Mexican government officials used a meeting of local immigrant activists to push for more private-sector investment in Zacatecas, saying that would help reduce emigration from the impoverished region.
The immigrants belong to Zacatecas clubs, which raise money to improve the Mexican state. The clubs have raised $6 million in the last three years for public works projects. But Mexican officials say investing in infrastructure alone won't solve Zacatecas' problems.
"If we build roads, we can't stop the emigration," said Victor Robert Infante Gonzalez, a federal legislator who was one of 500 people attending the third Zacatecas convention in Garden Grove. "Our people need employment. They need a reason not to leave Zacatecas."
Zacatecas sends a higher percentage of its population, 50%, to the United States than any Mexican state. Los Angeles has more Zacatecans than any metropolitan area in the world. Immigrants send an estimated $1.3 million to family members in Zacatecas every day. If they didn't, officials say, the state's economy would collapse.
The immigrants' role is so important that Zacatecas Gov. Ricardo Monreal, who is expected to vie for Mexico's presidency in 2006, will address the group when the convention continues today.
Club members, however, focused on problems with the public works projects they fund, which they say need greater oversight by the Zacatecas government.
"We had to go and supervise the works ourselves because the state is not," said Guadalupe Gomez, a Santa Ana accountant who oversees a federation of 55 clubs that has donated to 180 projects.
Efrain Jimenez, a Southern California federation leader, said a Norwalk-based club stopped fund-raising after donating $300,000 for a 1.5-mile road that deteriorated severely last year.
Estella Valencia, a San Jose-based club member, said her club donated $64,000 for a 1.8-mile road, only to be told later that the money would pay for a 1.2-mile road. She pressed until 1.8 miles were built. "Everyone kept passing the ball when we called to find out," Valencia said. "It took a trip to Zacatecas to find out how the project was going."
Club members said local and state governments, which receive 3% of a project's total cost for oversight, should do their job or give 1% to the clubs for travel costs. The clubs would name local residents to committees that would provide daily oversight. Participants also proposed a Web site to show the progress on projects.