Saturday, September 14, 2013

Elena Poniatowska, entirely out to lunch in New York

MGR's view -
80 tons of trash in Mexico City, and a call "aux barricades" in the Big Apple

Guadalajara -
Just in time for weekend festivities in honor of Mexico's 203rd birthday, government security forces finally recovered Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo, late Friday, dislodging tens of thousands of school teachers who belong to an ultra-reactionary labor union known as Coordinadora Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE).

Although their stronghold is in the southwestern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, CNTE squatters tied up parts of the Federal District for a month with noisy, and at times violent, demonstrations. They're upset because in the years ahead they'll have to pass periodic nationalized tests to prove they are equipped to stand in front of a classroom. It was just so much easier to buy or inherit a teaching job. Oaxaca education at the mercy of omnipotent syndicate.

While busy protesting in Mexico City, where they caused small business owners to lose revenues of over $57 million dollars, CNTE teachers abandoned more than a million of their impoverished students in Oaxaca and Chiapas, where classrooms have been dark for a month.

CNTE left behind over 80 tons of trash and human discards, according to morning national news reports. Mexican taxpayers will pay for that, of course, directly or indirectly. The PRI government of president Enrique Peña Nieto showed CNTE extraordinary deference and patience - perhaps to its credit, perhaps not. The leader of the conservative National Action Party suggested this week that a taste of the water cannon might have been a more appropriate response to the union's intransigence. PRI government shows no resolve against thug teachers.

Elena Poniatowska (b. 1933) is a French-born Mexican writer whose father was Polish. Her life's story is compelling and one worthy of respect. This Wikipedia biography calls her "Mexico's grande dame of letters." She has written profusely on political and social issues, with special emphasis on the poor and disenfranchised. Poniatowska is an unabashed leftist, and there's nothing wrong with that. She has expressed great admiration for former PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

In New York City on Thursday, Poniatowska said an amazing thing. One might expect that an 80 year old woman who was forced to abandon Paris with her family in 1942 at the tender age of nine, in order to escape the Nazi onslaught, would unreservedly champion all things democratic (and in this case, things plainly progressive). Particularly when those things directly affect the welfare and future of generations of Mexicans, whose median age is but 26. But apparently that's not the case.

Poniatowska spoke at an Americas Society event in New York, Celebrate Mexico Now!, in honor of the nation's 203rd birthday, and there she addressed the civil disorder which has paralyzed parts of the Federal District - her home - in recent weeks.

According to this account by La Jornada, a popular journal which adulates and disseminates leftist views, Ms. Poniatowska told her general admission audience ($25 a head, thus demonstrating that even socialists are good at the capitalist board game), "Let the people take to the streets. Let the teachers hold the Zócalo, despite the attacks against them. They may be the impetus for change."

One can almost hear distant strains of La Marseillaise, and glimpse the infamous Paris Bastille in the smoke-filled distance. But the emotion of playing street revolutionary must quickly yield to dry facts.

Mexico has several major political parties, ranging from the center right (PAN) to the center left (PRI) to the far left (PRD, the Progressive Movement, the National Regeneration Movement and others as well.) There are environmentally-focused and "green" parties, too. Debate is always lively in the halls of Mexico's two chamber federal congress, where usually there is anything but political consensus.

Nonetheless, 10 days ago Mexico's senate and house approved the education reform package which CNTE so detests by a very lopsided margin of 462-91. Last week PRI president Enrique Peña Nieto signed the reforms into law. But the union continued demonstrating, maintaining its stranglehold on a sprawling capital city which is a logistical nightmare to run under the very best of circumstances. On several occasions CNTE militants even tried to shut down the international airport. Elena Poniatowska knows these things. She lives there.

CNTE is gone for now, but they've promised to return when Independence Day festivities are over. On their way out of town yesterday, union bosses told the press that they didn't want to interfere with the "exercise of people's rights" this weekend.

Elena Poniatowska never earned a university degree. But she is an educated woman in her own right because she was motivated to learn, and determined to master lessons taught by the sweeping hand of history. Poniatowska is trilingual - French, Spanish, English - which has enabled her to read and digest points of view from widely diverse sources. She has fewer excuses than most writers when it comes to recognizing and speaking the unvarnished truth about matters of great public importance.

There is one concept which demonstrably yet evades political commentator Poniatowska, however, as it plainly does her CNTE fellow travelers. Majority rule, it is called - but the writer who fled Paris to escape those who sought power with a gun rather than at the ballot box will recognize it by another name as well, identical in each of her three languages: La démocratie. La democracia. Democracy.

Update: CNTE announced this afternoon that it will "retake" the Zócalo on Wednesday, Sept. 18. It's time for the government to demonstrate who's running Mexico - even if that means using troops.

Oct. 2 - The La Jornada link in paragraph eight (8) above, which quoted Poniatowska's statements in NYC, seems to have disappeared. Perhaps that's coincidental, or perhaps the far left journal removed the story from its website to protect the famed author from her own irresponsible words.

Feb. 24, 2014 - Elena says, "I'm with Andrés Manuel López Obrador"

Oct. 7 - López Obrador calls for campaign of protest and civil disobedience over PEMEX reforms
Sept. 22 - La CNTE: entre la revolución y los privilegios
Sept. 21 - Opinion: Andrés Manuel's vision for Mexico
Sept. 19 - Mexico's Left determined to shackle the nation to the past
Sept. 17 - Secret Service locks down Mexico City's Zócalo
Sept. 17 - Mexico City labor violence, through the lens
Sept. 12 - Mexico City police attacked by CNTE thugs: Hay que decirlo sin cobardía: los policías son las víctimas
Sept. 11 - National labor strike fizzles in Guadalajara and elsewhere, as federal education reforms take effect across the nation
Apr. 24 - Guerrero on verge of civil meltdown, as teachers riot

MGR reports on education reform and teacher strikes
Sept. 12 - Yucatán teachers fold, agree to return to the schoolhouse
Sept. 6 - School closings spread to Yucatán, but Peña Nieto says "there's no turning back"
Sept. 4 - Teachers' union ups the ante, calling indefinite strike in Chiapas
Sept. 3 - Mexico's Senate passes education reform bill, as labor unions threaten civil disobedience
Sept. 2 - Mexico's House of Deputies passes education reforms
Aug. 31 - Oaxaca freezes pay of striking teachers
Aug. 30 - Oaxaca education at the mercy of omnipotent syndicate
Aug. 29 - Teachers' union calls for nationwide strike
Aug. 25 - PRI government shows no resolve against thug teachers
Aug. 19 - Continued teacher strikes idle almost a million students in Oaxaca

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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