A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.

Saturday, April 18, 2012

Former Tijuana Mayor Fernando Márquez Arce dies at 81

Also a former state supreme court chief justice, he once disguised himself as a migrant to expose police extortion

fernando marquez arce signs his book last yearFormer Tijuana Mayor Fernando Márquez Arce has died at age 81. He served as mayor from 1974-1977.

Originally from Guadalajara and trained as a lawyer, he served in various prosecutorial posts in the state and was chief justice of the state supreme court before being elected mayor of Tijuana in 1974. It did not hurt that his cousin was married to President Luis Echeverría at the time.

As mayor, he disguised himself as a migrant to expose police extortion along the border.
Márquez Arce signed his memoir last year in Tijuana.

He is survived by his wife, Norma Esquivel, who heads the city anti-addiction agency; their children Fernando, Gabriela, Liliana and Valeria; and seven grandchildren.

memorias de un presidente book coverHe died around 5 p.m., too late for prominent organizations and people to pay newspapers to insert the traditional esquela memorial ads that no doubt will flood Tijuana newspapers on Sunday. Frontera ran a small story on Saturday, while El Mexicano only found room to mention him on its political page. El Sol de Tijuana, whose editor helped Márquez Arce with a memorial the former mayor published last year, ran a fuller story.

A memorial for him will be held at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Story, El Sol de Tijuana.
Story, Frontera (PDF). Political page, Frontera (PDF). Political page, El Mexicano (PDF).
Update, Aug. 22: Memorial service at City Hall. Among those attending are former Mayor Héctor Osuna Jaime of the National Action Party. Story, El Mexicano (PDF).

Book review appears below

Past mentions of Márquez Arce:
Tijuana's birthdate was fixed during Márquez Arce's administration.
Márquez Arce attended last year's memorial for former Mayor Federico Valdes.
Márquez Arce's book praised former Gov. Milton Castellanos.
Dec. 21: Márquez Arce backs David Saúl Guakil for Senate.

Esquela memorial ads in Sunday, Aug. 19 paper: From Supreme Court Justice María Esther Rentería, and El Mexicano newspaper director Eligio Valencia Roque in his role as a labor leader. Page 9, El Mexicano (PDF).
Esquela memorial ad in Monday, Aug. 20 paper: From Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante (PDF).
Esquelas in Tuesday, Aug. 21 paper: Club los Compadres (PDF). Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán.

August 2011


Memories of a president provides valuable memories of Tijuana

By David Gaddis Smith

Fernando Márquez Arce always wanted to be president of Mexico, but had to settle for presidente municipal, or mayor, of Tijuana, in addition to president of the Baja California supreme court.

He did have a relatively close connection to the Mexican presidency, however. Márquez Arce was elected mayor of Tijuana in 1974, during the 1970-76 term of President Luis Echeverría. It so happened that Márquez Arce's cousin, María Esther Zuno Arce, was married to Echeverría.

In his new book, "Memorias de Un Presidente," (Memories of a President) Márquez Arce talks of an encounter he had with top Institutional Revolutionary Party official Jesús Reyes Heroles. He said when that he and Reyes Heroles met to eat at the Reno restaurant on Eighth Street between Constitución and Revolución, Reyes Heroles told him that Echeverría had asked whether Márquez Arce had gotten the PRI nomination for mayor because of his relationship with Echeverría. Márquez Arce said that Reyes Heroles replied that he had told the president: "with all due respect, Mr. President, the members of our party voted for Licenciado Márquez Arce not because he is your relative, but despite it."

This is just one example of a number of delightful anecdotes in this concise book about Márquez Arce's life published in July by Comunicación Fronteriza. It was co-written by journalist Marco Antonio Romero Arizpe and Miguel Angel Torres Ponce, the editor of El Sol de Tijuana. It has 83 pages of text and 20 pages of pictures.

Márquez Arce was born in 1930 in Guadalajara, where he grew up. His maternal aunt, the mother of Echeverría's wife, was married to José Guadalupe Zuno Hernández, who served as Jalisco state governor from 1923-1926. His father was a Catholic seminarian when his eyes crossed upon María Luisa Arce Tomatti, whose family of Masonic stock opposed her marriage during a time of strong Catholic-state tensions. The marriage took place, however, and Márquez Arce's father, José Trinidad Márquez Sánchez, became a doctor instead.

Márquez Arce got a law degree from the University of Guadalajara, and then moved to Tijuana in 1954 to become the assisant to the first woman who had graduated from the university.

The book relates how he became first attracted to the woman who would become his wife, Norma Esquivel Gutiérrez, by seeing her walk by his office window.

The book shows Márquez Arce, although a member of the PRI, to be open-minded about bipartisanship. The book is dedicated to his wife of 55 years and their four children. His wife has headed the city program for drug addicts during the past two administrations, the PRI administration of current Mayor Carlos Bustamante and the 2007-2010 PAN administration of Jorge Ramos.

Márquez Arce's family raised him to oppose corruption, and he fought it in Baja California. When he became mayor, he even disguised himself as a migrant in order to try to stop police extortion of those crossing the border.

In the 1950s, he had involvement in a legal battle involving John Alessio, who operated the racetrack, and another powerful man who Márquez Arce said offered him a blank-check bribe. Márquez Arce said he refused the bribe and concluded that Alessio had the stronger case.

Márquez Arce became famous as mayor because the city did not have money to pay its light bill and the federal agency in charge of electricity cut off power to City Hall. This created such an international sensation and bad publicity for Mexico that the federal government forgave the city's entire debt to the agency.

During his term, 1889 also was fixed as the birthdate of Tijuana.

One flaw in the book may be its mention of an ancestor identified as José María Arce Tomatti, said to have been a general under Juárez and have served as governor of Durango and Sinaloa. However, the ancestor does not appear on any available list of governors of those states, and it does not make sense for his last names to be both Arce and Tomatti, which are the last names of Márquez Arce's mother, María Luisa.

But that has little to do with the book overall, which provides most valuable insight into the Tijuana of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s.

While the book mentions that his cousin was married to Echeverría, it does not mention that her brother Rubén Zuno Arce was convicted in the torture-slaying of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena.