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Saturday, July 03, 2004

KRT Wire | 07/03/2004 | Mexican state of Zacatecas poised to elect migrants to office

KRT Wire | 07/03/2004 | Mexican state of Zacatecas poised to elect migrants to office
The Dallas Morning News

SAN PEDRO APULCO, Mexico - (KRT) - Martin Carvajal is campaigning hard for mayor, but in this small farm town he could just as well be running for saint.

To most folks here, Carvajal has the answers. He will create jobs and prosperity and even bring home some of their sons and daughters - many working illegally in the United States.

In short, this furniture maker from Fort Worth is the savior who will turn around this town of 5,000 in southern Zacatecas state.

"Martin, you have given us hope, great hope," said Silvia Gonzalez, 33, a teacher whose entire family is in the United States and whose students in secondary school already talk about heading north.

"The pressure is enormous, because in my candidacy there is no room for failure here," said Carvajal, 48.

Coming home is often difficult, but many migrants returning to San Pedro Apulco and other Zacatecas towns are getting the red-carpet treatment as residents prepare for state elections Sunday.

Mexicans will closely watch vote results here, because Zacatecas becomes the first and only state in Mexico to allow its migrants living abroad to seek elected office, and because voters are poised to elect their first woman governor.

Amalia Garcia, of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, is leading in the gubernatorial race. Polls show her leading her closest rival, Pepe Bonilla of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, by up to seven percentage points. Garcia, a 53-year-old lawyer, would become the first democratically elected female governor in Mexico. Other women have held that post, but they were "imposed" by the PRI, which ran the country for more than 70 years.

"I'm not sure we're ready for a woman governor, but Amalia seems the lesser of two evils," said Luis Hernandez, a 26-year-old waiter from Plano, Texas, who is in Zacatecas and plans to vote Sunday.

Analysts say that in the state - where almost every family has a relative working north of the border - some voters prefer to support home-grown candidates who have achieved success in the United States. They regard such people as their best ticket out of poverty.

"At a time when Mexican politicians here can't get the job done," said Miguel Moctezuma Longoria, an immigration expert from the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, "more and more voters are looking to those abroad for answers."

The right for overseas Mexicans to run in Zacatecas elections grew out of the case of Andres Bermudez, a wealthy California farmer. Three years ago, Bermudez was elected mayor of Jerez. He left midway through his three-year term after authorities discovered an electoral-law provision that prohibited a person from holding office without proving continuous residency in the country.

Under pressure from abroad - primarily from remittance-sending migrants - Gov. Ricardo Monreal pushed through a legislative measure last August that abolished the residency rule.

Bermudez is once again seeking the mayor's job in Jerez. He is one of at least seven emigrants who are running for office in Zacatecas. Carvajal's platform includes a pledge to lobby Washington non-governmental organizations for matching funds to train workers, create new investment opportunities and open markets for Zacatecas products, such as honey. Carvajal, who entered the United States illegally almost 28 years ago but is now a naturalized citizen, said that as mayor he would seek help from paisanos abroad.

"I'll be the mayor for constituents in two countries," he said. "They are key."

Such talk impresses locals such as Carlos Jauregui local president of Convergencia, one of three parties in an alliance of conservative and left-leaning interests to back Carvajal. The other parties are the National Action Party, or PAN, and the PRD.

"What we want is for him to create jobs, jobs, jobs," he said. "We see Martin's experience in the United States as a plus. He left with nothing and returned as a successful businessman."

Some, however, are skeptical. Maria Gutierrez, 48, called Carvajal "an outsider."

"If he had it so good in Texas, why does he want to come back?" she asked. Observers expect Carvajal, who has nominal opposition, to coast to victory. His four grown children are supportive. The candidate's wife is another story.

Olivia Carvajal, 49, said her husband is a good man who never felt quite at home in the United States. Carvajal, also a Zacatecas native, said their children probably would stay in Fort Worth to run the family furniture business even if he won.

Asked if she wants her husband to win, Carvajal said, "He's worked so hard to make this dream come true."

Pressed, she smiled and muttered, "No comment."

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