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Who Is Claudia Sheinbaum and Why Is Mexico Voting for Her?

Who Is Claudia Sheinbaum and Why Is Mexico Voting for Her?

  • On the verge of one of the most important elections in modern Mexico's history, it’s crucial to understand who Claudia Sheinbaum is and why some of the electorate will vote for her and her party, Morena.
Claudia Sheinbaum

On Sunday, June 2nd, elections will be held in Mexico. For example, in the last presidential election six years ago, two completely opposite national projects were at stake. The first one represents the continuity of the policies implemented by the PRI and PAN presidents, a familiar path in Mexico. The second is more complex because it may or may not be the next step in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) project, known as La Cuarta Transformación (The Fourth Transformation). Why do we say this? Because we don’t know who Claudia Sheinbaum is.

As a critical member of AMLO’s team since 2000, when he was elected as Head of Government of Mexico City –the country’s capital–Claudia has become his most accomplished and loyal disciple. In the old PRI, Fidel Velázquez, the leader of the Confederation of Mexican Workers, coined a saying for many decades: «Those who move don’t appear in the photo.» This referred to the fact that all politicians holding government positions and members of the PRI had to agree with the current president’s decisions completely. If they dared to think differently or somehow disagree, they risked being dismissed or sabotaging their political future.

In this regard, Claudia has remained immobile. Depending on who you ask, one of her most significant advantages or disadvantages is that she is seen as a second version of President López Obrador. Rumors say, for example, that as a scientist, she never agreed with handling the pandemic in Mexico and had strong disagreements with Hugo López-Gatell, the Undersecretary of Health responsible for the COVID-19 very controversial policies. López-Gatell, like the president, did not consider the use of masks necessary. As the Head of Government of Mexico City, Claudia advised their use but never made them mandatory. She wore a mask herself, except when appearing alongside AMLO.

Since beginning her presidential campaign, she has maintained that she will build “the second floor” of the Fourth Transformation. In other words, she will follow the path laid out by the current president. This promise has convinced a significant portion of the electorate, and it is the main reason they will vote for her. Many people favor AMLO and Morena and see Claudia as a worthy successor.

However, in recent days, we have seen glimpses of a certain independence. The most relevant example was her closing campaign speech, where she stated that «all Mexicans will always walk in peace and harmony, without discrimination.» During AMLO’s six-year term, the country experienced deep polarization between those who supported him and those who did not. Talking about reconciliation and governing for all indicates that Claudia is not just a disciple. And if elected for the next six years, she could surprise everyone and govern with her ideas, not anyone else’s.

Claudia has always shown a strong character and firm left-wing convictions. Raised in a progressive Jewish family, she was born on June 24, 1962. Her parents are scientists who actively participated in left-wing movements in Mexico for years. During high school, she led struggles in favor of rejected students by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Still, she became a familiar face in college when she was part of the University Student Council (CEU), the first significant student movement at UNAM after the government repressions of 1968 and 1971.

The CEU represented the students’ resistance against proposals to increase the cost of tuition, exams, and other fees. During that time, Claudia majored in physics, and it was there that she met her first husband, fellow activist Carlos Imaz. She later pursued a master’s degree and became the first woman to enter the “Energy Engineering” doctorate program at the Faculty of Engineering at UNAM.

Over time, the CEU became a breeding ground for politicians. Many contributed to forming the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which brought together a previously scattered left-wing movement. In the PRD, she met AMLO and started working with him when he became the head of government in Mexico City. Her engineering background earned her the position of Secretary of Environment, which she held until 2006, when she became the spokesperson for AMLO’s first presidential campaign.

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In 2011, she played a crucial role in forming the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), initially a civil association that later gave rise to a political party, splitting from the PRD. In 2015, she was elected as the Head of the District of Tlalpan in Mexico City, a position she held until 2017 before running for the Head of Government of Mexico City. 

Again, in 2023, she requested a leave of absence to step down from her position and run, this time, as a candidate for the Presidency of Mexico.

In a country as divided as Mexico, where many, including herself, vehemently claim that AMLO is the best president in the country’s history while others strongly disagree, Claudia has shown her intention to reunite Mexico.

If she wins the presidency, Claudia faces a very arduous task that goes beyond these divisions. The country still faces challenges such as a flourishing organized crime, a meager 2% economic growth, significant social disparities, a complex and slow recovery from the pandemic, substantial immigration from Central American populations, and insufficient job creation but, at the same time, has the potential to become a global power. Her challenge is immense.

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