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Mexican Writer Elena Poniatowska on the Missing 43 Students, 1968 Massacre & U.S.-Backed Drug War

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One of Mexico’s most beloved writers, Elena Poniatowska is a founder of the newspaper La Jornada and the country’s first feminist magazine, Fem. She’s the recipient of the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in the Spanish language, and is the first woman to win the Mexican National Award for Journalism. Poniatowska joins us to discuss the capture of El Chapo, the movement surrounding the missing students in Ayotzinapa, the Tlatelolco student massacre of 1968 and the failed U.S.-backed drug war.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Elena Poniatowska, founder of the newspaper La Jornada, one of Mexico’s most beloved and acclaimed writers, recipient of the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in the Spanish language. We’re speaking to her in Mexico City.

You talked about, Elena Poniatowska, what needs to be done in Mexico, what you think needs to be focused on. Can you expand on that?

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: Yes. I think that what is more important in Mexico is education. It’s for the children to be able to go to school. Of course, hunger is also a very big problem. But the one that really, really, really for me is very painful is education. And there’s very little money spent on education, on good teachers, on schools, on even rooms where children can go and work. And I think this is the worst problem in Mexico that has to be taken care of. And it has not been taken care of. I remember when I came to Mexico as a little girl, I loved my teacher, La Seño Velázquez. I loved her, and she was a very good teacher. And now I don’t know what happens with the teachers, because I haven’t been in school, but I think that children need education, especially in the country, in el campo, I mean, in wherever. They need to eat, and they need to be educated.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote the book The Night [of] Tlatelolco about the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968. It was right before the Olympics, and students were gunned down in Mexico City. Now Mexico is embroiled in another massacre, in Ayotzinapa, the students of the rural teachers’ college, 43 young men, still not clear what happened to them. And you have been focusing on this. What do you think—how must this be investigated to find out the truth about what has happened to them?

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: I think that, first of all, these young students, these young—they were—well, they were students because they wanted to become teachers. Many of them wanted to be bilingual. They were very poor, of course. Ayotzinapa is in a state, Iguala, which is a state which has been rejected all the time by the government, because two leaders or two men were considered like Emiliano Zapata—Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vázquez Rojas. They were both teachers. Of course, after they were so disappointed by the government, they became guerrilleros, or guerrilla leaders—I don’t know how you say it in English. And so the state is hated by the government. And besides, it’s been run by very corrupt, very, very corrupt governors. So, of course, the students, they can—sometimes they take advantage of buses, and they take what they think belongs to them.

But the students are young people. I think young people are the hope of Mexico, the hope of any country. Young people are the hope also of all the Americas, of Latin America. And instead of being taken into account and protected, they are murdered, they are killed. I don’t know. Maybe the fathers of these students, they tell you not to say that. They say that you have to say that they’re only disappeared. But after so—after more than a year, how can you say they’re disappeared? And I think the army has a lot to do into this—the Mexican army, of course. And I think the government is responsible for this.

AMY GOODMAN: Elena Poniatowska, when you talk about the government, what do you feel is the president’s responsibility here, Peña Nieto?

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: Well, he’s taken absolutely no responsibility. I don’t think the word “responsibility” exists for him. He doesn’t know what it means.

AMY GOODMAN: And the reaction of the entire country? I think the reason that this massacre has gotten so much attention is the families, the communities, the massive protest that has continued even after a year after the disappearances of the students. What difference that has made?

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: Yeah, this is very important, because in 1968, for the massacre of Tlatelolco, there wasn’t any response from society, or there was a very low response. And now there is a response of students, who organized themselves through the Internet—I don’t know anything—through those—the cellulars, the cellphones. And they’ve had marches through the city, very well organized, and they’ve been protesting. And, of course, newspapers like La Jornada are still speaking about Ayotzinapa and the students, the 43 normalistas, who have disappeared, disappeared.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve also spoken out against the violence against journalists in Mexico, one of the deadliest places for journalists.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain what journalists face.

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: What a journalist—journalists, especially in the north here in the city, I think we are safe, except there was one journalist killed many years ago here in the city, Mexico—Manuel Buendía. He was murdered in the streets because he knew so much about drugs. But in the north, it’s very easy to disappear a journalist, and there have been many women journalists who work in La Jornada and who work in the magazine Proceso who have been persecuted and who have suffered a lot for trying to help or trying to bring out what’s happening to the people, what’s happening especially to young people.

AMY GOODMAN: In Mexico City, the Museum of Memory and Tolerance has unveiled an altar to the journalists killed over the last decade—at least 32 reporters—


AMY GOODMAN: —killed in Mexico since 1992, making it one of the deadliest places for journalists.

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: Mm-hmm, yes, I know. Yes, I’ve been there, of course. But what can I say about that, no? I don’t believe either in the cult of death, now, in cultivating or speaking or writing only about death. I believe about—I believe in life. I believe that a country like Mexico deserves—deserves what—it’s a wonderful, extraordinary country, generally speaking.

AMY GOODMAN: And speaking to a U.S. audience, though our audience is also global, as we wrap up this discussion and the focus on the U.S.-Mexico relationship is very much in the media spotlight with the U.S. asking for the extradition of El Chapo right now, what do you think is the U.S. responsibility and what United States should be doing in this war on drugs that has killed so many people?

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: Well, the drugs, they all go to the United States. It’s the United States is the consumer of drugs, much more than in Latin America and much more than in Mexico. So, the consumer, the one who asks for the drugs, the one who buys the drugs, is obviously el culpable, is obviously the one who we—the responsible, es el que responde, el responsable.

AMY GOODMAN: Right, the responsible one. And finally, the issue of immigration?

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: Yes, in many ways, yes, of course. We are responsible for our poverty. But the United States is responsible for buying what hurts the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the issue of immigration. The new year, 2016, has seen a series of raids of immigrant families in the United States. Your thoughts on the U.S. policy towards immigrants, and the presidential candidates’ statements, like Donald Trump’s, saying that a wall should be built, that undocumented immigrants should all be removed from the country, all 11, 12 million people?

ELENA PONIATOWSKA: Well, Mexico has not been able to feed 12 million people. That’s why they all go to the United States. But we are all countries of immigrants. My name, Poniatowska, is not exactly Mexican. My name is Polish, of Polish origin. It’s not because I want to speak of myself, just we are countries of immigrants. The United States is a country of immigrants. So immigrants are the future of the world, if the world has a future. So, I don’t know. What can I say about this? I think people, a man and a woman and children, should be very well treated in this world, should be treated well in Mexico, treated well in Europe, treated well in Asia. And the man is not being treated—in the universe, is being treated like trash, like. So this is where the world has become, has become the worst enemy, finally, of man, of manhood—I don’t know, my English is not so good—is what we do to each other.

AMY GOODMAN: Elena Poniatowska, I want to thank you for being with us and for your eloquence, founder of the newspaper La Jornada, one of Mexico’s most beloved and acclaimed writers, recipient of the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in the Spanish language, speaking to us from Mexico City.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll be joined by Eric Garner’s daughter. Eric Garner is the 43-year-old African-American man in Staten Island who, well over a year ago, was killed by New York police, put in a chokehold and taken down. The reason we know exactly what happened is because of the video that was taken at that moment. We’ll also be joined by the young man who videoed the police taking down of Eric Garner. Ramsey Orta joins us. Stay with us.

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