Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mexican-American vote in Mexico election hampered by apathy, hurdles

Juan Castro is voting for two presidents this year: one for the United States and another for Mexico.

"I'm not sure who I'm going to vote for," said the San Jose resident. "To tell you the truth, the three main candidates who are running are worthless, more of the same."

He's talking about the Mexican election. The three-month campaign for Mexico's July 1 presidential and congressional election officially began Friday.

"They're all career politicians. As far as parties, they're all the same."

Still, four decades after he moved to the United States, the municipal accountant at Sunnyvale City Hall is one of more than 12,000 Mexican-Americans in California who have registered to vote in the election, a fraction of the nearly 4 million eligible.

Will Mexican-American voters make a difference if there's a close election to replace outgoing President Felipe Calderon? Not as much as they could, says Hector Tajonar, professor at UC San Diego's Center for Mexican-American Studies.

"I don't think they will have any influence, any important influence, unfortunately," Tajonar said. The election is an important one that will affect the tone of cross-border relations, trade, immigration and the war on criminal cartels for the rest of the decade.

Almost all of the Mexican-born immigrants in California are eligible to vote in Mexico, but a cumbersome registration diminishes their sway.

To register to vote by mail from abroad,

prospective voters must travel to Mexico, file papers at an election office to get a voter ID card, and then wait.

"After two weeks you have to go back and pick up the card," said Carlos Felix, Mexico's consul general in San Francisco. Despite years of discussion, the country is still in a "learning process" about how it can attract more voters who live outside Mexico.

Many other countries -- from Peru to Iran -- allow their emigrants to vote at consulates and other temporary polling places in the United States, but none has as many prospective voters abroad as Mexico.

Castro said more Mexican-Americans would vote in Mexico's elections if they could. The San Jose resident wonders if Mexico makes it such a hassle on purpose.

"The ones in power fear that one day the Mexicans living outside of Mexico will get organized and strong," he said. "They know the numbers are there, the knowledge is there, the desire is there."

The deadline to register by mail was Jan. 15, and Alfonso Carillo found out about it too late.

Carillo became a United States citizen last month, but the Cisco Systems worker tracks politics in Mexico and remains a citizen there.

He's so concerned about the Mexico's future that he might vote anyway, but he will have to fly home to do it.

The summer election pits pioneering woman candidate Josefina Vasquez Mota, representing the ruling National Action Party, against front-runner Enrique Pe?a Nieto, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ran Mexico for more than seven decades.

A third candidate, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is also running again after losing narrowly to Calderon in 2006. The Mexican presidency is a one-term, six-year office.

"The PRI will probably win, not because it's the best, but because they have the most money and they control the most states through the governors," Castro said.

"Safer streets" is the most important campaign issue for Fernando Fonseca, a 37-year-old Jalisco native who lives in San Jose and also plans to vote. "Get Mexico back to what it's been," he says, "so that people can go and relax and international businesses are more secure, more jobs and better opportunities, more education."

Juan Jose Gutierrez hopes more Mexican-Americans will be able to vote in the next presidential election in 2018, but for now, he said, it's just a dedicated few.

"The people who went through all the hoops to register to vote probably are individuals who follow what's going on in Mexico, who are very interested in who's going to be the next chief executive because so much is at stake," said Gutierrez, president of the Los Angeles-based Full Rights for Immigrations Coalition. "We have a very bad situation with all the drug war and deaths."

Unable to vote are Mexican immigrants living illegally in the United States, because if they go south to vote in Mexico, they won't be able to get north again.

Mexican election authorities offer still another reason for the low registration.

"Many Mexican-Americans and Mexicans who have been living for a long time in the United States and have become American citizens feel more connected and are more informed about the politics of the U.S. than the politics of Mexico," said Ana Isabel Fuentes Bustillos, a Mexico City-based spokeswoman for IFE, the federal agency that runs the elections.

The July 1 election
March 31 opens the official campaign period for Mexico's July 1 national elections. The country restricts formal campaigning to a 3-month window. The Mexican presidency is a single 6-year term.

Mexico's candidates

  • Enrique Pe?a Nieto
    Party: PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party. This centrist party held the presidency for more than 70 years until 2000
    How he's polling: 36 percent
    Bio: 45-year-old former governor of the state of Mexico
  • Josefina Vazquez Mota
    Party: PAN, or National Action Party. The conservative party of incumbent President Felipe Calderon and his predecessor, Vicente Fox
    How she's polling: 26 percent
    Bio: 51-year-old former lawmaker and economist; first female candidate of any of the main parties
  • Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
    Party: PRD, or Party of the Democratic Revolution. This leftist party was founded in 1989
    How he's polling: 18 percent
    Bio: 59-year-old politician lost a close election to Felipe Calderon in 2006, then contested the results and led protests against election

    Source: Poll by Reforma newspaper

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