LAC Main Seminar Series: Monte de Chila 1970: Mexico’s Forgotten Massacre

Conveners: David Doyle and Jessica Fernandez de Lara Harada, University of Oxford

Speakers: Benjamin Smith, University of Warwick, and Thom Rath, UCL


ben smiths presentation

Abstract: On 28 January 1970, over 1000 troops marched on the small, rural squatter community of Monte de Chila in the Sierra Norte de Puebla. They were pursuing a group of livestock thieves that had killed at least two soldiers and were hiding near the ranch. A firefight ensued; and dozens of the thieves were killed. Then, according to locals, the soldiers proceeded to burn down the community and kill the women, the children, and the remaining men. For the next three months, they cut off the village. They prevented priests and locals from burying the dead and hunted down and murdered any survivors. According to a local priest, who visited Monte de Chila in April 1970, all that was left were bones, picked over “by buzzards and vultures”. He counted a staggering 322 remains. If true, the Monte de Chila massacre would count as Mexico’s most bloody state repression by a factor of nearly ten. Yet, to this day, there are no works on the massacre by journalists, NGOs, or academics. The death of indigenous farmers and criminals, it seems, warrants no investigation. In this talk, I use my preliminary research to lay out the story of the massacre, ponder some of the difficulties of researching atrocities, suggest some possible solutions, and discuss what the massacre means for the history of Mexico’s dirty war, the army, the state, and the process of truth and reconciliation.  



ben smith

Benjamin T. Smith is a Professor of Latin American history at the University of Warwick. He specializes in the modern political history of Mexico and has written widely on indigenous movements, religion, journalism, and the drug trade. His most recent book was The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade.








week 3 thom rath

Thom Rath is Associate Professor of History at UCL. He specializes in modern Latin America, and has published on aspects of social, political, military and environmental history. His last book was The Dread Plague and the Cowkillers: The Politics of Animal Disease in Mexico and the World (Cambridge, 2022). Besides the project on Monte de Chila, he is working on several things: a history of pest control in 'atomic agriculture'; the Mexican military and society since the 1960s; how international organizations think about and govern non-human animals. He is also an editor of the Journal of Latin American Studies