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Groups ask Mexicans to boycott U.S. firms on May 1

Saturday, April 15, 2006

MEXICO CITY -- "Nothing gringo," warns the rallying cry of Mexican activists calling for a boycott of all U.S. businesses south of the border on May 1.

The campaign, aimed at pressuring Congress to legalize undocumented migrants, was timed to coincide with "The Great American Boycott," in which activists are urging migrants in the United States to skip work and avoid spending money to demonstrate their importance to the U.S. economy.

The Mexican boycott was being promoted on Web sites and through e-email messages, one of which warns that "people shouldn't buy anything from the interminable list of American businesses in Mexico."

"That means no Dunkin' Donuts, no McDonald's, Burger King, Starbucks, Sears, Krispy Kreme or Wal-Mart," the message said.

Promoted by some of the same groups that organized massive immigrant marches across the United States, the protest -- also dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants" -- comes as Congress debates immigration bills proposing everything from toughened border security to the legalization of all 11 million undocumented migrants in America.

Mexican unions, political and community groups, newspaper columnists and even some Mexican government offices have joined the call for a parallel boycott of U.S. businesses in Mexico. For some it's a way to express anti-U.S. sentiment, while others see it as part of a cross-border, Mexican-power lobby.

Advocates occasionally missed their mark in identifying boycott targets. For example, they incorrectly identified Sears stores in Mexico as American owned even though Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has owned Sears Mexico operation since 1997.

And in an ironic twist, the protest targets the U.S. business community -- one of the strongest supporters of legalization or guest-worker programs.

"Boycotting would only hurt corporations that are backing what people want done in the immigration bill," said Larry Rubin, chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico.

In place of a boycott, Rubin encouraged Mexicans who have relatives in the United States to urge family members to write to their lawmakers in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

Some organizers of the U.S. rallies have told people not to risk their jobs or education after some workers and students were fired or cited for truancy. But many others say marchers want to make the sacrifice to show the importance of immigration reform.

Roberto Vigil, who works in the Mexico City office of the California-based immigrants rights group Hermandad Mexicana, said his group has asked some of Mexico's largest labor unions to back the protest in Mexico.

The president of the Phoenix-based Immigrants Without Borders, Elias Bermudez, also actively promoted the boycott in interviews with Mexican radio and television stations.

Mexican groups were responding.

Pablo Gonzalez, spokesman for one of Mexico's largest labor unions, the Federation of Revolutionary Workers and Farmers, said his organization will support a boycott against "at least four of the most important U.S. firms, among them Wal-Mart," Mexico's largest retailer.

Two other major labor groups -- the telephone workers' and auto workers' unions -- also were expected to join, Vigil said.

Even parts of the Mexican government have signed on to the protest.

"We are not going to be buying any products from the United States on May 1," said Lolita Parkinson, national coordinator for the National Board of State Offices on Attention for Migrants, which represents state government-run migrant aid offices.

For some, the boycott was fueled not just by debate on the immigration bill, but by long-standing resentment over the perceived mistreatment of Mexicans in the United States.

"We want to show the power we have as Mexicans," said Carlos Chavez y Pacho, vice president of the chamber of commerce in Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas. Chavez y Pacho is also urging Mexicans not to shop in U.S. border cities on May 1, in part to protest what he calls arrogant behavior by U.S. customs officials and border officers.

Rafael Ruiz Harrell, who writes a column in the Mexico City newspaper Metro, predicted the boycott could give rise to a broader, pan-Latino movement.

"If we could get all of Latin America, for one day, to leave the U.S. firms without customers, we would be sending the kind of clear message they seem incapable of understanding," he wrote.


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