LOS ANGELES — Some 2,000 Latino leaders and activists from throughout the United States met here Oct. 5-9 to map an action plan and social justice program for the 2008 elections. Their goal is to bring out 10 million Latino voters who can play a decisive role in the presidential and congressional elections.

Latinos can determine the presidential race in the key battleground states of Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, as well as congressional races in 20 states that can change the political direction of the country, said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Project, in opening the 2nd National Latino Congreso.

The gathering was convened by 10 national Latino organizations and hundreds of state and local groups from 22 states.

“We are going to mobilize massively to reach record levels of the Latino vote” on the key issues of immigration reform, the war, greening cities, health care and climate change, declared Gonzalez. “We have big issues not only as Latinos but as citizens of the world,” he said.

Over 50 workshops reviewed about 100 policy resolutions.

Helping prepare positions on the Iraq war were Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who chairs the congressional Out of Iraq Caucus, former California state Sen. Tom Hayden, United for Peace and Justice organizer Judith Le Blanc and Lydia Lopez of Latinos for Peace.

“America: not another nickel, not another dime, not another soldier, not this time,” Waters declared to a standing ovation. She drew another ovation when she called for African American and Latino unity.

Peace activist Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose immigrant son Jesus was among the first casualties in Iraq, drew tears and standing cheers when he asked, “What are we doing to stop the dying of the children in Iraq?” He added, “Stand up for housing and jobs, but even more important, stand up for life!” The delegates endorsed his call to remove a military service option from the Dream Act, which provides college access for undocumented students.

The Congreso unanimously called for complete withdrawal from Iraq starting immediately, no invasion of Iran, and support for Oct. 27 regional demonstrations against the war and Iraq Moratorium activities the third Friday of each month.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Latinos should take a leading role to end the war, as “we are 14 percent of the population with 20 percent of the casualties.”

“It is time to bring the troops home,” he said.

Villaraigosa also called for a broad coalition to win just immigration reform, saying, “No group can do it alone,” and a national campaign to combat poverty.

Heading workshops on immigration reform were leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens, MALDEF, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the Mexican American Political Association, the Laborers International Union and the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities.

The Congreso called for legalization with a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, no guest worker programs and a moratorium on deportations, factory raids and “no-match” sanctions. It condemned candidates who “vilify immigrants, divide communities, break up families and/or incite fears of or violence against immigrants.”

Delegates backed HR 676 for universal single-payer health care and called for overriding Bush’s veto of children’s health care (SCHIP). They supported labor rights and the Employee Free Choice Act, Election Day voter registration, publicly financed elections and a national Cesar Chavez holiday. Resolutions also opposed nuclear and coal-fired energy and polluting power plants in low-income and minority communities. Delegates opposed expansion of CAFTA and NAFTA and called for ending restrictions on family travel to Cuba, freedom for the Cuban Five, closing the School of the Americas and no U.S. intervention in Latin America.

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich drew several ovations, including one when he said, “It is time to have a president who stands up for workers, for immigrants, for human beings. There is no such thing as an illegal human being.” He called for stopping immigration raids and canceling NAFTA. Fellow Democratic candidate Mike Gravel stressed the urgency of opposing an attack on Iran. Representatives for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson also spoke. No Republican candidates responded to invitations to be represented.

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