HomeInternational AffairsMexico Poised to Elect First Female President

Mexico Poised to Elect First Female President

Editor’s note: This week, Mexico’s ruling Morena party chose Claudia Sheinbaum as its candidate for next year’s presidential election. The former mayor of Mexico City and an accomplished academic, Sheinbaum will run against Congresswoman Xóchitl Gálvez to replace the outgoing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, meaning that whatever the outcome, Mexico is all but certain to see its first female president in the nation’s history. Manuel Ortiz, founder of Peninsula 360 Press, is a former colleague of Sheinbaum’s and says her presidency would mark a major turning point for the nation.

Women in Mexico have long struggled with an array of issues, safety and security among them. Now the country stands poised to elect its first female president. How do you read this moment?

Earlier this week, Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion across the country. The government will now have to create and promote new public policies to ensure the health and security of any woman who is seeking an abortion because of that decision. That is very important, especially being here in the US, where we are moving in the opposite direction on that issue. It is very good news for Mexico, a country where untold numbers of women continue to seek abortions in secret, exposing themselves to real danger.

The day after that ruling came out, the ruling Morena party named (former Mexico City Mayor) Claudia Sheinbaum as its candidate. She will have the support of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will end his presidency with a high level of popularity (above 60% at last count). That all but cements her position going into next year. Her rival is tech entrepreneur and sitting Congresswoman Xóchitl Gálvez of the National Action Party (PAN). Which means there will be two women debating national issues on Mexico’s election stage.

I think whoever wins, Mexico will win.

You were a colleague of Claudia Sheinbaum’s at UNAM? Who is she as a person?

Sheinbaum is a trained engineer. She has a PhD from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where she focused much of her work around issues of the environment. She also has a long track record in support of human rights causes. In the 1990s, she spent time in California, where she developed connections with the migrant community, and organized protests against then-President Carlos Salinas, who was a disaster for the country. So, she’s been very active on issues that are very important for Mexico then and now.

At the university, where more than a few academics held themselves aloof, she was known for being approachable. You’d see her mingling with students, janitors… she is someone who is able to connect with people across different sectors, not just those on the upper rungs. She could have led a very comfortable life as a successful academic. Yet she’s chosen to pursue public office. She is a person led by her convictions. I think it’s part of who she is.

How will she differ from Obrador?

That’s a good question. We won’t know until she takes office. But before he founded Morena, Obrador came out of the old PRI party (which held power uninterrupted for 71 years, from 1929 to 2000). To win the presidency, he had to cut a lot of deals with members of PRI, many of whom remain in his administration. Sheinbaum won’t have to make those same compromises, and in that sense, she represents an opportunity for the left in Mexico to reconfigure itself, to transform itself from the inside. Critics say she is likely to be Obrador’s puppet. I don’t think so. Take Covid. When Obrador became known for eschewing masks and disparaging vaccines, headlines showed Sheinbaum promoting mask wearing and vaccinations. She was independent then, and I think she will remain so even as president.

Violence is surging in Mexico. How do you think Sheinbaum will approach this issue?

Obrador has achieved some good things for Mexico, but he has failed on two key issues: immigration and security. Mexico is very violent right now, and what Obrador is doing is not working. But in Mexico City, where Sheinbaum was mayor, violence has fallen somewhat. It isn’t perfect, but it’s doing better than other parts of the country. And part of that has to do with Sheinbaum’s approach, which follows in the lead of a previous mayor, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who built these cultural centers in areas of high poverty where young people can come to learn a variety of skills. Violence and crime have fallen as a result in some of the neighborhoods, and Sheinbaum invested heavily in these programs as mayor.

What about immigration?

It’s important to note that on immigration, Obrador has been a disaster. We’ve all read headlines of the abuse and mistreatment of migrants at the hands of US border authorities. It’s worse in Mexico, and while that is an issue that predates Obrador, conditions have worsened under his tenure. At the same time, he made a number of promises during his candidacy to transform consulates in the US into support centers for migrants here, a great idea that he never delivered on. Almost nothing has changed. During her time in California, Sheinbaum developed connections to the migrant community here. She got to know farm workers, people who clean homes for a living… she grew close to the community. And she has maintained many of those connections, which means she has an ear to what they need. That gives me some hope that she can change things for the better.

What do you see as her biggest challenge, should she win the presidency?

Her biggest challenge will be to differentiate between what is and what is not working under Obrador, who came in with a lot of good ideas but who in the end made a lot of compromises. She has to be able to curtail some of his policies, and if she can do that, she will move the country forward.  

What does this upcoming election mean for the rest of Latin America?

When I was in Guatemala recently to cover the elections there, people would tell me they looked to Mexico as a model for the kind of elections they aspired to in their country. So, this is important, especially as Guatemala faces a potential crisis with officials there threatening a potential coup. Mexico’s democracy is a bulwark for the region. And the best thing Obrador can do now is to step aside and let the two rival candidates fight it out. His continued attacks on Gálvez, for example, undermine the democratic process and send the message that a Sheinbaum presidency comes only with his seal of approval. I don’t think that’s positive for Mexican Democracy.

What does the election portend for Mexico’s relationship with the United States?

Mexico needs a new relationship with the US, and since Sheinbaum has spent time here, maybe that will give her some insight into where and how to shift the current dynamic between the two neighbors. I also think Sheinbaum will be better able to stand up for Mexico in cases where the US seeks to impose its own interests, especially if we’re looking at a potential second Trump presidency.

Above image: Claudia Sheinbaum, the candidate for the ruling Morena Party in Mexico’s upcoming presidential elections. She faces Congresswoman Xóchitl Gálvez of the National Action Party (PAN). (Image via Wikimedia.)


News Briefings


Random Flow