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July 1996, Volume 3, Number 7

Mexico: Voting Rights and Emigration

Voting Rights. In mid-June, Mexico's major political parties, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and the conservative National Action Party (PAN), agreed to permit Mexican citizens living outside the country to vote in the next Presidential election, scheduled for 2000. There are at least 7 million Mexican nationals living in the US, and Mexicans abroad are expected to cast 1 to 5 million votes--there were 35 million votes cast in the 1994 Mexican Presidential election.

It is not yet clear how Mexicans in the US would vote. US citizens abroad mail ballots to the US--some 2 million ballots were mailed to the US in 1992. However, Mexico's opposition parties oppose mail ballots, fearing fraud.

How would US citizens react to Mexican candidates campaigning for votes in California and other places where Mexican nationals live? Some fear that Mexican flags would increase anti-Mexican sentiment in the US.

Emigration. An analysis of Mexican data suggests that 55 percent of the Mexico-to-US migration between 1985 and 1990 was from an urban area of Mexico to an urban destination in the US.

The National Institute for Statistics, Geography and Information (INEGI) estimated that Mexico had 91.1 million residents in 1995, up 10 million since 1990.

Greater Mexico City, which includes 27 suburbs, was home to 16.4 million people - considerably fewer than previous estimates of 23 million residents.

Labor Market. Mexico's economy shrank one percent in the first quarter of 1996, less than the three percent projected. However, many small businesses are struggling because of debts that they assumed in the boom year of 1994, and their debts have increased in 1995 and 1996. Interest rates are 30 percent for mortgages, and 50 percent for credit card debt.

Mexico has 8 to 10 million workers in unions, but the most powerful union leader is Don Fidel Valazquez, leader of the three million strong CTM.

The NAFTA-created Commission on Labor Cooperation in Dallas released its annual report on labor markets in Canada, Mexico, and the US in May 1996, and reported that real wages fell since 1984 in all three countries. In Mexico, for example, real wages fell sharply between 1984 and 1988, then began to increase in the late 1980s, and were above 1984 levels in 1994. However, in 1995, real Mexican wages fell again, to five percent below their 1984 levels.

US real earnings were down eight percent between 1984 and 1995, and Canadian real earnings were unchanged.

Mexico has the smallest proportion of full-time employees among NAFTA countries--57 percent, versus 84 percent in Canada and 91 percent in the US. In the US, 57 percent of the women in the labor force worked full time, versus 49 percent of the women in Mexico, and 37 percent of the women in Canada.

Virtually all of the job growth between 1984 and 1995 in the US and Canada was in services, versus 81 percent of the job growth in Mexico.

Forbes Magazine published an upbeat story on "Maquiladora-ville," or Tijuana, on May 6, 1996, which asserted that Tijuana's population of 1.5 million is growing by seven percent or 105,000 per year as Mexicans flock to Tijuana for maquiladora jobs. Forbes reported that many maquiladora workers live in shanty towns without running water, and that absenteeism and turnover are problems for factory managers.

As of April 1996, 701,141 Mexicans were employed in maquiladoras, up 13 percent over April 1995.

Grupo Beta. Mexico has special police units known as Grupo Alpha, Beta etc whose purpose is to prevent crimes being committed against aliens seeking to leave Mexico for the US. In June, 1996, Mexico announced the formation of a 20 to 30 person Grupo Beta Sur, an independent police force in the southern state of Chiapas.

Mexico has criticized the US for videotaped beatings of illegal Mexican immigrants, but President Zedillo reportedly asserted that he fears "that one day they will make a video . . . of what happens when some of our Central American brothers are intercepted by Mexican authorities." Many of the smugglers who charge $1,000 each to smuggle Central Americans through Mexico and into the US are linked to criminal gangs.

Mexico has been returning to Guatemala about 350 Central Americans daily. Mexico's National Migration Institute reported that 105,063 foreigners were deported from Mexico in 1995, including 575 from India and 184 from China.

The fifth year of drought in Mexico may be increasing emigration pressure in Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Leon. Many farmers have sold cattle rather than feed them--contributing to lower US beef prices--and fewer acres of corn were planted because of the lack of water, increasing Mexican corn imports.

There were widespread rumors in June of a possible coup against President Zedillo sometime after December 1, 1996. Under Mexican law, after a president has served at least two years of a six-year term, he can be replaced by a person from the ruling party. Reportedly, powerful PRI functionaries fear that continuing social chaos and a still stagnant economy will cause the PRI to lose badly in 1997 mid-term elections and would like to find a more attractive candidate to lead their party.

Colin McMahon, "Mexico acts to solve its own border woes," Chicago Tribune, June 4, 1996. "Cotija Workers Leave Mexico in Search of Work," All Things Considered (NPR) May 30, 1996. Tim Shorrock, "Drop seen in real wages in all three NAFTA countries," Journal of Commerce, May 29, 1996. David R. Ayon, " Democratization Imperils US Latino Empowerment," Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1996. Bradford De Long, Christopher De Long, and Sherman Robinson, " The Case for Mexico's Rescue," Foreign Affairs, May, 1996 /June, 1996.