Claudia Sheinbaum elected President of Mexico: the country’s first woman in power

HomeNewsClaudia Sheinbaum elected President of Mexico: the country's first woman in power

Kenya Nicol

Newly elected President of Mexico, Claudia Sheinbaum, has pledged “zero tolerance” in the face of the immense challenge ahead of her: governing a country faced with 80 daily homicides, mostly perpetrated by criminal groups that control vast territories.

Mexico’s first female president

At 61 years of age, Sheinbaum will have to combat the violence that has resulted in some 450,000 deaths and 100,000 disappearances since former president Felipe Calderon launched his military offensive against the cartels in 2006.

In addition to these challenges, it will also have to maintain social programs, cope with the effects of climate change and manage the complex relationship with the United States. “We will lead Mexico on the path to peace and security,” declared Ms. Sheinbaum in her first speech after announcing her victory.

First objective: targeting the cartels

She reaffirms her strategy of targeting the roots of violence, such as the exclusion of young people recruited by the cartels, the consolidation of the National Guard, intelligence and investigations, and coordination between different levels of government to ensure zero tolerance for impunity.

The former mayor of Mexico City wants to apply this approach nationwide, having seen a decrease in crime in the capital between 2018 and 2023, according to official statistics.

“The abominable rise in organized crime and thriving cartels is the most overwhelming problem Sheinbaum faces,” says Michael Shifter, an expert at the analysis center Diálogo Interamericano. “If she can’t stem the dramatic deterioration of the security situation in Mexico, it will be increasingly difficult to implement her social and economic policy agenda,” he adds.

“There’s no money left”

The new president will have to maintain direct aid benefiting 25 million Mexicans, despite a deterioration in public finances. Forecasts indicate a budget deficit for 2024 reaching 5.9%, the highest in three decades.

“The biggest challenge for the next administration will be to correct the high deficit”, according to Víctor Ceja, chief economist at the Mexican Stock Exchange (Valmex).

Several experts are talking about tax reform. “More tax revenues are needed to maintain fiscal prudence and to meet the challenge of large public spending needs”, stresses the OECD.

Claudia Sheinbaum bets on nearshoring

Growth is expected to reach 2.2% in 2024. Ms. Sheinbaum is banking on “nearshoring”, the relocation along the U.S. border of some of the factories installed in Asia. Mexico has set a record for foreign investment in 2023 ($36 billion).

To make the most of nearshoring, the country needs to improve security, infrastructure, water and electricity supplies. The new president “needs to spend money in many sectors, and there is no money,” sums up Pamela Starr, Mexico expert at the University of Southern California.

“Infrastructure is obsolete. Electricity is a problem. Pemex (editor’s note: state-owned oil company with a $100 billion debt) is a problem”, she adds.

2.4 million illegal migrants at the border

Poverty and, above all, violence are the two main reasons why Mexicans migrate to the United States. In 2023, U.S. authorities arrested a record 2.4 million illegal migrants at the border, a third of them Mexicans.

Stephanie Brewer, Mexico director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), suggests that Ms. Sheinbaum can “break this cycle and put the protection of people at the center (of her action)”, by prioritizing the fight against violence and extortion against migrants.

The uncertainty of the US/Mexico relationship

“With the United States, there will be a relationship of friendship, mutual respect and equality as there has been until now. And we will always defend the Mexicans on the other side of the border,” declared the president-elect in her first words after victory.

Migration, trade, the fight against drug and arms trafficking: the bilateral relationship is dense and complex. Claudia Sheinbaum will officially take office on October 1, more than a month before the November 5 presidential election on the other side of the border.

The future winner of the US election may have an influence on the revision of the trade treaty between Mexico, the United States and Canada. If President Joe Biden loses and his predecessor Donald Trump returns to power, “the major challenge for Mexico will be uncertainty”, according to expert Pamela Starr. “The relationship will be much more marked by conflict”.

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