Claudia Sheinbaum’s Path to Becoming Mexico’s First Female President

Last Updated: June 16, 2024By
A Shaky Encounter: Claudia Sheinbaum’s Journey to Presidency

A month ago in Chiapas, a state in Mexico torn apart by gang violence, something intense happened. A car carrying Claudia Sheinbaum, the frontrunner to be Mexico’s next president, was stopped by masked men. These men filmed her through the window, begging her to address the violence in the region. It was a nerve-wracking moment in a meticulously planned campaign. While the men claimed to be locals, their true identity remained uncertain. Yet, Sheinbaum stayed calm and collected.

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Rising Above Challenges

After countless events and three heated debates, where her opponents tried hard to rattle her, Sheinbaum has managed to remain composed. She’s now poised to become Mexico’s president on June 2. Her victory would be historic, marking her as Mexico’s first female president and the first from a Jewish background.

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Despite her prominence, many Mexican voters still see Sheinbaum as a mystery. They wonder how her presidency would differ from that of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or Amlo, the current charismatic leader of Morena, her political party, and her mentor.

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Polls and Predictions

According to Oraculus, a poll aggregator, Sheinbaum is leading with 55% of the vote intention, well ahead of her main competitor, Xóchitl Gálvez, who stands at 33%.

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During her campaign, Sheinbaum, 61, has portrayed herself as a continuation of Amlo’s policies, benefiting from his high approval rating, which hovers around 65%. Amlo has connected with many voters disillusioned with democracy, but he’s constitutionally barred from running again.

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Continuity and Criticism

Sheinbaum has vowed to sustain Amlo’s social programs and complete his major projects, such as the Mayan Train. However, these projects have faced criticism for their economic and environmental impacts. She’s also defended the expanded role of the military in domestic security and infrastructure development.

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“She’s so disciplined that none of her speeches deviate from López Obrador’s,” said Guadalupe Correa, a political scientist.

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But as her experience in Chiapas showed, she’ll inherit a severe security crisis. Amlo’s softer security strategy has let criminal groups strengthen their control, causing violent power struggles in several regions.

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Mexico’s Grim Reality

Mexico has seen over 30,000 murders annually for the past six years, making its homicide rate one of the highest in Latin America. Additionally, more than 100,000 people are missing. The current campaign for the June 2 election, which includes over 20,000 other positions, has been notably violent: more than two dozen candidates have been killed, and hundreds have withdrawn.

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Despite this, Sheinbaum hasn’t criticized Amlo’s “hugs not bullets” strategy. Her loyalty to him has defined her political journey.

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Personal and Political Journey

“I pledge to give my soul, my life, and the best of myself for the wellbeing of the people of Mexico and the dignity of the republic,” Sheinbaum said in her closing campaign speech. “I pledge to uphold the legacy of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.”

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Sheinbaum started as a climate scientist but was always involved in student politics. She met Amlo through her ex-husband, Carlos Imaz, a leftist student leader.

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“From the moment I met her, she was involved in student politics,” said Manuel Martínez, Sheinbaum’s doctoral supervisor. “Her academic career was impressive, but she also had a strong political drive.”

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From Scientist to Politician

In 2000, she began balancing research with political roles under Amlo, first as the environment secretary in his Mexico City government, and then as his presidential campaign spokesperson in 2006. After Amlo alleged fraud in that election, he set up a protest camp in Mexico City and formed a “parallel government,” where Sheinbaum served as a minister.

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In 2015, she gained her first governance experience as mayor of Tlalpan, a borough in Mexico City, under the newly founded Morena party. Three years later, she became head of government for Mexico City, one of the world’s largest cities and a major political platform.

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Leadership During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, Sheinbaum’s scientific background was evident. While Amlo refused to wear a face mask, Sheinbaum implemented widespread testing, mandated masks on public transport, and increased ICU capacity. Although the pandemic’s toll was severe, her measures mitigated the impact.

Sheinbaum’s main achievement in Mexico City was her security strategy, which involved investing in police training and investigations, reportedly halving the homicide rate. While official data has been questioned, few doubt that security improved.

“Sheinbaum represents the more professional and credentialed wing of Morena,” said historian Humberto Beck. “She combines social awareness with administrative and technical knowledge.”

Controversies and Challenges

However, her tenure in Mexico City wasn’t without issues. Her credibility suffered in 2021 when the Line 12 metro collapsed, killing 26 people. Investigations revealed construction flaws and ignored safety warnings.

She also had a strained relationship with activists, especially feminists, due to police repression of their protests. “I see myself as a feminist,” Sheinbaum said after one such incident. “But we cannot accept any form of violence.”

“She lacked sensitivity and connection with women in general,” said political analyst Blanca Heredia. “The feminist movements in Mexico are incredibly powerful, and she didn’t harness that energy.”

Future Prospects

These issues contributed to a significant political defeat in the 2021 local elections, where Mexico City’s boroughs were almost evenly split between Morena and the opposition. This might have hurt her presidential prospects if not for Amlo’s unwavering support.

With his backing and the platform of Mexico City, “Sheinbaum had everything in her favor,” said Correa.

Some critics question whether Sheinbaum will be truly independent from Amlo. “It would bother me if I weren’t confident in myself,” Sheinbaum said in an interview. “This criticism partly stems from a macho culture and partly from the opposition’s usual tactics.”

“It will be me who governs,” she insisted.

Looking Ahead

Aside from continuing Amlo’s policies, Sheinbaum plans to invest in clean energy, expand her Mexico City security strategy nationwide, and improve the struggling education system. However, her close alignment with Amlo has put her in difficult positions, such as supporting the state oil company despite being a climate scientist and embracing the military, which has a controversial history.

“Sheinbaum’s political career is deeply tied to López Obrador,” said Beck. “But that could change once she’s in power. Many leaders have grown in the shadow of others and then forged their own paths.”

“If we look at her tenure in Mexico City, she chose her battles,” said Heredia. “She won’t openly break with López Obrador, but she’ll gradually chart her own course on key issues.”

How Amlo will react remains uncertain. Despite claiming he’ll retire to his ranch, few believe he will completely leave politics.

“He’s the most influential figure in Mexican politics this century,” said Beck. “It’s inevitable that he’ll continue to be involved.”

Claudia Sheinbaum’s Path to Becoming Mexico’s First Female President

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