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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Mexican migrants force political change
Migrant workers
There are 25 million Mexicans in the US
A Mexican entrepreneur who made his fortune in California has paved the way for some of the 25 million migrants to have a much greater say in the way their country is run.

Andres Bermudez triggered a campaign to allow migrants to seek office in Mexico after he was banned from becoming the mayor of Jerez in the state of Zacatecas - despite winning the election for the post.

Federal officials ruled that Mr Bermudez could not take office as he had spent too much time in the US the previous year. Although Mr Bermudez has since quit politics, Zacatecas has now approved the change in the law allowing migrants to run for office regardless of whether they live in the US or Mexico.

"It was a role that fell upon [Mr Bermudez], and he became a symbol - but eventually the symbol became bigger than him," said Professor Miguel di Suma, who led the campaign to revise the law.

He told BBC World Service's Living Beneath America programme: "There were problems because he didn't fit the standard of a good, clean politician.

"But what's clear is that when they're properly organised, the migrants will be an unstoppable power."

Provocative campaign

Mr Bermudez became the first naturalised US citizen to win an election in Mexico when he stood for the Jerez post in 2001.

Crucially, he did it by openly campaigning on his American credentials.

Bermudez made his cash through tomatoes
Having made his fortune after inventing a more productive way of harvesting tomatoes - for which he became known as "el Rey del Tomate", the Tomato King - Mr Bermudez became a symbol of political change, stressing his ideas of streamlined professional government that he had picked up in California.

"It was very provocative, because he said very loud: 'I've come to help, I can make a different government for the people, I'm not a corruption man'," said Rodolfo Garcia, a professor at the University of Zacatecas.

"He said he wanted local government with responsibility, accountability, and security, like in the US, for all the people."

Mr Bermudez represented the experience of many migrants, who said that local government worked in the United States but not in Mexico.

Professor Garcia contended that Mr Bermudez's campaign had left a number of local Mexican politicians frightened.

"All the political parties were in panic because they said if Andres is right for the municipality, in the next years more of the municipalities are going to be in the hands of migrants - so we are going to lose control of the state," he stated.

But Mr Bermudez' triumph was short-lived, as federal officials ruled he had not spent enough time in Mexico the previous year to be eligible for office.

He returned to the US, vowing never to go into Mexican politics again.

But two years later, Zacatecas has now changed its own law - and migrants will be able to take political office in the state.

'Breaking the mould'

Many feel Mr Bermudez has blazed a trail for others - and this could have massive implications for Mexican politics.

"What the migrants in the United States represent is a completely new experience, because they are a combination of two cultures - Mexican and American," Professor di Suma said.

US President Bush and Mexico President Fox
The government of President Fox (right) is cautiously embracing migrants
"The Mexican culture means they keep strong links with their communities of origin, and organise themselves in groups.

"The American culture means they know they can go to the government and make demands - they know that's their right, they're not asking for favours.

"So they're breaking the mould of Mexican politics."

However, for migrants to have a real impact it would seem the change to the law that Zacatecas has made would have to be implemented at national level.

And government officials have played down the potential role of migrants.

"I wouldn't say that they're necessarily the main element for political change," one government official told Living Beneath America.

"Obviously they have an influence because of their experience abroad, but this is a global phenomenon now.

"Information is much cheaper and more accessible, so anyone can find out about democratic practices in other countries."

He refuted any suggestion that the Mexican Government was afraid of the migrants.

"Any political system should strive to represent all the different political views if it is to be considered a democratic system, so there's no such fear.

"The government and all the parties share the objective of full rights for migrants, but we need to move cautiously towards that goal."

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