Tucson Citizen
Friday, October 28, 2005

Mexico paying ex-braceros $3,500 apiece; activists angry

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY - After decades of waiting and years of protests, former "bracero" guest workers who labored in the United States between the 1942 and 1964 will get a one-time payment of about 38,000 pesos, equivalent to about $3,500, the government announced yesterday.

The payment was described as "insulting" by activists who mounted a yearslong campaign on behalf of the aging former workers, some of whom had pension funds deducted from their paychecks but never saw the money.

"This is very little, it's insulting that they are offering so little," said Rafael Garcia, a member of Braceroproa, a group that pressed the workers' demands. "We have always said the payment should be 100,000 pesos ($9,175), and not one peso less."

Earlier this year, Mexico's Congress approved a $27 million fund to partially compensate the bracero workers.

While the approval was viewed as a step forward, activists complained that the rules governing the fund will block payments to many who should receive them.

Activists and the increasingly elderly former workers have held protests, even briefly seizing the ranch of President Vicente Fox's family in the central state of Guanajuato, to demand compensation.

Yesterday, the Interior Ministry announced the ground rules and amount of the payments.

Offices will be set up in many of Mexico's 31 states to process claims.

Each former worker will have up to four months to claim the one-time payment by submitting pay stubs, work visas, labor contracts or other supporting documents.

Surviving spouses or children can collect the payment for former workers who have died by presenting such documents.

Priority will be given to the oldest workers and to those who worked in the United States between 1942 and 1946.

The compensation movement was originally designed for migrants who participated in the guest-worker program between 1942 and 1949.

About 10 percent of that group's paychecks were withheld for savings and pension funds that were supposed to be paid in Mexico, as an incentive for migrants to return home. The money disappeared, and a government investigation found no trace of it.

The compensation fund was subsequently expanded to include all those who worked under the program, which ran out in 1964.

The bracero program brought Mexicans to the United States as temporary workers - largely in agriculture - to fill a labor shortage.