By Raisa Camargo, Voxxi
Stationing themselves in front of the White House and showcasing the green, white and red of their country’s flag, a group of Mexican nationals made it no secret who they support in Mexico’s July 1 presidential elections.
“It’s an honor to be with Obrador,”chanted a crowd of about 30 people behind Lafayette Park.
Supporters for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican presidential candidate of the left leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), said they want reform and it’s not going to come with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or the National Action Party (PAN).
There are an estimated 11.7 million Mexicans residing in the United States, according to the 2010 Census.
And while critics claim both the PAN and PRI parties are elitist, a growing discontent may be why it looks like more expatriates will be exercising their right to vote. Or want to, anyway. There is also a growing concern that the process that allows Mexicans abroad to vote in their national elections is intentionally difficult in order to discourage votes.
The Mexican Federal Registry of Voters (IFE) received more requests for absentee ballots from Mexicans living abroad for this election than it did in 2006, according to the Migration Policy Institute. An overwhelming majority of the absentee ballot requests, 45,555, have come from the United States. The second largest request, 2,156, came from Spain.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of change,” Juan Jose Gutierrez, the Mexican-born director of Latino Movement USA, told VOXXI. “It’s like Obrador says: ‘If they’re going to buy the vote, then they should grab the money’ because that is part of the political culture of Mexico. But we should vote for the change Lopez Obrador represents.”
Gutierrez along with fellow compatriots said they’re going to mobilize more support for Obrador from abroad as the Mexican presidential election nears. Obrador lost narrowly to President Felipe Calderon six years ago, but he claims the election was stolen.
Now, he’s running on a platform of reform. With more than 50,000 victims lost to the drug war, Obrador is promising to take the army off the streets in six months if he is elected president.
“I would not apply the strategy of Calderon. I would look at the causes. Violence in Mexico has its origins in the lack of development and corruption,” Obrador recently told the Washington Post.
Recent polls show Obrador lagging behind other presidential contenders such as Enrique Peña Nieto by as much 20 points, but supporters believe it’s a media stunt — a propaganda scheme that is controlled by the PRI.
Obrador is also a resonating welcome for those who are tired of the PRI that governed Mexico for over 70 years before former president Vicente Fox got elected in 2000.
Pedro Santini has lived in Washington D.C. for the past eight years. Originally from Ciudad Juarez, his concerns stem from Calderon’s aggressive tactics against the drug cartels. It has further ravaged cities such as Juarez he says.
Calderon is of the PAN.
“I’ve seen through my family’s pain, suffering…it’s just been appalling how families have been destroyed. There’s no way I’m going to vote for the PAN,” said Santini, while also expressing his distaste for the PRI choice.
“Gabriel Cuadri, who is another puppet for el vested gordillo, which represents one of the worst corruption in Mexico. It has to stop. There’s going to be hope. I don’t follow a certain party, but of all the candidates, I do believe Lopez Obrador is actually going to look out for the welfare of the entire people of Mexico,” Santini told VOXXI.
While in the past seven years, Mexico has made progress in improving its external voting process, there are still obstacles that hinder electoral participation by Mexicans living abroad.
Once the application is completed, the IFE sends a post electoral packet with information about the candidates and instructions to mail the absentee ballot. It must be received this year no later than June 30 to be counted.
In 2006, only 59 percent of those Mexican nationals abroad who are registered to vote cast absentee ballots. Together, Calderon and Obrador received 91 percent of those ballots in 2006; 58 percent went to the PAN candidate and 33 percent with a three-party leftist coalition that included the PRD.
Yet, the participation from abroad was significantly less than the Mexican government had expected, according to an analysis by MPI. During the presidential election of 2006, 41.8 million voted in Mexico compared to 32,632, or only one percent, of Mexicans living abroad.
“For 96 years, they have been violating the constitutional right we have as Mexicans to vote from abroad with all types of tricks. And it’s very insulting that Mexican government officials are telling us that we can vote from abroad, but that we have to register in Mexico and get our credentials over there,” Gutierrez said. “They know that there are millions of Mexican undocumented persons here.”
Some of the reasons that potentially influenced the lack of participation last time include the unfamiliarity with the application process, payment for certified postage, unwillingness to return to Mexico to obtain the required voting ID and a fear that U.S. authorities would intercept their mailing ballots to track them down.
For those who are certified to vote, there’s only hope that their ballots won’t be cast in vain. The younger voting age population is projected to have a significant impact this election with social media being key, says Americo Savinón, a graduate from Mexico’s Tech de Monterrey who now resides in D.C.
He came out to show support after informing himself of an incident last week in which a student at a prestigious Mexican university was forced to leave the school after he disagreed with a stance on the presidential election.
“Thanks to that, all this movement actually started everywhere. Actually the media, social media started tweeting, [posting on] Facebook about this. It was like, wow, if this happened in this Ivy League school down there, it’s definitely something we have to keep going and be a part of that movement,” Savinon told VOXXI.
Raisa Camargo is a staff writer at Voxxi.
This article first appeared in Voxxi.[Photo by Esparta]