The Mexican flag flies over Tijuana, near the U.S.-Mexico border. / Image via Shutterstock

The Mexican June 2024 election season has not formally opened, but the talk in Baja California these days seems to be all about politics. Mexicans are preparing to choose a new president. They’ll also replace the 500-member chamber of deputies and 128-member senate. 

And there’s more: Some three million registered voters in Baja California will be choosing local and state leaders. They’ll be voting for mayors for the state’s seven new municipalities – including the two newest, San Felipe and San Quintin. And they will choose new state legislators.

Last week, in Tijuana’s Rio Zone, I watched members of a recently formed group, Consejo Ciudadano Independiente – Independent Citizens Council – step out of a morning meeting at a popular restaurant. I listened as an architect, a university professor, and a restaurateur told me about the need for greater citizen participation as Mexico gears up for the elections. 

The nonpartisan group wants to offer voters more choices. While they are not openly challenging President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s left-of-center MORENA coalition, their aim is to identify potential candidates that could win the support of opposition parties and independent voters. 

Tijuana badly needs new contenders, said Flavio Olivieri, one of Consejo’s founding members and a university professor. But under the traditional candidate selection processes, outside candidates stood little chance of being considered by the political parties. That is changing. 

“What we’re trying to do is help citizens get noticed. The opposition parties have said publicly that they are very willing to consider candidates from the community,” Olivieri said.

The Consejo is creating a digital platform, open to any Mexican citizen in Baja California interested in holding elected office. The group will vet the applicant’s qualifications, and pass on the information to the opposition parties, who have said they would be open to supporting candidates who are not party members. 

Decreasing voter turnout: Baja California is a state that once boasted some of the country’s highest voter turnouts. In 1989, it won a place in modern Mexican history by electing Mexico’s first opposition governor, Ernesto Ruffo of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), breaking decades of dominance by the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI. 

But those record-breaking participation numbers have plummeted over the years. In the state’s 2021 elections, Baja California, only 38 percent of voters cast ballots, the lowest of any state in Mexico. 

And that is where the Consejo members hope to make a difference. 

“We were seeing a lot of neglect in terms of our governance, our constitution was being ignored, institutions were being trampled,” said Marco Antonio Franco, a Tijuana architect and the group’s coordinator. The political parties, “were giving us a lot of candidates who had already been proposed and hadn’t delivered strong performance.”

While the once-dominant PRI and PAN parties are a shadow of what they once were, MORENO is not only dominant nationally, but also here at the California border. In Baja California, the governor and all five elected mayors are party members. MORENA members also form the majority of the state’s 25-member legislative branch, the Congreso. 

Still, unity has been increasingly elusive. MORENA has shown internal divisions, with numerous power struggles that have played out in the public eye. Meanwhile, the state’s most daunting issues –violence, looming water shortages, a desperate need for public transportation in Tijuana – remain unsolved.

Corcholatas and Opposition Contenders

A campaign sign for Claudia Scheinbaum, a presidential hopeful from President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's MORENA Party, is painted on the side of a building off of Tijuana's Diaz Ordaz Boulevard. Though the campaign season for Mexico's June 2024 election won't officially open until September, campaign signs for presidential contenders are starting to appear in Tijuana.
A campaign sign for Claudia Sheinbaum, a presidential hopeful from President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s MORENA Party, is painted on the side of a building off of Tijuana’s Diaz Ordaz Boulevard. Though the campaign season for Mexico’s June 2024 election won’t officially open until September, campaign signs for presidential contenders are starting to appear in Tijuana. / Photo by Sandra Dibble

On the presidential front, there has been no lack of contenders showing up in Baja California in recent days. Their names are popping up – on the sides of walls and buildings, in the back of taxis, on giant billboards that rise above the toll road to Ensenada.

Most  of these potential candidates are allied with Mexico’s president and his MORENA Party, which will choose among a group of six, collectively known as corcholatas, or bottle tops. The three top contenders have all made public appearances in Tijuana in recent weeks. 

The first corcholata to visit Tijuana was former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, who led an outdoor “informational assembly” in downtown Tijuana in June, where she was pictured with female supporters from indigenous groups. 

She was followed a week later by former Mexican interior minister Adan Augusto Lopez, who met with migrants by the U.S.-Mexico border wall and found support from bus and taxi drivers. On Friday, former foreign secretary Marcelo Ebrard met with hundreds of Tijuana maquiladora workers and presented his “Plan Angel” security plan for Mexico.

In the meantime, potential opposition presidential candidates are also starting to show up. On Friday Santiago Creel, a member of the PAN and head of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies, met with merchants at the Tijuana Chamber of Commerce.

Creel is one of 13 presidential hopefuls vying for the nomination of a coalition of opposition political parties and allied citizens groups called Frente Amplio Por Mexico

The emergence of an unexpected opposition contender – a PAN Senator of indigenous descent from the state of Hidalgo, Xochitl Galvez – has been winning widespread attention all across Mexico and brought fresh energy to the opposition. Polls are showing her ahead of Creel and other opposition candidates. 

If her popularity remains high, Galvez could be here next month. The Frente has scheduled a forum in Tijuana with the three top opposition contenders on Aug. 17. 

In Other News

  • Tijuana water: The Associated Press took a look at Tijuana’s need for more water resources. The city gets 90 percent of its supply from the Colorado River. The article concluded that despite promises from government officials to diversify the city’s water supply with treated wastewater and desalinated ocean water, “the city has little to show for it.”
  • Trans asylum seekers: The San Diego Union-Tribune looked at some transgender women asylum applicants from Mexico and Central America, following their path from Tijuana to New York City in a video and news article. 
  • Long arm of the law: Juan Francisco Sillas Rocha, identified as a onetime lieutenant for the Arellano Felix Organization – and arrested in Tijuana in 2011 – pleaded guilty to three charges in U.S. federal court in Fargo,  North Dakota and faces life in prison and millions of dollars in fines. The case dates back to a 2004 investigation into local drug dealers in Fargo. After 11 years of litigation in Mexico, Sillas was extradited to the United States last September.
  • Immigration detainees: Though the Biden administration guidelines promise detained migrants access to legal counsel, the American Bar Administration’s Immigrant Justice Project says the detainees are sometimes allotted a single phone call and forced “to choose between calling family, sponsors in the U.S. or legal counsel” at a U.S. Border Patrol holding facility in San Diego County, inewsource reports.
  • Little League champions: Tijuana’s little league all-star baseball team will represent Mexico in the Little League World Series, KPBS reports. 
  • Haitian success story: Seven years after he arrived in Tijuana, a Haitian migrant is working as an attorney in the city and advising his countrymen on the U.S. asylum process. Dales Louissaint, 31,  has been the subject of a flurry of news reports following his graduation from the Autonomous University of Baja California. He told the newspaper Excelsior that he was initially rejected for admission to the public university because he did not speak Spanish well enough. 

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