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Mexican parties split on migration

Representatives debating in state

By Diane Lindquist
January 26, 2006

If a debate held in San Diego yesterday is any measure, migration to the United States is evolving as one of the most divisive issues in Mexico's presidential campaigns.

Representatives of the three major candidates sparred over their parties' views at an event organized by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce's Mexico Business Center.

The debate at San Diego's Westin Horton Plaza hotel was among five held this week in cities across California after the Jan. 18 official kickoff of the Mexican presidential campaign. The election is scheduled for July 2, and the new president will take office for a six-year term Dec. 1.

While each of the speakers vowed that his or her party's candidate would do the most to spur economic development and create jobs in Mexico so people wouldn't need to migrate to the United States to find work, they differed most in regard to treatment of the approximately 11 million undocumented Mexicans living in the United States.

Sen. Hector Osuna Jaime, representing the National Action Party, or PAN, said candidate Felipe Calderón, President Vicente Fox's former energy minister, would create a commission that would focus on bringing the migrants home.

Roberta Lajous, Mexico's former ambassador to Austria and Cuba and its former United Nations representative, said former Tabasco Gov. Roberto Madrazo, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, supports a guest-worker program that would allow migrants to work in the United States but return to Mexico to live.

"Keep engaged with Mexico. We need you," Lajous said.

Congressman Juan José GarcÃ*a Ochoa said former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate representing the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, favors establishing better dialogue with U.S. officials "to ensure human and labor rights" for migrants working in the United States.

The politicians agreed that tax, energy, labor and judicial reforms are needed in Mexico, but they differed on the forms the changes should take.

To solve the country's failure to collect enough taxes to sufficiently finance education, social welfare and public works projects, Osuna said the PAN favors a flat tax in which all taxpayers would be required to pay the same percentage of income to the government.

"We are totally against a flat tax," countered the PRI's Lajous. "You can't charge the same taxes to the rich and the poor."

GarcÃ*a said the PRD's solution is to improve tax collection. Only 20 percent of wage earners are paying taxes, he said.

"The most important reform would be to make people pay taxes in Mexico," GarcÃ*a said.

He discounted fears that the left-leaning López Obrador would follow the lead of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in taking a hard line against foreign investors, especially energy companies. Instead, said GarcÃ*a, waving a red notebook of policy positions, the PRD would encourage more private investment.

Osuna characterized López Obrador as a spendthrift, saying he "spent too much in Mexico City."

Lajous also criticized the former mayor, who has been ahead in the most recent polls.

"The administration of Mexico City has never been worse than under López Obrador," she said.

Ultimately, they blasted the ability of each other's candidate to govern the nation of 106 million.

Calderon would be successful in maintaining the PAN's hold on the presidency six years after it ended the PRI's 70-year control of Mexico, Osuna said, and would have more success than Fox in building a consensus in congress by gaining support for his programs among the people.

GarcÃ*a pointed to López Obrador's ability to work with other parties and the PRD's expanding power base as a result of local and state election victories.

"Madrazo knows how to buy political consensus, not build political consensus," he said.

Lajous argued that the PRI is the only party likely to win a majority in congress. She vowed that a PRI victory would not reintroduce the corruption, cronyism and strong-arm tactics that tainted the party's reputation.

"We learned our lesson," she said. "We will regain our position as the major political force in the country."

Staff writer Norma de la Vega contributed to this report.
Diane Lindquist: (619) 293-1812;