New California Media
The long road for Mexicans abroad to achieve political rights at home seems at last to be entering its final phase. The promise that millions of Mexican citizens living outside of their country will be able to vote in Mexico’s next presidential election could soon become a reality.
A group of Mexican congressmen are organizing a series of open forums for 2003 in several U.S. citieswhere the majority of the Mexicans living abroad reside, and where some 10 million would now be able to vote. This comes after strong pressures by Mexican migrants themselves to achieve this political right. According to Dr. Jesus Martínez Saldaña, a professor at California State University in Fresno, this movement dates back to at least 1929.
During the last Mexican presidential campaign in 2000, the issue was brought into the spotlight in part thanks to Vicente Fox, who campaigned hard in United States and promised to include political rights for Mexicans abroad in his political agenda when he became president of Mexico.
Fox received strong support in symbolic elections carried out by Mexicans in the United States. But many migrants are now skeptical about his political promises.
”Fox came here to campaign asking us for support, so we supported him… and now what? The politicians fooled us, here and there,” said Jose Alvarez to a group of about 200 Mexican senators and officials at the public forum in Fresno early in 2003.
Alvarez is one of the one million braceros, or farm workers, hired by the United States from Mexico between 1946 and 1963. According to the conditions of their contracts, 10 percent of their salaries was retained, to be paid upon their return to Mexico. This never occurred and it is estimated that braceros are now owed more than 500 million dollars.
”We should be discussing the voting procedures instead of whether or not we have the right to vote,” said Luis Alberto Rivera, of Modesto, who expressed his frustration about the long time that has passed since these political promises were made. “I am a third-generation Mexican immigrant, from Michoacán. Three generations without political rights!” exclaimed Luis Magaña of Stockton.
Senator Genaro Borrego from the state of Zacatecas was optimistic that the public forums in U.S. cities would result in laws giving Mexicans abroad the right to vote in the next presidential elections in 2006. “Mexican organizations like the Coalition for Political Right Politicians for Mexicans Abroad should introduce a bill to the Mexican senate in April of this year so we can start the legislative discussion,” said the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) senator, who affirms that he belongs to the 25 percent of senators that supports the issue. But he recognizes that it will not be an easy battle. “The majority of the senators are neutral. They are not familiar with the issue and it is not a priority for them,” said Borrego.
But for many migrants this will not solve the fundamental problems with the democratic process in Mexico.
”The law should pass soon,” said Leonel Flores of Fresno. “We know that it will not be perfect, but at least we will have something.”