and 3,000 people.

The publication was created in 1972, two years before the formation of the League. Four issues were presented, known as the "Maderas Viejos": Madera I, Madera II, Madera III and Madera Bis. Printing stopped for a few years and then, in January 1974, with the league already constituted, the publication was resumed, starting again from issue number 1. From this point, a total of 58 additional issues were developed.

"In principle, the newspaper of the September 23 Communist League should be first and foremost an organ through which revolutionary leadership is exercised over the whole movement. Such a question is developed based on a permanent analysis of the course of the revolutionary movement, of its advances, turns and contradictions; to this end, it must draw from each new experience the lessons that contribute to strengthen and elevate the movement as a whole. It must likewise analyze every relevant aspect of the politics of the different classes. It must inform the movement as a whole of the main mobilizations, which the bourgeois tries to bury at all costs. But, above all, it must propagate each essential aspect of the politics of the proletariat, concerning programmatic, tactical and organizational questions."

Its elaboration, printing and distribution were carried out clandestinely. As part of the publications, the various attacks or actions of some guerrilla groups and the league's own irruptions were reported. In addition, the different issues included theoretical analyzes that today can be considered part of the intellectual memory of contemporary Mexico.

The response of Luis Echeverría's government was through the Federal Security Directorate (DFS), which created a plan to achieve the destruction of the September 23rd Communist League and the apprehension of its members. To this end, a special brigade was established whose sole objective was the persecution and destruction of the organization, using all available means.

As part of the strategies undertaken by the brigade, the compilation of any publication, message or pamphlet produced by the league was carried out. Thus, they archived almost all of Madera's publications, some of which were presented with photographs. Many of these publications remain, even today, unpublished for the majority of the population.

The Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) has several issues of Madera available for public consultation. It is worth mentioning that its consultation is possible thanks to the declassification of the funds of the DFS and the Directorate of Political and Social Research, which have a wide variety of documents and research on social movements during the Dirty War. Visit the AGN and get to know the documentary heritage of our country.

Source: Archivo General de la Nación. “Madera: el órgano de difusión de la Liga Comunista 23 de septiembre.”, Accessed 5 July 2024.