Could scientist Claudia Sheinbaum be Mexico’s next leader?

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is a year away from electing its next president, and the potential candidate receiving the most attention is an environmental scientist who could become the first female leader of Latin America’s second-largest economy.

According to a survey, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum is almost 20 points ahead of her closest rival in the ruling party.

A world-renowned scholar, Sheinbaum (60) shares the left-wing ideals of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In an interview with the Associated Press, Sheinbaum, like López Obrador, blamed the neoliberal economic policies of previous presidents for increasing inequality.

However, the leaders differed on their approach.

López Obrador has sought to create jobs regardless of their environmental consequences, devoting resources to support Mexico’s state-owned oil company before backing some US renewable energy projects. By contrast, Sheinbaum has a doctorate in engineering, served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won a shared Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, and pledges to commit Mexico to sustainability.

He emphasizes that he believes in all scientific achievements, from environmental protection to medicine.

“I believe in science,” he said. “I believe that technology makes life better.”

Last year, López Obrador inaugurated a massive new oil refinery in his native Tabasco, saying his government had decided to ignore “the sirens … that the oil era is over.”

Despite the inauguration of the refinery, it did not start operating.

At the same time, López Obrador has passed laws that put private gas and renewable energy facilities last in line for energy purchases, behind state-owned plants that often burn dirty fuel oil. He recently hailed a new government-run solar facility in northern Mexico and celebrated Tesla’s decision to build an auto plant near Monterrey, moves that feed his interests in job growth and address American complaints about a lack of free trade.

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Sheinbaum said his belief in renewable energy is fundamental.

“I think we need to start increasing the use of renewable energy and electrifying cars,” Sheinbaum said. “From now until the future, most of the energy will have to be related to renewable energy.”

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheinbaum wore face masks, closed bars and nightclubs, later shortened hours, and called for more COVID-19 testing. While López Obrador downplayed the threat and spoke of amulets protecting him, Sheinbaum did not directly criticize the president.

Now Sheinbaum is locked in a three-way battle for the nomination of their party, Morena, which has an unparalleled political machine. If successful, he is expected to easily defeat the traditional opposition parties, which are struggling to present a credible alternative. Morena and his allies govern 22 of the 32 states, and the state apparatus is already at work on the unofficial pre-election campaign.

Other candidates for the nomination of the Morena party are Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and Interior Minister Adán Augusto López. At the beginning of López Obrador’s term in office, at the end of 2018, Ebrard was the most likely successor, but the Enkoll opinion poll February 4-7. candidate of the Morena party. The poll has a margin of error of +/-2.83%.

Sheinbaum received relatively high marks for managing one of the world’s largest cities. Mexico City has a population of more than 9 million, and the surrounding metro area has a total of nearly 25 million. The capital has been governed by leftists since residents began electing their mayors in 1997, and it is the most progressive politics in the country.

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Sheinbaum was criticized for his handling of the capital’s sprawling subways. In May 2021, an elevated section collapsed, killing 26 and injuring nearly 100 people

In January, it decided to deploy more than 6,000 National Guard troops to the system after two trains collided, killing one person and injuring dozens. Subway workers say spare parts and maintenance are needed, not troops, but Sheinbaum says sabotage may be to blame.

Sheinbaum had a habit of spending weekends making public appearances in other states and was away when the accident happened. He stopped traveling after the incident. In response to the question about the metro, the mayor pointed to the major investments made during his mandate and said that additional funds will come based on the proposal of an expert panel.

“None of the three (candidates) have the charisma of the president,” said Ivonne Acuña Murillo, a political scientist at the Iberoamerican University. “For decades, López Obrador has built such a closeness with people that they don’t have time to repeat it.”

López Obrador spent decades in campaign mode and seemed happiest wading into the crowd.

“He governs in a very different style than AMLO, much more based on evidence,” said Marcela Bravo Araujo, a political scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, with López Obrador’s initials.

Still, Sheinbaum echoed López Obrador on recent controversial reforms that cut resources for Mexico’s electoral authority, which has been praised for relatively clean elections since the end of seven decades of one-party rule.

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Sheinbaum believes Mexico can achieve the same democracy, or better, without “paying lots and lots of people from all these sources that the electoral system probably doesn’t need.”

He has made the relationship between Mexico and the United States, which has been strained at times under López Obrador, over issues such as immigration, drug trafficking and security, entirely commercial. He said he sees great opportunity in Mexico’s free trade agreement with the United States and Canada, but the challenge is to ensure that foreign investment can “bring wealth to the Mexican people.”

As for his political platform, he says he wants to continue to fight poverty.

“To me, being on the left is about guaranteeing minimum rights for all residents,” Sheinbaum said, refuting rights to education, health care, shelter, decent work and wages. “In this sense, it reduces great inequalities, reduces poverty by building great rights, and at the same time strengthens democracy.”

Sheinbaum’s Jewish grandparents emigrated from Lithuania and Bulgaria, but he did not practice religion in predominantly Catholic Mexico.

The formal campaign hasn’t officially started yet, but one topic that hasn’t become an issue is gender equality. Nine of Mexico’s 32 states have female governors. And while gender-based violence remains a problem across the country, along with the daily sexism, Sheinbaum says her gender doesn’t have a negative impact on her pursuits today.

“Probably 10 years ago it was a disadvantage and now it’s something of a positive,” he said.