Let candidates go norte

BACK WHEN MEXICANS LIVING ABROAD were forbidden from voting in their homeland’s presidential elections, candidates were free to campaign outside Mexico. Now that Mexican expatriates can finally vote in the July 2006 election, most likely they won’t be able to hear the candidates personally make their pitches.

Such are the paradoxes in a nation still struggling to make democracy work.

Hours before boarding a plane to L.A. last Thursday, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico’s leading presidential contender, had to cancel his trip because he feared his rivals would accuse him of violating a provision in an electoral law approved by the Mexican Congress this year. Even the lawmakers who passed this rushed and sloppy legislation don’t seem to quite understand its provisions; they have asked electoral authorities to clarify and redefine the rules governing how, when and where candidates will be able to meet prospective voters. Electoral officials will meet Wednesday, when they should do away with the silly prohibition on campaigning abroad.

At least 60 nations, including the United States, allow their citizens to vote abroad. In Mexico, though, the effort to give the vote to expatriates has been a painful process lasting more than a decade. There are about 10 million adult Mexicans living in the United States, and Mexican politicians are justifiably worried about the impact they’ll have on both domestic politics and Mexican sovereignty.


Some Mexican American leaders, for their part, fear the balloting will trigger criticism that their community has divided loyalties. But in reality there are two distinct communities here -- Mexican Americans and Mexicans.

The pilgrimage of Mexican politicians seeking favor from expatriates is a time-honored tradition that began in 1853, when Benito Juarez and other exiled Mexican liberals met in New Orleans to plan the ouster of Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. In 1928, dissident presidential candidate Jose Vasconcelos made history campaigning in Los Angeles, coming back a year later to denounce the fraud that had deprived him of the presidency. In 2000, all three presidential candidates were able to campaign in the U.S.

If voting is a core right of citizenship, Mexico is correct to extend that right to its citizens abroad, and it needs to allow candidates seeking their votes to campaign here.