Liberation Road

Tres por Uno: When Equal Becomes Unequal

The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project

September 15, 2021/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

People who migrate to the United States leave their family, friends, and neighbors in the little villages where they grew up. But they don’t really leave them behind. They take them along in their hearts. They’re leaving, after all, to make enough money to send home not just for their parents and siblings, but for improvements to the villages themselves.

Back in 2002, PAN President Vicente Fox took note of this desire to contribute and came up with a clever way to maximize remittances — and gain control over them to PAN’s advantage. His Tres por Uno program, also known as “3 x 1,” invited emigrants to propose village improvement projects, raise a third of the money, and then — if that money gets raised and the project gets accepted — the federal and state government would each put in another third. To many Mexicans in the US, this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to multiply their dollars. The program raised over $35 million a year between 2012 and 2015.

But the PAN and PRI governments, while matching the funds, didn’t come close to matching the generosity and good intentions of Mexicanos in the US. Tres por Uno did not deliver rational community development plans based on careful assessments of what projects were needed where. Instead, in effect, the program privatized public works. Only villages that had US-based clubs fundraising for them ended up getting support. And the clubs, once they sent in their money, had no say on project management, and that left the pols free to line their pals’ pockets. The program also helped the PAN politically. The clubs became dependent on PAN governors and curried their favor to get their projects approved.

Even given all these realities, as Valentin Ramirez discusses in our interview this week, convincing some clubs that the PAN and its Tres por Uno haven’t had their best interests in mind, can be difficult. Club leaders can see that their dollars did produce some improvements, and they take pride in that. 

Today’s PAN, like the US Republican Party, is careening ever further to the right. Last week, party leaders even expressed open admiration for Spanish dictator Franco’s fascist politics. The PAN promises only greater inequality for México. If Mexicanos want to improve their beloved hometowns, their concern must not stop at the village line. They can work to ensure prosperity for all Mexicans and reject the PAN agenda, so no one will be left behind.

Valentin Ramirez left México in his teens after the maquila he worked for shut down without telling the workers — or paying their last wages. Ramirez has been working the past 30 years in San Diego’s hotel industry, but spending most of his energy on organizing other Mexicanos. His goal: to sharpen the political consciousness of his fellow migrants.

What changes have you seen since coming to San Diego?

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