Hearts and Minds in ‘El Norte’ The Mexican Political Campaign Moves Across the Rio Grande BY SALLIE HUGHES Tijuana, Mexico SINCE 1855, when exiled Mexican president Benito Juarez plotted his return to Mexico after being exiled to New Orleans, the Mexican opposition has occasionally sought relief north of the Rio Grande. Indeed, the current regime dates from the revolution that Francisco Madero and his brothers plotted in San Antonio’s Hutchins Hotel in 1910. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas carried on the tradition of political refuge in 1988, when he barnstormed the United States, alleging electoral fraud after his failed presidential bid. He returned this past April to rally striking Mexican mushroom pickers in rural Pennsylvania. More recently in this border city, as the unofficial presidential candidate for Mexico’s Democratic Mexican Americans organizing a U.S. campaign committee for the 1994 elections. Cardenas, who personifies the opposition to the longtime ruling Institutional Revolutionary States again, seeking the support of the millions of Mexican citizens who live in the United States as well as the millions of Mexican Americans who maintain close ties with the land of their descent. But this time a more aggressive and better-organized governing PRI has joined the battle for the hearts and minds as well as the money and the votes of Mexicans living north of the border. “We are working hard to present our version of things,” said Martin Tones, PRI subdirector of international affairs. From as far away as Pennsylvania, 30 groups representing hundreds of Hispanic farm, environmental and human rights organizations in the United States came to Tijuana on August 21 to meet with Cardenas. Officially, they pushed for fair elections. They came out to support Cardenas, who still represents the strongest challenge to continued PRI control of the Mexican presidency. “We have a lot of interest in maintaining and re-enforcing our ties with the Mexican community in the United States,” Cardenas said. Cardenas first toured the United States in Sallie Hughes is a political reporter for El Financiero International, an English-language weekly based in Mexico City. 1985 as the governor of the central Mexican state of Michoacan \(he was then a member Washington state’s Yakima Valley and since then, has traveled to Texas, California, New Mexico, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York. During his more recent trips, to the chagrin of the administration of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Cardenas has talked about electoral fraud in Mexico and of his own version of a free trade agreement. Taking its cue from the PRD, the conservative opposition National Action Party United States as well, said Rodolfo Elizondo, PAN secretary for international relations. The first PAN newsletter to Mexican-American leaders in the United States, Accion Internacional, went out in August. PAN President Carlos Castillo plans to attend conferences at seven U.S. border-state universities this month and he will meet with Mexican leaders in each community. Interim PAN GoVernor Carlos Medina of Guanajuato also plans to visit the United States this fall, Elizondo said. But the biggest response to the Cardenas challenge comes from President Salinas and the PRI. Salinas has worked vigorously to bring Mexican workers in the United States back into the PRI fold. Since Salinas took office amid protests on both sides of the border, the government has visibly promoted educational, cultural and human rights programs for Mexicans in the United States, consular employees said. For example, six officials on the human rights staff of the San Diego consulate oversaw 3,735 official acts performed on behalf of 966 people in March 1993. In 1987, the two-member staff oversaw an average of 80 acts a month. As another indicator of increased government activity, Mexico,with government support, has opened 14 new cultural institutes in the United States since 1991. Before Salinas took office, San Antonio had the only institute. Also in the last three years, the PRI has formed 16 new political committees in the United States and four more are near completion. Only a Los Angeles club officially existed in 1988. Besides keeping a high community profile, the “Compatriot Support Committees” distribute practical information, such as the explanations of rights of aliens in the United States and how Mexican nationals can bring cars purchased in the United States back into Mexico. The government’s aggressive stance represents a new twist, one that acknowledges the importance of transnational political strategies in an era when the border is said to exist as a boundary but not as a barrier. Political support of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the United States is important to candidates for Mexico’s presidency. If they voted as a bloc, the millions of Mexicans in the United States could sway an election. [There is no accurate count of the number of Mexican citizens in the United States; the Immigration and Naturalization Service reports 213,802 Mexicans are in the country legally, including 75,533 in Texas, and estimates 3.2 million undocumented Mexicans, including 320,000 in Texas. Mexican politicians estimate as many as five to seven million Mexicans live in el none.] For now, however, forming such a bloc is almost impossible because most immigrants would have to return to their home communities in order to vote. Border-state polling places only accept a small number of voters registered in other areas, the PRI’ s Tones said. The PRD pushed to allow expatriates to vote in Mexican consulates as part of a political reform package currently under debate in Mexico’s Congress. In the past, it also has pushed for absentee balloting. PRI has refused, citing the complexity of guaranteeing a fraud-free election. Mexican law prohibits an infusion of campaign money from the United States. Still, immigrant campaign money is a formidable attraction for Mexican political parties, analysts say. Although political parties deny it, some observers think both the opposition and PRI received U.S, campaign money in 1988. Denise Dresser, of the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, argues that both PRI and PRD committees in Los Angeles raised money in 1988. “It is not clear how much, but everybody knows that they did,” she said. Even a little money could help the PRD, whose campaign chest is bare when compared with that of the wealthy PRI, said Juan Molinar, a professor at the Colegio de Mexico. People at the Cardenas meeting in Tijuana spoke of raising $1 million, although Cardenas publicly refused that initiative. Immigrant groups also offer access to U.S. media. In 1988, Cardenas and protesting PRD 12 OCTOBER 29, 1993
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