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Veteran writer still fighting for Mexico’s left

June 18, 2012

Elena Poniatowska, one of Mexico’s most revered writers, came to Guadalajara on Sunday to support leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the presidential debate.

Poniatowska may have turned 80 last month but her devotion to building a more equal Mexican society remains undiminished. Should Lopez Obrador win the July 1 election he has vowed to name her in his cabinet as Secretary of Culture.

“I will fight for this and I hope with all my heart that the left wins. For me it will be a tragedy if Lopez Obrador does not win,” Poniatowska said recently.

During her visit, Poniatowska met with students at the Plaza Universidad in downtown Guadalajara, before appearing with Lopez Obrador at the Minerva after the debate. The grass roots student movement #YoSoy132 has given her hope ahead of the election, she said. “It is as clean, transparent and spontaneous as the movement of 1968.”

“The movement is independent and they will vote for whoever they want,” Poniatowska affirmed, denying any official link between #YoSoy132 and Lopez Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena). “But when they say they are against Enrique Peña Nieto it is logical to think that they will vote for Andres Manuel.”

Following the death of Carlos Fuentes last month, Poniatowska has taken on the mantle of the country’s most celebrated living author, journalist and intellectual. Reflecting her status as a national treasure of the left, she received a special tribute from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to mark her 80th birthday.

“Her pen has always been a tool of solidarity and she has raised her voice on many occasions to speak  up for those who have been silenced by injustice, inequality and fear,” said UNAM rector Jose Narro.

Much of Poniatowska’s work has a focus on human rights issues and displays sympathy toward oppressed groups in Mexican society, such as women, laborers, farm workers and the indigenous population. Poniatowska is a supporter of the indigenous Zapatista movement and traveled to Chiapas to interview rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos shortly after the conflict broke out in 1994.

Her best known work remains “La noche de Tlatelolco” (English title: “Massacre in Mexico”), an oral account of the events of October 2, 1968 in Mexico City’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas.

Based on hundreds of interviews with eye-witnesses, the book documents the infamous night when the military surrounded and then gunned down hundreds or even thousands of student protesters (having ordered the massacre, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, government covered up what happened and disposed of the corpses, preventing any official body count) who had gathered peacefully in the square, days before the capital hosted the 1968 Olympic Games.

Released in 1971, “La Noche de Tlatelolco” was the only book published on the subject for 20 years. It played a major role in divulging the truth about what happened, heavily contradicting the government account and the official death toll.

Poniatowska was born into an upper-class family in Paris, 1932. They left France during World War II, moving to Mexico in 1942. Poniatwoska never went to university, opting instead to begin her career at the age of 18 writing for Mexico City’s then-liberal Excelsior newspaper.

She currently lives in Coyoacan, a quiet but trendy suburb of Mexico City where the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and an exiled Leon Trotsky famously resided.

Fluent in English, French and Spanish, Poniatowska has published novels, non-fiction books, journalistic essays, and many forwards and prologues to books on Mexican artists. She is one of the founders of La Jornada newspaper, the feminist magazine Fern, publishing house Siglo XXI and national film institute Cineteca Nacional.

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