Mexican candidates can't campaign in U.S.
The Federal Electoral Institute ruled yesterday that the same law granting Mexicans living abroad the right to vote in the 2006 presidential...
Los Angeles Times
MEXICO CITY — The Federal Electoral Institute ruled yesterday that the same law granting Mexicans living abroad the right to vote in the 2006 presidential election also forbids contenders from traveling to the United States to campaign.
The institute was given the responsibility to set guidelines for the law, which Mexico's Congress passed in June. Its decision means none of the estimated 10 million Mexicans in the United States will get to see candidates in person there.
"We believe the law is clear: You cannot ask for the vote on foreign soil," said Patricio Ballados, the electoral institute's general coordinator for the vote abroad.
Although Mexico's Congress forbade candidates from campaigning outside the country during election season, several contenders had planned appearances in Los Angeles and other immigrant-rich U.S. cities, arguing they were free to visit as private citizens before parties selected their official candidates later this year.
The former Mexico City mayor, Andres Manuel López Obrador, canceled a meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week, as well as an appearance at a popular Mexican Independence Day celebration in Huntington Park, Calif.
Aides urged the presidential front-runner to stay out of the United States after election officials warned his visit could violate Mexican law. The Federal Electoral Institute is an autonomous government agency with the authority to levy fines or disqualify candidates.
In June, the Mexican Congress gave it the dual task of encouraging Mexicans abroad to vote by mail, while insulating the presidential election from foreign influence.
Its guidelines forbid candidates, party leaders or party members from organizing any campaign activities outside of Mexico, including registering voters. The guidelines also forbid any campaign spending abroad.
At the same time, the institute's members agreed yesterday that Mexico has the responsibility to deliver campaign and party information to its expatriates.
"It's a dilemma," said Ballados. "We are supposed to have an informed electorate abroad, but we have legislation that restricts what Mexicans can learn about the election."
The contradictions were built into the law and reflect the ambivalence by the Congress about granting the vote to Mexicans living in the United States, said Raul Ross, one of the longtime organizers of the vote abroad movement.
"We wanted the freedom to register voters, to allow Mexicans to contribute financially and we wanted candidates to be able to campaign here," said Ross, a Mexican living in Chicago.
"But those three actions were explicitly prohibited. The reason was that the political parties couldn't find a way to keep control outside of Mexico," he said.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 Mexicans living in the United States are believed to hold valid voter-registration cards, only a small fraction of the 37 million or so voters who cast ballots in the 2000 presidential election that carried National Action Party candidate Vicente Fox into office.
Fox's victory broke the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. Among his promises was the right to vote abroad.
In the five years since, the influence and reach of Mexicans living in the United States have grown, with banks estimating they will send home nearly $20 billion this year to friends and family in Mexico.
In addition, a loose confederation of hometown clubs in the United States is reshaping hundreds of tiny villages, building roads, schools and other projects.
As a group, they have demanded more say in how their local towns are run.
No one is certain how many Mexicans abroad will cast ballots in the July election. But many here and in the United States believe they will exert their influence in telephone conversations with family members back home.
Primitivo Rodríguez, a Mexico City activist, said the campaign restrictions signal a missed opportunity to bring migrants into Mexico's political system before losing them to the United States.
"If Mexican citizens in the United States want to support a candidate, what is wrong with that?" he said.
"A given right of any democracy is that people will have basic information about the issues and about the personal qualities of a candidate."
Ballados said the electoral institute may provide party or candidate pamphlets to voters by mail.
Mexicans in the United States with voter-registration cards can register to vote by mail through embassy and consulate offices, or over the Internet beginning on Oct. 1.
"It's a shame," said Sergio Martinez Chavarria, a spokesman for Roberto Madrazo, the leading contender for the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years.
"We believe candidates should travel and present their proposals directly to the people, face to face, that the people over there can express their questions and demands, that there be rapprochement," he said. "But it won't be."
Cecilia Sanchez and Carlos Martinez in the Los Angeles Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
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