A Woman's Role in the Land of Machismo



Claudia Sheinbaum will become the most influential person in Mexico for six years, serving as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the head of the executive branch, and the architect of foreign policy for the second-largest economy in Latin America.

«I will be the first woman president of Mexico», Claudia Sheinbaum announced to her supporters in downtown Mexico City with a Hollywood smile, shortly after the National Electoral Institute (INE) declared her the leading candidate in the presidential elections of this country, the second most populous and economically developed in Latin America.

These elections have been deemed historic for many reasons. Nearly 100 million people registered to vote, with 170,000 polling stations set up nationwide. Voter turnout was around 60%. Besides electing the president, Mexicans voted for governors in nine of the country’s 32 states, including the mayor of the capital, all 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies, 128 members of the Senate, and almost 20,000 local officials.

Essentially, these are the largest elections ever held in the country. The highlight was the contest for the presidency between two women, with a male candidate trailing behind without any chance of winning.

In the early morning hours of Monday, June 3, INE President Guadalupe Taddei announced the preliminary results, leaving no doubt about who would become Mexico’s new president. The winner was Claudia Sheinbaum from the Morena party, representing the ruling coalition «Continue Making History» (Sigamos Haciendo Historia), which garnered over 60% of the votes. The candidate from the opposition right-wing coalition «Strength and Heart for Mexico» (Fuerza y Corazón por México), Xóchitl Gálvez, came in second with 28.6% of the votes, as expected. The third candidate, Jorge Álvarez Maynez from the centrist «Citizen Movement» (Movimiento Ciudadano), which is not part of any coalition, received 10.8% of the votes.

This happened in a «macho» country where women did not get the right to vote until 1953. Although no law prevented female candidates from holding government positions, women currently head key Mexican institutions such as the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the National Electoral Institute. Mexico ranks third among Latin American countries with the highest number of women in the national cabinet (44%) and has ten female governors out of 32 states. But this is the first time a woman, moreover a Jewish woman, as all observers emphasize, has become president in this Catholic country.

Incidentally, in Latin American countries, women have led Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Haiti, and Costa Rica. But in all these countries, perhaps with the exception of Argentina, no one «mourned» an outgoing male president.

In Mexico, the elections were widely seen as a «political endorsement» for the outgoing president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO, as he is unofficially known inside and outside the country), who leaves office by law rather than by choice (as the country’s constitution prohibits a politician from serving two consecutive terms). Sheinbaum owes everything to him — from her nomination to the election campaign that led to the presidency.

Sheinbaum built her campaign on the promise to continue López Obrador’s policies. This primarily pertains to domestic policies, which AMLO claimed and implemented as being crucial for foreign policy.

López Obrador fundamentally changed Mexican politics. Over the past six years, Mexico has managed to reduce poverty, which still affects 36% of its 126 million population to some extent. During his tenure, millions of Mexicans emerged from poverty, and the minimum wage doubled. AMLO provided benefits to low-income families: 70% of Mexican households receive either school scholarships, pensions, or other benefits. Analysts note that during his presidency, López Obrador «significantly increased the minimum wage in Mexico and invested in infrastructure projects in the country’s poorest regions».

But there are pressing issues. The federal budget deficit has grown to about 6% this year, and the national oil company Pemex operates with a massive debt, straining state finances. It is unclear how Sheinbaum will fulfill a number of campaign promises — from building public schools and new medical clinics to expanding social welfare programs — given the current state of public finances.

Additionally, over the same six years of AMLO’s rule, the country surpassed all levels of criminalization, and he was criticized for «undermining» the national security system, failing to control the rampant growth of drug production and trafficking, and consequently, the rise in crime and violence. During López Obrador’s administration, more than 185,000 people were killed — more than under any other administration in modern Mexican history. The current election campaign alone saw the deaths of 38 candidates for leadership positions in local governments. Sunday’s voting was also marred by the murder of two people at polling stations in Puebla state.

The policy of «hugs, not bullets» in the «re-education» of drug cartels, pursued by Obrador, did not lead to a significant reduction in murders, and the election programs targeting drug lords in the total war for the «throne» also do not promise a solution to the issue. Dozens of organized crime groups control cities, neighborhoods, and rural villages. Mexico’s largest cartels have opened new fronts of violence in remote corners, such as jungle areas on the Mexico-Guatemala border. They not only fight among themselves but also extort money from even the poorest.

López Obrador once stated that «the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy». He largely stayed out of the global political arena, avoiding major international meetings, including the G-20 summits or the 2022 Summit of the Americas. However, he was involuntarily involved in the US migration issue, which had and continues to have a direct negative impact on the internal political situation in Mexico itself.

As for the economy, the opportunities are obvious: Mexico is now the largest trading partner of the United States, which aims to turn its southern neighbor into a substitute for China, which has flooded the market with its goods. They managed to shift the cheap production of consumer goods to Mexico, creating a «super peso». But this happened without control and without Mexicans’ right to monopoly.

Add the migration problem, which Washington is eager to solve at the expense of its southern neighbors, particularly Mexico, from which it has fenced off with the «Trump wall».

Foreign policy was not a top concern for Mexican citizens when they went to the polls on June 2. Like most people worldwide, they are more concerned with basic life issues, including food, work, and safety. But this does not absolve the new government of responsibility.

Claudia Sheinbaum, who won the election, has rich knowledge and experience: she holds a Ph.D. in technical sciences in energy, was part of a group of UN climate scientists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and learned to govern one of the largest cities in the Western Hemisphere. But will she have the strength to tackle the triad of tasks for the country’s development — economic stability, security, crime-fighting, and independence from the northern neighbor?

The battle lines are drawn. On October 1, Andrés Manuel López Obrador will ceremonially hand over the «baton of power» to Claudia Sheinbaum.