Claudia Sheinbaum Wins Historic Election as Mexico’s First Female President

Interview with Laura Carlsen, coordinator of Global Solidarity and Learning with Just Associates in Mexico City, conducted by Scott Harris

On June 2, the people of Mexico made history with the landslide election of Mexico’s first female and first Jewish president, Morena party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum. Sheinbaum, a climate scientist and former Mexico City mayor, is a protégé of popular outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The president-elect defeated Xóchitl Gálvez, the candidate of the center right Broad Front for Mexico coalition, who is a sitting senator with indigenous roots.

Mexico’s election was marred by extreme violence, with the assassination of 38 local candidates for office during the course of the election campaign. For many years, drug cartels have employed violence to expand their control in states throughout the country.  Sheinbaum vowed to continue López Obrador’s popular social programs, but it’s not known if she’ll pursue a different path from her predecessor and mentor.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Laura Carlsen, coordinator of Global Solidarity and Learning, with Just Associates in Mexico, and director of the Mexico City-based thinktank, MIRA: Feminisms and Democracies. Here she discusses the significance of Claudia Sheinbaum’s election victory, and the domestic and foreign policy challenges she’ll face when she’s sworn into office on Oct. 1.

LAURA CARLSEN: I think it is very significant that Mexico elected its first woman president. What that means is that they were able to break through a very macho culture and macho-political culture, and the majority by far of the people accepted the idea of a woman running the country. Now, this isn’t something that just happened, and it’s not something that just happened because she was ushered in by the outgoing president.

This is actually the result in large part of decades of work by a Mexican feminist movement that began with requiring quotas and equal representation in governmental policy. Little by little, they passed laws that would require parties to put out woman candidates to a break the prejudice that existed in terms of leadership and representation. Every time there was an advance, say, in a law that would require a 30 percent quota for women candidates, there’d be some kind of loophole that people would find, and then they’d have to go back to the legislation and close out the loopholes.

I mean, we had so many cases of women who ran for office and you know, a week later they gave the office to their husbands or of giving all the candidacies in the places they knew there were obviously already going to lose to the women to fill the quotas. You know, it’s been a really long and hard road, but it’s seen significant advances before this election.

We already had with this incoming government of Lopez Obrador. We already had a cabinet that was 50 percent women at one point. There’s been some changes and a Congress, almost 50 percent women as well. And that reflects a commitment on the part of his Morena party. So there’s been advances that paved the way for Claudia Sheinbaum to become first, the candidate at the Morena party and then to win the election to not only win the elections.

But I think that’s the second significant point here. But to win them, as you mentioned, by a landslide. We’re talking about a 30 point margin between Claudia Sheinbaum and her closest rival, Xóchitl Gálvez, because of the conservative coalition. So in the country that’s been seeing the advance in a world really of the far right, here we have Mexico moving in the opposite direction.

There’s a lot of explanations for why this happened. One of them is clearly the popularity of the outgoing president. He’s maintained about a 60 percent approval rating throughout his presidency, one of the highest in the world and certainly in the region. He has a policy of speaking directly to the people through the televised press conferences every morning. It seems to be a form of communication that really works.

And then also, of course, the social programs, which are like pensions for the elderly, support for students and educational grants. Support to help people, young people, especially getting into the labor market. Supports for small agricultural producers. In one form or another, these social programs reach a huge number of Mexican families and particularly among the most vulnerable sectors.

SCOTT HARRIS: What are the major challenges President-Elect Sheinbaum will face when she takes office on Oct. 1st? Among the issues confronting Mexico is rampant violence, including the assassination of some 38 local candidates who were running for office during this most recent election campaign. Tell us about that, if you would.

LAURA CARLSEN: Security and the violence in the country is clearly, the biggest challenge that she’ll face, because it’s something that Lopez Obrador was not able to resolve in his six years in office. And he came in with a very high homicide rate because of the war on drugs and the violence unleashed here in Mexico. And he’s going out with a very high homicide rate.

And that includes gender-based violence. Femicide, which has been a huge complaint of Mexican feminist organizations, especially young feminists within the country, that there hasn’t been improvement or a greater emphasis placed on this. And of course, the Mothers of the Disappeared and the family members have been constantly pointing out the almost indifference of the federal government to this problem of disappearances as well.

So she has decided to continue with the same policy of the Lopez Obrador government, which is to use the armed forces against the drug cartels. There are many of us, certainly, myself included, that believe that this was, in fact, in 2006, one of the policy decisions that caused the violence rather than resolving it and that there are extreme dangers in a democracy of relying on the armed forces for public safety tasks, which police should be doing.

For more information, visit Just Associates at, Just Associates Meso America Program at and From The Americas Program To Mira: Feminisms And Democracies at

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Laura Carlsen (26:36) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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