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Celebration in Mexico?

Can Claudia Sheinbaum make a dent in the corruption?


"Todos son corruptos, todos son malos,” says Juan Carlos, the cab driver who is taking us from the Mexico City airport to our hotel near the Zócalo or central plaza. This was the first interview of our three day trip and a surprising introduction into the skepticism Mexicans feel about their elections.

My wife and I arrived in Mexico City on Friday, May 31, stayed until Monday, June 3 in the Majestic Hotel on the edge of the huge Zócalo or central square, and had the opportunity to interview dozens of Mexicans about this historic election. These were teachers pushing for better salaries, restaurant workers, street cleaners, hotel employees, street vendors, taxis drivers, even a tarot reader  – basically working people. Claudia Sheinbaum, who was way ahead in the polls, has now won a staggering victory, becoming Mexico’s first woman elected president as well as the first Jew. She will take office on October 1, and faces a barrage of tough issues, many of which will be of great importance to the United States. It’s essential, therefore, that we build a relationship with her that focuses on some of these common issues.

Here is what we learned.

First, the lack of enthusiasm for the two major candidates – Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Galvéz - was overwhelming. We constantly heard basically the same comment. “Todos son corruptos. Todos son malos (They are all corrupt. All are bad).”

This was a huge shock because both candidates were highly educated and accomplished. Galvéz was a successful businesswoman and Sheinbaum a climate scientist who did the work for her doctoral thesis at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. She was part of a UN panel of climate scientists that won a Nobel Prize in 2007.

Second, almost everyone we spoke to immediately said that corruption and violence were the major issues.   As mayor of Mexico City from 2018 to 2023, however, Sheinbaum initiated programs that dramatically reduced crime in Mexico City.

Third, although the presidential contest has dominated the news, all 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber of Mexico’s congress, were up for election as well as the 128 Senate seats. In addition, there were thousands of state and local elections; this is where the drug cartels have been deeply involved. Their goal is take over state and local governments.

This was evidenced by extraordinary violence during the election cycle. Thirty-six candidates were murdered and many others were deterred from running because of the violence.

Sheinbaum’s challenges are also ours. Here are some ways in which we should immediately reach out to work with her.

In 2023 there were about fentanyl 74,000 deaths in the US and Mexican cartels are largely to blame. They are extraordinarily powerful because they are so heavily armed, largely with weapons from the United States. Sheinbaum should push us to better control of the flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico. One possible deterrent would be random screening of vehicles headed south through our ports of entry.

Both countries should work together to find technology that would make it easier to inspect large vehicles for drugs.

Another crime-related issue is education. We interviewed teachers from the state of Guerrero who had been living in tents in the Zócalo for two weeks hoping to talk to political leaders about the pathetic salaries teachers receive. They were making the equivalent of about $7,200 a year, which is one tenth of what a relative of mine makes working in the Santa Fe school district. Without a great emphasis on education, how are young people going to be deterred from the drug trade?

In terms of immigration, the willingness of Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador to control Mexico’s southern border has been a major factor in reducing the numbers of migrants seeking to cross our border. President Biden has already reached out to President-elect Sheinbaum to continue this relationship.

Another step would be to expand and simplify our guest worker programs so that more Mexican workers could come here legally and fill temporary jobs in areas like agriculture and construction. This would cut down on the number of young men attempting to cross the border illegally, give the US needed workers and provide income that those workers could return to Mexico as remittances. In 2023, more than $63 billion in remittances were sent from the US to Mexico.

In addition, until fairly recently Mexican soldiers were stationed at the border in places like Anapra. That could be continued with better coordination with our Border Patrol agents.

In terms of International trade, Mexico is now our largest trading partner, having surpassed China. Sheinbaum deserves better assurance that Mexico’s northbound trucks won’t be delayed unnecessarily at the US border, as the state of Texas has done.

These are small steps but there is no magic answer to the issues Sheinbaum faces. I think, however, that she is the best hope Mexico has had in decades. This is the fourth time I’ve been in Mexico for a presidential election – in Mexico City in 2006 when Felipe Calderón defeated AMLO and in 2012 when Enrique Pena Nieto won, in Juárez in 2018 when AMLO won. Of all of these recent candidates, Sheinbaum is the most impressive. I predict that she will overcome the skepticism that we encountered in Mexico City. If so, her successes will be our successes.

Last, a personal note. I want to thank all those who we interviewed for their courtesy and their willingness to share their hopes and their concerns for their country.

Morgan Smith writes regularly on border issues and can be reached at Morgan-smith@comcast.net.

Election Mexico