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What can Mexico expect from a Sheinbaum presidency?

Claudia Sheinbaum won in a landslide on top of her party’s significant gubernatorial wins and majority in Congress, but she inherits a tangle of issues.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — As President Andrés Manuel López Obrador fades from political activity to his ranch in Chiapas, President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum will inherit a host of national problems.

Though the Morena party — in a testament to López Obrador's popularity — won the presidency in a landslide, a majority in Congress, six of eight governor races up for grabs and the mayorship of Mexico City, how Sheinbaum will juggle environmental issues during a looming water crisis in an indebted oil-producing country amid a spiral of violence waits to be seen until she takes office on Oct. 1.

Perhaps most dire of all is how Sheinbaum will deal with the security issue in Mexico after outgoing President López Obrador’s term witnessed the most homicides in Mexico's modern history. According to one report, 96% of all crimes in the country went unpunished or unreported in 2022.

Sheinbaum’s vision has strayed little from what López Obrador implemented during his term, and complements his “hugs not bullets” policy.

“Until President Andrés Manuel López Obrador arrived and changed the policy from declaring war on the narcos to building peace, which is a completely different vision, his attention was on the causes of crime, and also allowed for zero impunity,” Sheinbaum remarked during the final presidential debate on May 19.

While Sheinbaum served as mayor of Mexico City from 2018 to 2023, homicides in the city dropped significantly. Her strategy consisted of employing a new investigative police force to patrol particularly crime-ridden areas, paired with the implementation of a vast increase in surveillance cameras.

However, Mexico City, being the federal zone of the country, is seen as a no-go when it comes to particularly high-profile incidents of organized crime and is different than the rest of the country.

Sheinbaum put forth a five-pronged security plan to tackle the major components of crime: attention to the causes of violence, consolidation of the National Guard, coordination with police and state prosecutors and the attorney general’s office, judicial reforms and the creation of a new national intelligence agency.

According to Angélica Durán-Martínez, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Sheinbaum’s plan is vague and relatively small compared to criminal groups’ complexity and power.

“López Obrador’s plan was vague and poorly planned. He militarized the country and didn’t explain what role the National Guard would have, and Sheinbaum doesn’t add any more specifics in her plan,” Durán-Martínez said in a phone interview.

Durán-Martínez said she hopes to see a more systematic approach to the root causes of violence instead of the wide militarization that López Obrador employed during his term. She also explained that these changes take time, sometimes longer than just one presidential term.

Sheinbaum is at an advantage because her ruling Morena party will have a majority in Congress, allowing for an easier path to constitutional reform.

“This can be a double-edged sword. It could allow her to enact necessary changes because it takes multiple branches of government cooperation to enact such changes. However, the negative is that she bypasses proper checks and balances put in place and undermines already existing security policies,” Durán-Martínez said.

Sheinbaum promises to offer universal scholarships for basic education, fair salaries for teachers, strengthen higher secondary education and open more spaces for the development of culture and science, reducing the reliance on joining organized criminal networks.

According to a Science Magazine report, employment is the most effective way of combating organized crime. The report shows that cartels are the fifth-largest employer in Mexico, employing 175,000 people directly and indirectly across the country.

By way of mathematical models, the report indicated that “the only way to effectively combat organized crime is by decreasing cartels’ ability to recruit new members” and, perhaps more importantly, “increased policing of cartels are ineffective.”

Sheinbaum also stated she will increase the minimum wage by an annual nominal increase of 11% every year and announced a plan to formalize work in Mexico, a country whose economy consists of 54% informal workers.

During her presidency, she plans to update the National Water Law, seen as a much-needed change that will help regulate how water concessions will be given to large corporations.

This system has been heavily criticized for its role in water shortages that privilege corporations over everyday citizens, even those in the city she previously presided over as mayor.

In perhaps one of the largest departures from her predecessor, Sheinbaum is expected to boost renewable energies and energy efficiency through the construction of photovoltaic, wind, hydraulic, geothermal, green hydrogen plants and the promotion of solar panels and solar heaters on roofs of homes and commercial areas.

“What we are doing and what we will continue to do is make renewable energy. And at the same time have a base in combined cycle gas turbine plants like the Puerto Peñasco plant ... and we will continue to build the energy transition of our country,” Sheinbaum said in an April 28 debate.

Sheinbaum was responsible for updating electric bus infrastructure during her mayoral term in Mexico City, and for installing one of the world’s largest urban solar plants on top of the city’s massive food warehouse and market, something she has a desire to continue, specifically in the north and southeast of the country where solar energy can be harnessed most effectively.

This is a divergence from López Obrador, who focused on propping up Mexican oil production sovereignty through megaprojects such as the construction of the Dos Bocas oil refinery in his home state of Tabasco — a refinery owned by PEMEX, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, which is currently $102 billion in debt.

Tereza Cavazos, climate researcher at the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada, Baja California, is optimistic about Sheinbaum’s presidential term given her background in climate science, and says that some of López Obrador’s policies need to be corrected and immediate support needs to be given to the National Institute of Ecology in Climate Change and the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.

“Mexico is a country that has a very, very important diversity of species and we know that climate change is a crucial issue so we must continue monitoring what we have because the species that we have in the ecosystem provide services to society, they maintain us, they maintain water recharge in basins, the flora, the fauna, the fisheries and even the oceans,” Cavazos said in a telephone interview.

Sheinbaum, a former climate activist, will inherit López Obrador’s staunch supportive policies of PEMEX while trying to revamp the country’s energy sector and hoping to regain confidence from foreign investment, including the prospect of nearshoring.

On June 5, the Mexican Council of Foreign Trade urged Sheinbaum to focus on the importance of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, specifically in terms of nearshoring, a subject Sheinbaum was in favor of during her campaign.

The U.S. elections in November will also have a say in the outcome of these decisions, as well as how Sheinbaum will handle border policies.

Categories / Elections, Government, International

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