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Winning isn’t everything

Talia Whyte

This is a fact: Róger Calero has absolutely no chance to become president of the United States.
He is still running nevertheless, and while his campaign has not triggered a single blip on the national political radar, his lack of name recognition is not the real reason his campaign is doomed from the start.

Some of his choices haven’t helped his political career, but none of them, really, are blocking his entrance to the Oval Office either. During his high school days, for instance, he sold marijuana to an undercover Los Angeles police officer and, according to a 2002 article by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Calero “agreed to a plea bargain and received a suspended 60-day sentence with three year’s probation and a $50 fine.”

And his decision to run as the nominee of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is not — at least in theory — a deathblow to his presidential aspirations, even though the far-left party’s designated standard-bearer hasn’t earned more than 41,000 counted votes in a presidential election in over three decades.

No, the real reason that Róger Calero, 38, has absolutely no chance to become president of the United States is because he wasn’t born in this country, and according to Article 1, Section 1, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution, “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

So why is this Nicaraguan native — whose campaign bio says he has lived in the U.S. since his family moved to L.A. in 1985, and who, according to multiple published reports, has been a permanent resident alien since 1990 — traveling across the country, holding campaign events, talking to voters and, you know, actually running for the Oval Office?

Because Róger Calero said he feels he is the true voice of America’s working class, and he’s willing to tilt at some windmills if that’s what it takes for that voice to be heard.

As part of the Massachusetts leg of his national campaign tour, which has included stops in Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Newark, N.J., Calero — a writer for the SWP newsweekly The Militant and editor of its Spanish-language section, El Militante — spoke passionately to a small but enthusiastic group of potential voters in East Boston Saturday evening, discussing how he differs from the mainstream presidential candidates and explaining why he feels a socialist alternative is needed in Washington.

The reality of Calero’s no-chance candidacy does have its benefits — namely, with no expectation of victory, he can speak freely and use his campaign to try to spotlight the issues frequently pushed to the margins of the national political debate. Two such issues, workers’ rights and trade justice, are hallmarks of Calero’s campaign, and were keystones of his East Boston visit.

He spoke to the audience eloquently about his own experiences working as a meat packer in Iowa and Minnesota, where he was part of a groundbreaking union organizing drive at Dakota Premium Foods in St. Paul. He argues that most U.S. corporations — “the bosses,” as he calls them — have no regard for their workers or the products they produce, and claims that both the Democrats and Republicans support “the bosses” in exchange for campaign contributions.

“I am presenting an alternative to the capitalist agendas of Democrats and Republicans,” Calero said. “We think it’s important to defend the interests of workers.”

Calero had scathing words for the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA, which he blamed for destroying both the U.S. and Mexican economies. He is also concerned about Mexican agricultural workers losing their jobs due to the redistribution of cheaper American-made products in Mexico, a practice known as “dumping” that he says American and Mexican workers should join forces to fight.

Calero has long been an advocate for trade justice. In December 2002, he was arrested in Texas by federal immigration officers upon his return from assignments for The Militant in Cuba and Mexico, covering a conference in Havana opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas and a congress in Guadalajara of the Continental Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Students. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service jailed Calero in Houston for 10 days and began deportation proceedings against him, despite his status as a permanent U.S. resident. The charges were later dropped, and Calero was allowed to stay in the U.S.

Another linchpin of Calero’s platform is his three-pronged plan to improve America’s tarnished image: end the trade and travel embargo with Cuba; cancel all Third World debt immediately; and immediately withdraw all American troops from Iraq.

“It really doesn’t matter if a Democrat or a Republican is elected; the Iraq war will continue and it will only support capitalistic interests,” he said. “Neither Obama or Clinton are against the occupation.”

Speaking at length on the controversial subject of immigration, Calero said he supports the immediate legalization of all undocumented workers, noting that it is unrealistic to try to deport the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants supposedly living in the U.S. and predicting that the economy would go into a shocking, immediate standstill if that were to happen. He says that immigrants are the backbone of this country’s economy, and all efforts should be made to make them fully part of America’s growing multicultural fabric.

Following Calero’s East Boston talk, many attendees — admittedly a partisan crowd — sounded agreement with some of his views.

“The middle class make up this economy,” said Sarah Ullman of the Boston Socialist Workers Party. “But if Obama or Hillary is elected, they will be representing the bosses.”

In an election where race is a clear factor, Calero expressed disappointment at the efforts of some political operatives to create divisions between Latino immigrants and African Americans over employment issues — specifically, the question of which ethnic group is taking jobs from the other.

Instead, he said, he has noticed that Latinos are learning more about the struggles of blacks, specifically the achievements of the civil rights movement, and are starting to stand up for their own rights. He cited a recent incident where black and Latino workers in a North Carolina factory worked together to get their company to give them a paid day off in recognition of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and a group of Guatemalan activists who converged in Louisiana a few months ago with African Americans to support the Jena Six.

As for the historical significance of the American people potentially electing the first black or female president, Calero espoused a different view — he said it really didn’t matter if Obama or Clinton were elected, because they are representatives of the ruling class in this country, and what class one belongs to is really the issue that unites Americans today.

After visiting East Boston on Saturday, the man soldiered on. While the big names jockeyed for delegates, position and political capital before Tuesday’s primaries, Calero spent Sunday and Monday commemorating the first anniversary of the raid of the Michael Bianco Inc. textile factory in New Bedford by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and visiting workers in a clothing factory in Lawrence.

Róger Calero promises to do more of the same, sitting with seamstresses and standing in solidarity, each small but enthusiastic audience yielding more untold stories for him to broadcast with the megaphone he’s fashioned. That, more than anything else, is why he says he’s in this race for the long haul.

“Our campaign is more serious than the other candidates,” he said. “Our campaign is about who we are, and how working people can work together.”