Mexico appears to be on track to elect its first woman president in next year’s national election, after its two leading political parties each nominated female candidates. The former mayor of Mexico City and frontrunner, Claudia Sheinbaum, is a physicist with a doctorate in environmental engineering of the ruling progressive MORENA party. Sheinbaum, who is Jewish, will face off in the June 2 election against Xóchitl Gálvez, candidate of the center right Broad Front for Mexico coalition, who is a sitting senator with indigenous roots.
Although Mexican women didn’t win full voting rights until 1953, the nation has made progress increasing the representation of women in government and the judiciary. Mexico’s Supreme Court recently decriminalized abortion nationwide. Although the election of a woman won’t reverse Mexico’s long history of macho culture and gender discrimination, it will serve as a powerful symbol of the capacity for future change.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Laura Carlsen, coordinator of Global Solidarity and Learning, with Just Associates in Mexico City. Here she discusses the background and positions of both top candidates and the possibility that if Claudia Sheinbaum wins, she could depart from the policies of her mentor Mexico’s popular outgoing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has favored aggressive development of fossil fuels and a leading role for the military.
LAURA CARLSEN: It’s a turning point for Mexico. Mexico is really macho country. It’s taken decades of hard work by feminist and women’s organizations to get to this point, mainly, by working on laws of parity, which is to say equal representation within government.
And so they first had to work to get these laws passed. Then they had to work to close the loopholes because the parties were going around them and every time they go around them, they had to have further legislation to close up those loopholes. So it’s been a lot of resistance to this. And then when this government came in, there was a commitment. And so for the first time and in a huge leap forward after the kind of very gradual advances of the past, we had both in the cabinet and in congress, almost an equal number of women as men.
It made history in Latin America, one of the few countries in the world. It’s a step forward, but it’s certainly not the revolution, you know. First of all, you have the fact that women don’t necessarily represent women’s rights. There are a number of conservative women candidates, and I would count Xóchitl Gálvez among them, although she’s more pro-women than the parties that are backing her who don’t have a strong commitment to a feminist or a women’s agenda. So there’s a lot of ways in which just a numerical value of representation of women is not nearly enough.
When we get to the candidates themselves though, what we see is that they’re similar in some outward characteristics. Claudia Scheinbaum is 61 years old, Xóchitl Gálvez is 60. They have both been in politics for a long time, although there’s some effort to portray Xóchitl Gálvez was an outsider, she was drafted by the Conservative National Action Party (PRI) to serve in the government of Vicente Fox in the year 2000 as a representative on the (National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Communities), which in some ways was a way to diffuse the radical demands of the Zapatista Insurrection. That was, of course, in 1994 and still going strong.
She is an indigenous person herself from the state of Hidalgo, an Otomi. She has been with the National Action party. She’s now an independent, but she’s backed by this strange — but now we’re used to it — Coalition of the National Action Party, a right-wing party; the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which is the authoritarian party that ruled Mexico for 71 years. And the party of the Democratic Revolution, which originally was the party of the left until Morena split off and formed, and the PRD as it’s called by its initials here, decided to join the right-wing as an opposition group.
What brings them together is to get rid of Morena and especially of Lopez Obrador, but of course he’s on his way out because Mexico doesn’t allow for re-election. Claudia has a much more left-wing background and including much more left-wing than Lopez Obrador because she comes out of social movements. She, of course came out of PRI, as an opposition candidate and part of the pro-democracy forces. She comes out of student movements and then she began to get involved in elections. She has a scientist background as a physicist and an environmental engineer. So she’s a very different kind of a candidate, but she’s also quite loyal to the current president.
SCOTT HARRIS: I’m wondering where, if on any policy is Claudia Scheinbaum different from the current president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador when it comes to issues like the military and fossil fuels, given her background as an environmental scientist?
LAURA CARLSEN: That’s a really good question, Scott, because I think the answer would be that we don’t really know in some ways for now. She’s not going to do anything that distances her or portrays any kind of differences with the current president. She is very loyal in public.
I think that there will be differences. I think that in general we will see a continuation of the current policies, especially the policies that are hallmarks of what Lopez Obrador calls the Fourth Transformation. And he’s gonna make us sure of that as far as he can in the little over a year of his residency because he’s very, very concerned about leaving an historical legacy.
So he’s very concerned that some of his pet projects be carried out and he’s trying to lock them in before he leaves office. Some of those are big infrastructure projects. One of them, like the refineries and all the investment in the oil company touches on the point that you mentioned, which is this market reliance on fossil fuels as a driver for national development, with some of that being more control being taken over by the state, but also a huge investment at a time when we should be phasing out fossil fuels. Now, Claudia Scheinbaum comes from an environmental background. She was the secretary of the environment under Lopez Obrador when he was mayor of Mexico City. And so she has never crossed him on this particular strategy, but I would expect to see some moving away from reliance on PEMEX and oil and gas production in the next presidency.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Laura Carlsen (12:47) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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