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Published: Monday, 9/3/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

Groups plan to communicate concerns to visiting presidents

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, with Baldemar Velasquez, says the visiting dignitaries must be challenged. She and local groups gathered to outline a plan of action. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, with Baldemar Velasquez, says the visiting dignitaries must be challenged. She and local groups gathered to outline a plan of action.
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Local Hispanic, labor, and political leaders want to make sure a warm welcome awaits President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox when the two visit Toledo Thursday.

Warm, as in holding the politicians' “feet to the fire” on pronouncements or promises, said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who represents the city in Congress.

She and a dozen leaders of local groups gathered in International Park yesterday to outline plans to highlight, in the days leading up to the presidential visit, the conditions of Mexican workers and job losses caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Miss Kaptur has remained one of the most vocal opponents of NAFTA since it was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton during his first term.

“We just don't want this just to be a photo op here in Toledo,” Miss Kaptur said, “when the international trade issues are life and death across our continent.”

She said the two leaders should seek a continental minimum wage and continental labor standards that would span international borders and protect workers no matter where they lived.

“We want them to come to Toledo and roll up their sleeves and walk with us through the factories,” she said. “We also challenge them to look not just at what benefits corporations, but what benefits individuals.”

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner hopes for a different type of warm welcome.

He discounted the likelihood that previsit press conferences will alter presidential policies, and said he hopes city residents respond enthusiastically to the visiting dignitaries.

“I would just encourage us to remember they are not coming here to hear us convey a message to them. In all reality, that is not going to happen,” he said.

“When they return to Washington, D.C., I want them to be overwhelmed with the hospitality they experienced in our city,” the mayor said.

President Fox's trip occurs as President Bush is poised to ask Congress this fall for wide latitude in negotiating an expanded NAFTA-like trade agreement that would cover the entire Western Hemisphere.

President Fox will arrive in Washington Wednesday for a three-day visit.

He will be the guest of honor at a state dinner - the first since Mr. Bush took office in January - Wednesday night at the White House, and will address a rare joint session of Congress Thursday morning before flying with his host to Toledo that afternoon.

The two presidents will speak to students and residents at Savage Hall on the University of Toledo campus, and will then travel across town to the Aurora Gonzalez Community and Family Resource Center on South Avenue, where they will meet local residents and discuss the center's role in the community.

A White House spokesman said that Toledo was chosen because of its growing Latino population and because of its location near Midwestern industrial and agricultural centers.

Information about tickets for the UT event has not yet been released.

They will return to Washington Thursday evening, where Mr. Fox will host President Bush for a dinner at Blair House, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

Miss Kaptur, a Democrat, said yesterday she will attend Mr. Fox's speech on Capitol Hill, but is unsure whether she will be able to get back to Toledo that afternoon.

Community leaders have scheduled a series of events through the week to highlight issues related to the presidential visit, including:

  • A Labor Day press conference featuring Steve Yokich, president of the United Auto Workers, who will discuss the effect of NAFTA on U.S. workers.

    The meeting will be held downtown at 8:30 this morning, just before the holiday parade.

  • An education press conference, featuring state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), a former school teacher, who will discuss how state and federal funding for schools affects Latino students.

    The 10 a.m. event is scheduled for Libbey High School on Western Avenue.

  • A Latino press conference Wednesday to discuss “real people with real stories” about work as migrant field workers, led by Baldemar Velasquez, founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, based in Toledo.

    That meeting is set for 11 a.m.

    Mr. Velasquez said he plans to take between 400 to 500 migrant workers from the area to see President Fox.

    He said he hopes there will be an opportunity to address issues such as immigration and education.

    Some Mexican-American leaders are ambivalent about the visit and the attention it will draw.

    “I really have mixed feelings about [the visit],” Toledo Councilman Louis Escobar said. “On one hand, I feel honored that Toledo will be hosting two heads of state. This is truly a nice recognition for our community.” But, he added, “we don't want to be used.”

    Lisa Canales-Flores, a member of the Washington Local school board, said she understands the euphoria among local Mexican-Americans about the visit, but believes such an event should have a greater community impact.

    “On a personal note, I'm extremely excited about the visit,” Ms. Canales-Flores said. “For the president of Mexico to visit here is really historic. We really support all the things he's done in Mexico and he's really worked to make a difference.”

    Staff writer Clyde Hughes contributed to this story



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