Sounds like voter spirit in Mexico

Times Staff Writer

There's no guarantee that future elections here will offer up any first-rate political candidates. But at least the victory-party bands may sound a lot hipper.

Hoping to inspire apathetic young Mexicans to cast ballots in the July 2 presidential election, a newly formed group modeled on the U.S. Rock the Vote campaign is enlisting rock and pop music stars, actors, soccer players and other celebrities to drum up new voters. Already some of Mexico's best-known musical acts have signed up to take part in consciousness-raising concerts, television announcements and other events, including Meme of Cafe Tacuba, Julieta Venegas, Ely Guerra and members of the groups Fobia and Molotov.

Whether they can arouse the passions of Mexico's many disaffected young citizens is another question. There are 27 million people ages 18 to 34 in Mexico's population of 106 million. But in 2003 midterm elections, an estimated 70% of these people didn't bother to show up at the polls.

"There is an enormous disenchantment among young people, and at times justified, with the candidates, but also in a broader sense with the political life, that is year after year one scandal and incident of corruption after another," says Armando David Ortigosa, president of the new organization, Tu Rock Es Votar.

The low voter turnout among young people has confounded predictions that Mexico's ossified political system would begin to open up and attract new participants after the election of President Vicente Fox in 2000. Fox's victory ended what effectively had been more than seven decades of single-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Recent public opinion polls indicate that this year's three presidential candidates are separated by only a handful of points and that all three have a chance of winning the election.

But widespread apathy persists among young potential voters, many of whom feel their participation in politics won't alter a system they view as tainted for decades by cronyism, bribery, voter intimidation and worse. Furthermore, says political analyst Jose Antonio Crespo, Mexican civic education poorly prepares young people to become politically active.

Tu Rock Es Votar could be a way of reaching some of these alienated citizens, Crespo thinks, though probably not many. "Of course it's going to help some young people go to vote, but really it will be marginal, very few."

Cynicism about politics is so engrained among Mexicans that it's practically part of the nation's social heritage. "All the generations of our parents were accustomed to this, so many of us grew up with the idea that going to vote was basically a waste of time," says Fobia guitarist Paco Huidobro.

Though Tu Rock Es Votar (literally, "Your Rock Is to Vote") was inspired by Rock the Vote, it is not directly related to the older U.S. organization. But Ortigosa says that his group met with officials and has received organizational advice from the Rock the Vote Foundation. The U.S. Rock the Vote campaign was started by recording industry members and may have gained its greatest recognition during the 2004 presidential contest.

Ortigosa says the idea for Tu Rock Es Votar was launched last summer when he was drinking beer and talking with his longtime friend Andres Rivera Pesquera, now the campaign's media director. Like its U.S. counterpart, the Mexican organization describes itself as politically nonpartisan.

Concerts, movie screenings, workshops and other events already are planned in the regional cities of Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Tuxtla Gutierrez and Merida, concluding with a massive July 1 concert and rally in Mexico City, one day before the election.

"It's like a shout of hope of the young people," says Ortigosa, "to allow the young people to say, 'We are here! We are the young!' "

Times researcher Cecilia Sanchez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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