Scientist, activist, writer, politician: “We are not going to fail you!”
By Carole Reedy
It would be impossible to think of Claudia Sheinbaum without the image of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), Mexico’s new president, at her side. Sheinbaum and AMLO have traveled hand-in-hand on the road to change the government in Mexico since 2014, when Sheinbaum joined AMLO’s newly formed party, the National Regeneration Movement, better known as MORENA.
Both left the PRD party to form the new and much smaller MORENA party, which remarkably and decidedly swept the July 2018 elections in Mexico, not only the presidency but also both houses of Congress and most governorships.
But the struggle to change Mexico’s corrupt government and assure equal rights for all began many years ago.
Who is Claudia Sheinbaum?
Sheinbaum, 56, is the first woman to be elected mayor of Mexico City. (In 1999 Rosario Robles served as the City’s first female mayor when she stepped in for Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas when he left the mayoralty for his third unsuccessful try at the presidency of the country.) Sheinbaum is also the first Jewish mayor; her grandparents emigrated from
Lithuania and Bulgaria.
Sheinbaum comes from a family of scientists, her mother a chemist and her brother a physicist. She studied physics, receiving her master’s and doctoral degrees in energy engineering from La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), which has appeared on lists of the best 100 universities in the world.
In 2007 she was a member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Prize. “Training in physics makes you always look for the root causes. Why is something happening? That’s fundamental for politics,” she said, according to the magazine Science. “And then engineering is much more focused on the how. How can I solve it?”
Many feel her unique knowledge makes her a perfect fit for leading a major city that has both water and transportation crises. As a student activist in the 80s, she helped form Mexico City’s first leftist party, the PRD, the party from which she later broke in 2014 to help form AMLO’s MORENA.
In 2000, AMLO was elected mayor of Mexico City and Sheinbaum was his Environmental Secretary.
Her more recent responsibility (2015) has been as head of the local government of Tlalpan, a southern district of the city. You may recall Tlalpan as the place where a school was decimated by a major earthquake in September 2017. It was discovered that the construction permits were illegally obtained. Many hold Sheinbaum responsible, but she denies any wrongdoing.
Now she takes the reins as mayor of one of the largest and most vibrant cities in the world. High hopes are riding on her success.
What’s her agenda?
“Not only for those who voted for us, I am going to lead an honest, open, democratic, austere, inclusive government that acts with and for the citizenship, without distinction of party, religion or socioeconomic level, but putting all our effort to make of this a city of rights, with justice, and that diminishes the still serious social inequalities,”Sheinbaum declared at her inauguration as mayor of this grand city.
Eliminating governmental corruption is number one on Sheinbaum’s to-do list (as it is for the entire country under AMLO’s leadership), which she claims will save $25 billion pesos. If you know anything about Mexico, you know that the past years of PRI and PAN governments favored the rich, allegedly accepted bribes from cartels, and entirely ignored the poor southern states of the nation.
AMLO, Sheinbaum, and MORENA have committed to the redistribution of wealth in Mexico via a zero-tolerance policy concerning corruption. One of the first measures has been to stop the theft of oil, about which most of you have read as it made the news not only here but also abroad.
Austerity is the second promise by both the federal and city government, and they are off to a good start. AMLO has taken a significant pay cut, and he expects other government officials to do so as well. He flies coach on commercial airlines and is selling the presidential plane. Like the former president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, AMLO eschews driving around in limousines. Los Pinos, former home to presidents such as Peña Nieto and Calderon, is being converted to a cultural center while AMLO lives in more modest dwellings. Just recently, 3,000 locals and visitors were treated to a viewing of Alfonso Cuarón’s award-winning movie Roma at Los Pinos.
Sheinbaum started her austerity program in the city with the abolition of the Grenadiers, a security group that has been linked to various human rights violations in Mexico City. Her nine-point program includes more parks for the city, improved public transportation, better drinking water, reconstruction of the city, and mobility.
Sheinbaum’s new government just put into operation the first of 150 community centers, known as the Freedom, Arts, and Knowledge Innovation Points (Pilares) program, located in the most marginalized areas of the capital, with the purpose of helping young people, eradicating violence, and promoting peace in communities. Program activities will be free to all, with the intention of rebuilding the social fabric in these areas.
Women in Mexican politics
Women in Mexico were awarded the vote in 1955. It would not be an understatement to say we’ve “come a long way, baby.”
The new House of Representatives is now 49 percent women, while the Senate boasts 51 percent, making Mexico the only country with a women-led majority in its senate. At the same time, AMLO’s cabinet is now complete. A woman holds the highest and most influential position, leading the Secretariat of Government and serving as President in the President’s absence. Women hold top positions in the cabinet: energy, labor, social welfare, and the economy.
Most view Sheinbaum, as Mayor of the country’s capital city, as the second most important elected office in Mexico.
Gender equality no accident
All of this didn’t happen by chance. There’s been a concerted effort in Mexico over the past 15 years to move forward with greater gender equality. It might surprise you to know that most Latin American countries (excluding Guatemala and Venezuela) have gender quotas for government positions. This effort began in Mexico in 2003 with a 30 percent quota of women in the federal government. The percentages increased over the years and now they’ve reached 50-50 parity.
Optimism is a new face for Mexico. Let’s hope the new government can continue to make good on its promises to the people of this country, so full of natural resources, gentility, and kindness.
Look for the December 2019 issue of The Eye to see how the new government has fared. The theme of that year-end issue will be “One Year of AMLO.” We, of course, will also be tracking Claudia Sheinbaum’s progress.