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“The North Needs To Learn From the South”: Mexico Poised To Elect First Woman President

The landmark moment has filled many with hope as Mexico has one of the highest rates of gender violence and femicides in Latin America.

Opposition hopeful Xochitl Glavez (L) and ruling party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum (R) are the frontrunners in the race for the Mexican presidency.,Rodrigo Oropeza CLAUDIO CRUZ

In Mexico, millions of voters are poised to elect the first woman president in the country’s history when they cast their ballots on Sunday. Voters will be choosing between front-runners Claudia Sheinbaum, the former mayor of Mexico City, and Xóchitl Gálvez, a former senator; and a third candidate, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, who is trailing further behind in the polls. The landmark moment has filled many with hope as Mexico has one of the highest rates of gender violence and femicides in Latin America. “This is the primary contradiction for Mexico. You’re going to elect a woman, but you still haven’t resolved the fact that women are being murdered at the rate of about 10 to 11 every single day,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa, who interviewed both Sheinbaum and Gálvez. Hinojosa says the two front-runners are the result of “decadeslong work by feminists in Mexico, along with feminists all over Latin America, pushing for equality.”


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We turn now to Mexico, where this Sunday millions of voters are poised to elect the first woman president in Mexico’s history. The landmark moment has filled many with hope, as Mexico has one of the highest rates of gender violence and femicide in Latin America, with at least 10 women murdered in Mexico every single day. Voters will be choosing between front-runners Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez; a third candidate, Jorge Álvarez Máynez.

Sheinbaum has maintained a significant lead in the polls ahead of June 2nd elections. She is the former mayor of Mexico City, member of the ruling left Morena party, seen as a continuation of the current president, AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, while Gálvez, a former senator, is backed by a coalition that includes the conservative PRI and PAN parties. The PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party, ruled Mexico uninterrupted for 71 years until the 2000s. Rampant violence, perpetuated in part by the decadeslong U.S.-backed so-called war on drugs, is a central issue.

This campaign cycle has been one of the deadliest in Mexico, with at least 34 candidates or aspiring candidates assassinated since September. Immigration and Mexico-U.S. relations are also pivotal issues.

In a minute, we’ll be joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa to discuss the historic elections. But first let’s turn to clips of Maria’s recent interviews with both front-runners, Sheinbaum and Gálvez, which recently aired on Latino USA. Maria Hinojosa and her colleague Peniley Ramírez were in Mexico City earlier this year, where they spoke to Claudia Sheinbaum at a campaign rally. They asked her how she’d handle immigration.

MARIA HINOJOSA: What is your message to Latino Mexican voters in the United States about this election and your candidacy?

CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM: We’re going to fight for them, for their rights, and we’re going to fight for the families in Mexico. We want welfare for all the Mexicans.

PENILEY RAMÍREZ: Now you have said a few days ago that Biden and Trump should stop talking about the Mexican elections. Why you said that? And what’s your plan regarding immigration?

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CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM: The best way to reduce migration is to invest in the countries where people have to leave and want to go to the U.S. Either if Biden wins or Trump wins, there are a lot of problems in the U.S. And it’s better that their campaign not use Mexico as the problem. We are not the problem. We are part of the solution.

AMY GOODMAN: They met Xóchitl Gálvez while the presidential candidate traveled to New York to meet with Mexican voters here. This is what Gálvez said.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, what is your fresh new approach towards the issue of immigration?

Now, she did not really answer the question, but she did say to us that we needed to understand that immigration is a worldwide problem, and therefore, the solution, she said, was to sit and talk. She replied that if we don’t sit and have a dialogue, young people will keep dying on both sides of the border.

AMY GOODMAN: Xóchitl Gálvez, the other Mexican presidential candidate.

For more, we are joined by Maria Hinojosa, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder of Futuro Media, host of Latino USA, which has just released its new episode titled “A Presidenta Will Lead Femicide-Plagued Mexico.”

Maria, it’s great to have you with us at the table. Why don’t you start off by talking about the historic significance of these elections and what it means for what’s happening in Mexico today?

MARIA HINOJOSA: You know what’s interesting, Amy — because you and I have been doing this for a while, right? — the reason why two women end up being the two front-runner candidates is not just like, oh, it just happened. There was a tremendous, decadeslong work by feminists in Mexico, along with feminists all over Latin America, pushing for equality, pushing for equity for women. In the face of violence, in the face of impunity, the feminist movement in Mexico and Latin America just kept on pushing, to the point where you were able to make it by law that there had to be parity in the government, and this leads to both women ending up as candidates. And it is historic.

You know, I’m asking the question. It’s a little — you know, a little — but which country is more machista? The United States, that has two old men, one accused of strange and weird sexual and cover-ups, etc., and fraud, etc., and the other one, who’s just quite elderly? And in Mexico, you have two women. And so, what they’re talking about in the political debate in Mexico is really, frankly, light years away from the political debate that we’re having in this country. Mexico — strangely, Mexico, Amy, becomes like a North Star. When would I have said that? I could have never imagined. And having said that, I’m not —

AMY GOODMAN: And you were born in Mexico City.

MARIA HINOJOSA: And I was born in Mexico, and I’ve watched the entire political process. I’m not Pollyanna. Impunity and violence against women, corruption, the assassination of multiple candidates, it’s a real problem. But Mexico has a different political debate happening now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Maria, I wanted to ask you if you could talk a little bit about the major differences between the two candidates policy-wise. Clearly, Claudia Sheinbaum is being supported by the current president, AMLO, and appears to have a very big lead in the polls. But your sense of their differences?

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, they will both say that they are from the left. Xóchitl will say that she’s center-left. Claudia Sheinbaum will say that she’s obviously more to the left. The policy differences have to do kind of with the historical differences between their two parties, as it were — the Morena party, which was a street activist movement, that now has ended up in the presidential palace, versus you have the PRI and the PAN. These are the two oldest parties in Mexico. It would be like the Republicans and the Democrats getting together to support a candidate. It is a very strange coalition. And so, what they represent is actually these two very different parts of American history.

Having said that, there’s a big critique that Claudia Sheinbaum will continue the policies of AMLO. She responds in a retort that’s saying, “That’s a misogynistic question. You’re saying that because I’m a woman, I’m only going to follow what a man has done before me.”

Xóchitl Gálvez says that she’s going to change things, that she will root out corruption, that she has a vision. But, interestingly, Juan, when I was with her and spent an hour with her, and two days later I was trying to process like what really happened in that hour-long interview, what were we able to get at, who does she really — what does she really represent, and I came to a strange conclusion. It is strange, but I feel like her entire candidacy is strange because of these parties supporting her. And I said it’s like she’s the Sarah Palin of Mexico, the center-left Sarah Palin of Mexico, in the sense that she’s kind of like, “Hi, I’m here, and I just kind of ended up as the main candidate here, and I’m bright, and I’m smart, and I’m a survivor, and everything is going to be fine.” And it’s like Mexico is much more complex than that. You know that. Why do you continue to kind of do this performative political stunts? Even here in New York, she ended up riding her bike to The New York Times for a series of interviews there. Just, I mean, one, she wasn’t wearing a helmet. Who rides a bike in New York without a helmet? And also, why do you want to ride a bike in Times Square? So, she does that, and people kind of pick up on these performative acts that she does.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also, I wanted to ask you about the importance of the Mexican diaspora in the United States? For several years now, Mexicans abroad who are Mexican citizens have been able to vote in the election. Can you talk about the kind of interest there appears to be in the U.S. in Mexican communities?

MARIA HINOJOSA: You know what, Juan? I have been trying to get my Mexican citizenship back, because when I became an American citizen in 1989, I had to give up my Mexican citizenship. It has been — it got messed up because of the pandemic. But this — I’m just one of probably millions of Mexicans who would like to be able to have a vote and a participation in the Mexican political process.

When you look at how close recent Mexican elections for president have been, you can understand why Mexican parties, presidential campaigns are coming to ask for Mexicans in the United States to vote. It’s small now, maybe 200,000 or so, but if you continue to push to get after these votes of Mexicans living in the United States, it could actually be quite influential. And I think for the politics of Mexicans living in the United States, it’s a welcome idea that we don’t have to decide, “Am I from here, or am I from there?” we actually can vote in both places.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to some of the clips, the interviews you’ve done. This is Xóchitl Gálvez speaking to you, Maria, about her experience with gender violence.

MARIA HINOJOSA: How do you define feminism?

She said that she believes in equality for all women in terms of political, economic and reproductive rights. And to emphasize why this matters to her, she told us she suffered violence as a child. This story has become a part of Xóchitl Gálvez’s stump speech. Her father, she says, was a violent man who terrorized her as a child. One time, she tells us in the interview, he pointed a shotgun at her mother and threatened her. She says that they escaped, but that this experience marked her.

And then I asked her what she thinks the solution might be for this kind of gender-based violence in Mexico. What Xóchitl said to us was that women in Mexico need a support system in cases of violence, and that men need to know that if they commit violence against women, they will be prosecuted.

AMY GOODMAN: This is another clip of Latino USA’s interview with Claudia Sheinbaum. Futuro Media executive producer Peniley Ramírez asks her about her presidency, what it would mean for Mexico. She spoke to her at a campaign rally in Mexico City.

PENILEY RAMÍREZ: What’s going to be unique about your government?

CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM: Well, you know, I’m a scientist, so I’m going to put a lot of effort in science and development. We’re going to go for women’s rights. And we’re going to continue bringing education, good health system for the people, housing and what I call the rights for the Mexican people.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Claudia Sheinbaum, the — well, she is the front-runner, for sure. They both call themselves feminists. Women got the right to vote in Mexico when? In 1953. And what about abortion?

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, abortion right now, actually, is more progressive in Mexico than in the United States. This is actually not like a primary issue in the presidential campaign right now, unlike here in the United States, because what’s happening in Mexico is trending towards legalization across the entire country. There are parts in Mexican states where it is legal, but it’s not kind of the kind of abortion politics that we’re having here, where you would expect, Amy, a Catholic country to be making the decisions on abortion like the ones that are being made in the United States, that says it has no relationship with the church in its politics.

So, right now, again, for women, on the issue of reproductive rights, more progressive, but on the issue of violence, on the issue of impunity, the number of female candidates running in different parties in different states, lower, much lower down the ballot, being assassinated. It’s really a huge issue. And this is the primary contradiction for Mexico. You’re going to nominate — you’re going to elect a woman, but you still haven’t resolved the fact that women are being murdered at the rate of about 10 to 11 every single day, and the impunity that comes with it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Maria, in terms of this issue of Mexico electing a woman president, several Latin American countries have already done so: Chile, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, and now Mexico. And yet here in the United States, the potential for electing a woman president still will have to be postponed for another four or eight years. I’m wondering your sense of the difference, especially with the United States supposedly claiming to represent a much more forward-looking view on inequality between the genders.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Well, Juan, you won’t be surprised when I say that the North needs to learn from the South. There’s always this perspective that the North, the United States, is leading the way, is the way to go. And in fact, what the United States and the feminist movement in the United States needs to do is to look at what happened in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. The number of countries that have elected a woman president in Latin America is stunning, considering the fact that the United States is still at about a third of women in Congress. You have countries like Rwanda that have legalized parity in political representation, and our country is lagging behind. It is huge, Juan.

On the issue of immigration and whether or not Claudia or Xóchitl — more likely it will be Claudia who ends up as president — will do something profoundly different, fresh, stand up to the United States, say, “No more Remain in Mexico,” begin to do kind of political battle on the issue of immigration — as you know, this is one of my key issues as an immigrant journalist in the United States — to be seen. The thought, though, of a Claudia Sheinbaum, who, frankly, you know, Stanford-educated, speaks perfect English, sitting down in any kind of meeting with a potential Donald Trump is — it messes with the brain, although she — I don’t think she will take things sitting down.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s very interesting. There were just major protests in Mexico City outside the Israeli Embassy around Gaza, and AMLO, the president, and the Morena party supporting Mexico joining South Africa in its genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, and Claudia Sheinbaum, the front-runner, following AMLO, is a Jewish woman.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Correct. This is extraordinary, because the fact that she is a Jewish woman, but she doesn’t really — she’s a scientist, so she’s not very religious. But she is a Jewish woman, and her name is Sheinbaum. It’s not a big issue, which is fascinating in and of itself. In some ways, you know, my colleagues, Mexican journalists, in many ways, are leading this conversation of how you cover politics, and you don’t play into authoritarian and propaganda games. For example, there might have been journalists who wanted to kind of fuel the fire of saying, “But she’s Jewish. She’s Jewish.” It hasn’t really been an issue.

And what’s more interesting is that Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez, both of them wearing huipiles, which is the traditional Indigenous Mexican — you know it because of the embroidery — this is — the fact that both of them are like, “We love Indigenous women. We love our Indigenous roots,” again, fascinating for Mexican politics, which, again, to me, that would be the word that I use in terms of Mexican politics right now: “fascinating.” That is not the term that I would use when discussing U.S. politics at all.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Maria, finally, in terms of the legacy of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, obviously, he came into office with a lot of hopes of progressives around the hemisphere. He remains very popular, but, of course, he’s under a lot of criticism for his handling, or his mishandling, of the femicides, of the killing of journalists, of his dealings with the United States in terms of immigration. Your sense of how he will be remembered? And what were his accomplishments?

MARIA HINOJOSA: Well, it is a very divisive time in Mexican politics, as well, so we can’t walk away from that. I mean, my own family is deeply divided. This feels very much like U.S. politics, families divided. We won’t talk about politics over dinner, or no political conversations because of how divisive it is.

Look, AMLO, again, came from a street movement to end up in the presidential palace. You’re right, all of the critiques that surround him. But there is a lot of support for the policies that he’s done specifically in terms of progressive policies regarding, let’s say, protection for workers, protection for domestic workers, raising the minimum wage — these kinds of issues which are getting to the class divisions in Mexico. If you’re progressive, you’re supporting these policies. If you are, let’s say, more on the conservative side, you see AMLO and his policies as a threat. You see his populism as a threat. By the way, we understand how threatening a populist movement can be. We’re seeing it here in the United States.

But there is going to be a legacy that he, in fact, wants to make history and be remembered as the president that changed the trajectory of a modern Mexico. For those who support him, they will say he did that. For those who are critiques will say he began taking Mexico down the tubes. And they are unforgiving. They do not like AMLO, and they do not like Claudia. But more than likely, they will not — that will not change in the polls in terms of Claudia walking away with the presidency.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Hinojosa, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Futuro Media founder, host of Latino USA. Congratulations! It’s turning 30 years old. And we will link to your just-released episode, “A Presidenta Will Lead Femicide-Plagued Mexico,” ahead of Mexico’s elections this Sunday.