Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari spoke out forcefully Monday against abuses directed at Mexican citizens on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The protection of Mexicans here, and on the other side of the border, is a firm objective of the government,” Salinas told a gathering of Baja California dignitaries at the Tijuana Cultural Center Monday night. “I want to express my concern about abuses against compatriots who cross the border looking for a better life.”
The president’s brief comments about violence on the border were believed to be his most extensive to date on the topic, which has emerged as a major theme in U.S.-Mexico relations.
Last month, Presidents Salinas and Bush met in Monterrey, Mexico, and agreed that both nations would seek solutions to the growing problem.
“We want a respectful neighborliness, we want a useful neighborliness for both nations, but above all a neighborliness that recognizes the dignity of each human being,” Salinas said Monday.
In the midst of a two-day trip through Baja California, Salinas spent much of Monday discussing improvements to area aqueducts and other public works projects.
However, many analysts had expected the president to make some comment about what many perceive as a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment in the border area. The Mexican government, Salinas said, has used diplomatic channels to protest each case of violence committed against Mexican citizens by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Without specifying organizations, Salinas made a clear allusion to groups in the San Diego area and elsewhere that have protested the presence of immigrants. Such pressure will continue, said Salinas, who added that the resources of the Mexican consular offices, the Mexican attorney general’s office and the Foreign Ministry would all be used to protect the rights of Mexican citizens.
The president spoke of U.S. citizens “forgetting the important economic and cultural contributions . . . of our compatriots in their country.”
In addition, Salinas went out of his way to welcome any expatriate Mexican citizens who wish to return to their homeland. He said they would be treated “with respect and with friendship.”
In fact, Mexican citizens returning to Mexico have long complained that they have been subject to extortion and other abuse at the hands of Mexican authorities. The Mexican authorities have instituted a program, known as Paisano, aimed at reducing such abuse.
Salinas’ comments came at the end of a series of public appearances in Tijuana and elsewhere in Baja California.
Earlier, the president had toured the state bearing gifts, bestowing land, electrical service, running water, new classrooms and other amenities upon residents of this northern border state.
“We’re here to show that yes, we are fulfilling our promises,” Salinas, dressed informally in an open-collar white jacket and black slacks, told an enthusiastic crowd of several thousand gathered in the Mariano Matamoros neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest.
During this and other stops on his third official visit to Tijuana, Salinas, in traditional Mexican political style, spent much of his time inaugurating new electrical and water service and providing land titles to impoverished residents.
Throughout his visit here, the president, standard-bearer of Mexico’s long dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, was accompanied by Baja California Gov. Ernesto Ruffo Appel, of the opposition National Action Party. Ruffo is Mexico’s first opposition governor.
Despite their political party’s many differences, Ruffo and Salinas both have said that they maintain a cordial working relationship.
“When you are elected, no matter what political party you represent, you must serve for all the people,” Salinas told the assembled crowd in the Tijuana neighborhood.
Ruffo, who was seated next to the president on the elevated podium, struck a similar theme.
“We can accomplish much more by cooperating,” said Ruffo, who some have said might emerge as a presidential candidate when Salinas’ term ends in four years.
The community, on the eastern fringes of this fast-growing city of more than 1 million inhabitants, was aglow with new electric lighting following the recent hook-up by government authorities. The installation of electric service and the just-connected supply of running drinking water, were both benefits of the president’s visit.
Salinas, as part of an effort to revive his party’s sagging national image, had embarked on a so-called “Solidarity” program aimed at providing additional services for citizens throughout the nation. He emphasized the Solidarity initiative in several speeches Monday.
Although the crowd in Tijuana was mostly supportive, scores of protesting cabbies and water-delivery truck drivers also showed up to protest what they view as onerous new federal taxes.
“We can’t afford to charge our customers any more,” said Sosimo Jimenez, a 38-year-old cab driver who attended the rally.
Also among the crowd were scores of area residents seeking improved services and other benefits for their long-neglected communities.
“We’ve had 34 years without (electric) light,” said Maria de Los Angeles de Mora, a schoolteacher who was hoping to present the president with a neighborhood petition seeking improved services.
But, as evidenced by the many young women who stepped forward and kissed the president, most in the crowd were supportive.
“I think he is a man of good faith,” said Juliana Vazquez Rodriguez, a 50-year-old mother of eight, who was among those presented land titles as part of the president’s visit. The president was scheduled to fly to the state capital, Mexicali, late Monday. He is to spend the day in Mexicali before returning to Mexico City late today.