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Passions Unleashed Among O.C. Latinos Over Watershed Vote : Reaction: Ruling party candidate’s victory attracts attention of activists and ordinary folk alike. Some decry potential for violence, others applaud balloting.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reaction was mixed among Orange County’s Latinos a day after the presidential election victory of Ernesto Zedillo, head of Mexico’s ruling party.

“I woke up early today expecting to see headlines reading that the Panista candidate (Diego Fernandez de Cevallos) would win,” said construction worker Miguel Angel Luna Arrellano of San Juan Capistrano. “Instead, it was just another PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) victory.”

Luna said he believes that Mexico immediately will face potential violence in areas such as the Mexican state of Chiapas, the scene of a New Year’s Day rebellion by guerrillas of the Zapatista National Liberation Army on what they said was the behalf of the Mayan masses. The uprising left 145 people dead and radically shifted a national political agenda just months before Sunday’s election.

“My sentiments and my heart are for the campesinos in Chiapas,” Luna said. “Really, I think the real question is, how are they reacting to this? I think that if Fernandez had won, he would have supported the working people in Mexico and you would have seen Mexicans workers from here in the United States return and work in Mexico.”

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In Orange County and elsewhere in California, there was ample evidence Monday of the passions unleashed Sunday by Mexico’s watershed national elections. The balloting was the most scrutinized, and possibly the most competitive, in Mexico’s history. Zedillo of the PRI emerged victorious Monday, extending his party’s 65-year hold on presidential power.

Amin David, president of Los Amigos de Anaheim, was encouraged by Sunday’s election, saying he believed it was one of the “fairest ever held. I was glad that finally we were going to get a true sense of what the will of the people is.”

The challenge for the new leader will be how Zedillo handles Chiapas and that state’s reaction to his victory, said Alma Buis, Fullerton police liaison to the Latino community.

“I was born in Mexico City,” Buis said. “And I remember how PRI controls elections and the government.”

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“To understand how PRI works,” Luna said, “you need to live in Mexico, like my brother, for instance. He lives with his wife in Sonora. She has been a major supporter of PRI for 15 years, and during that period she has won government contracts for work. . . . They control everything.”

Arturo Soto, 36, a construction worker from San Juan Capistrano, said he had placed his hopes with Luis Donaldo Colosio, the ruling party’s initial presidential candidate who was shot to death during a visit to Tijuana on March 23.

“I felt that Colosio would have been a good president,” Soto said. “He had promised to make a lot of changes and wanted to include--and not keep out--people from Chiapas. The Mexican people, I feel, were ready to accept a change, and he would have been good for the country.”

At Josie’s shop, a hair and nails salon in San Juan Capistrano, Guillermina Aragon, 26, listened as a radio announcer said that Fernandez had taken 31% of the votes, to Zedillo’s 47%.

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“See, it was close,” said Aragon, who is from Cuernavaca, Mexico. “My family always voted PRI,” but she always voted for PAN, Fernandez’s conservative National Action Party. “It seems that PRI was always looking out for the upper class, and PAN supported the worker.”

Aragon’s friend, Reina Delgado, 24, said she was happy that so many people voted. After so many years of one party’s rule, many Mexican people had accepted a “so what” view to voting.

“Many ask, why vote?” Delgado said.

In recent years, Mexican political leaders have made strong overtures to Mexican nationals residing in the United States, whose remittances back home and other expenditures in Mexico are a crucial source of foreign currency. And the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in January, has served to strengthen cross-border ties.

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Art Montez, head of Santa Ana’s League of United Latin American Citizens, was satisfied with Zedillo’s victory, saying that LULAC is looking forward to working with the president again. It turns out that LULAC established a program using Mexico’s Spanish books through Zedillo, then education secretary.

“We tend to look at the border areas and Mexico’s urban centers, like in the capital, as signs of progress,” Montez said. “We should go back to measuring democracy, not by economy, but by the quality of life that everyone enjoys.”

“That’s the greatest challenge this presidency is going to face,” Montez said.

Montez said Zedillo will be extended an invitation to visit Santa Ana through the Mexican consul’s office there.

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