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Revolution of Words : Oxnard Activists Drive Home View That Mexican Presidential Election Was Stolen

November 17, 1988|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 5 months after Mexico voted in a new president, a group of Mexican citizens and Mexican-Americans living in Oxnard continues to protest the outcome of the election, which the country's opposition parties believe was rigged.

Through announcements on a local Spanish-language radio station, petition drives and local political rallies featuring Mexican politicians, the group drives home its view that the election was stolen from the most popular opposition candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas.

"Sometimes we feel hatred for Mexico, but this isn't right," Ines Solis, 36, the founder of Oxnard's Committee in Support of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, said at a rally Sunday. "We should hate these unpatriotic people who contradict the law and the constitution to rob power from us."

Conducted in Spanish at Oxnard's Del Sol Park, the rally drew about 150 people, who listened to speeches by organizers of similar Southern California groups, as well as a member of Mexico's Chamber of Deputies--the equivalent of a U.S. Congressman.

Organizers said the gathering was an example of lingering resentment for the Mexican ruling party, the PRI, or Partido Revolucionario Institucional , whose presidential candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, will be inaugurated next month.

The crowd, which dwindled to about 50 as the cold, rainy afternoon wore on, heard speaker after speaker urge pressure for change in the country they left behind.

"Viva Mexico! Viva Cuauhtemoc Cardenas!" they yelled.

To one side, a Los Angeles-based organizer gathered a circle of young men whose eyes grew wide as he rambled on about the possibility of distracting the police in Mexican state capitals in order to seize the cities' central plazas.

But for the most part, talk centered on what one organizer called "a revolution of words," with participants urged to sign petitions and attend future rallies in front of the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles.

"We feel cheated," explained Jose Solis, 40, a former PRI official who has organized the Oxnard committee with his brother, Ines Solis, who runs a labor contracting firm in East Oxnard. "We're trying to show the PRI that it's not going to be so easy to ignore the will of the people."

The Oxnard committee is believed to be one of the larger groups among 20 groups from San Jose to Riverside that constitute a loose coalition called the Mexican Democratic Assembly.

The groups were organized in anticipation of fraud in the July national elections, and they gained momentum when political parties on the right and left later disputed election results, which gave Cardenas 31% of the vote to Salinas' 50%.

Organizers think that interest is high in Oxnard because of the city's large population of Mexican immigrants from the state of Michoacan, where Cardenas, a 54-year-old engineer, served as governor until 1986.

Cardenas--whose first name comes from that of an Aztec warrior who died fighting Spanish conquerors--also has far-reaching appeal in Mexico. His father was one of Mexico's most popular presidents, Lazaro Cardenas, who in the 1930s distributed land to peasants and nationalized the oil industry.

"We have confidence in him because of his father," explained Margarita Terro, 38, an Oxnard factory worker who attended the rally with her young son. "We think he can do the same things."

Protests Unusual

Raul Ruiz, a professor of Chicano studies at Cal State Northridge, said protests are unusual for a people who usually feel powerless to change their country's power structure.

"This is the first time that the expatriate population has taken an interest in Mexican politics," Ruiz said. "Everyone used to take for granted that change was impossible with the PRI. But when Cardenas surfaced as a strong candidate, a lot of people got interested. He represents a real potential for change in the way Mexico governs itself."

The PRI has dominated Mexican politics for 59 years, with each president handpicking his successor. Resentment has heightened under the administration of outgoing President Miguel de la Madrid, whose attempts to repay Mexico's overwhelming national debt have escalated unemployment, inflation and long-simmering resentments, Ruiz said.

"The poor really never had a chance of improving their lot, but the middle class really can't make it anymore," Ruiz said. "All of a sudden, the bottom fell out for them too."

Continued Monitoring

Although the organizers of these California-based groups hold no hope of blocking the Dec. 1 inauguration of Salinas, they plan to continue monitoring the PRI. And they hope eventually to take on other expatriate causes, such as the treatment they receive from Mexican border officials, said Samuel Orozco, a production coordinator for a Fresno radio station who organized one of the first pro-Cardenas groups in California.

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