July 2, 2006

Expatriate Mexicans pour over border to vote

By Magdiel Hernandez

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (Reuters) - Thousands of expatriate
Mexicans streamed south of the U.S. border on Sunday to vote in
their homeland in a tight race with high stakes for crime-weary
border residents.

A large stream of U.S.-based Mexicans trekked on foot and
piled into cars to vote in a string of gritty border towns from
Tijuana in the west to Nuevo Laredo below Texas.

Electoral authorities were taken by surprise at the number
of expatriates who showed up.

"It's a very close-fought race ... and if we don't vote, we
can't hope to decide the outcome," said Luis Tovar, 28, a
shipping agent who drove from San Antonio, Texas, to vote in
Nuevo Laredo, just over the Rio Grande.

Many waited for hours in the sweltering heat to cast their
ballots in a fight between leftist front runner Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador and conservative rival Felipe Calderon. The
leftist had a lead of just two points in opinion polls after a
campaign fought over job creation, the economy and graft.

Only 40,000 of an estimated 6 million to 7 million Mexicans
of voting age in the United States registered to vote by mail
mostly because the paperwork was difficult.

In Nuevo Laredo, around 1,000 people lined up to cast their
ballots at two voting stations specially set up accommodate

In Tijuana, south of San Diego, authorities were swamped by
more than 1,000 voters who waited for more than four hours at
polling centers across the city, many of them pledging support
for Lopez Obrador.

"I'm prepared to wait in line for 10 hours if I have to,"
said Enedina Trujillo, 32, a Wal-Mart cashier from San Diego as
she prepared to vote for the leftist.

"(We need) to get these bandits out of power," she said,
referring to Calderon's ruling National Action Party.

While the candidates have campaigned on economic growth and
corruption, expatriates said they were more concerned about
rampant drug crime on the border and migrant welfare.

"Anywhere you go on the border... there's violence,
insecurity and robberies, and it's a big challenge for whoever
gets to run the country," said well-known singer Alicia
Villarreal, from Odessa, Texas as she waited to vote in Nuevo

Hundreds of people have been shot, stabbed and beaten to
death on the Mexican side of the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border
since January in a turf war between cartels battling for
control of the drug trade to the United States.

Handyman Maurileo Salcido, 40, crossed to Tijuana from San
Diego, California, to vote in an election in which emigration
to the United States has been a campaign issue.

"I'm going to vote for Lopez Obrador. Let's see if he can
deliver the job opportunities (at home) so that Mexicans don't
have to leave the country," he said.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana)