By Deborah Van Hoewyk
In December 2022, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) tried to get a constitutional amendment through the Mexican Congress. The amendment would have overhauled the country’s electoral process in such a way that, among many other things, AMLO could have stayed in office after his term ended. (Mexico’s presidents serve a single six-year term.) While AMLO’s constitutional amendment failed, his party, MORENA, continued the effort to reform elections through legislation. (See Randy Jackson’s article elsewhere in this issue on Mexican political parties and coalitions.)
Enter the Opposition
During discussions of the proposed legislation, a lime-green, eight-foot dinosaur took the speaker’s podium in the senate chamber: “Today we introduce the ‘Jurassic Plan,’ … a plan that would bring back ‘the dinosaurs’ of the PRI.” The Institutional Revolutionary Party held unilateral power in Mexico from 1929 to 2000 – at least occasionally through elections deemed fraudulent. The green monster implied that supporters of changing Mexico’s electoral process were out of date, out of touch, and just possibly corrupt.
Inside the dinosaur suit? Senator Bertha Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz, now 60, who was elected to the Senate in 2018 through proportional representation for the PAN party (National Action Party), and re-elected for the PRD party (Party of the Democratic Revolution). (Three-quarters of Mexico’s senators represent a particular place, one-quarter of the senators proportionally represent the political parties).
There are TWO women running for president in Mexico, and Senator Gálvez is the “other woman” – an article on the better-known candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, appears elsewhere in this issue. Gálvez is the candidate of the opposition coalition Frente Amplio por México (Broad Front for Mexico), which comprises the PAN, the PRD, AND THE PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). Sheinbaum is AMLO’s protégé, and is the candidate of the ruling coalition, Juntos Hacemos Historia (Together We Make History), made up of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the Labor Party (PT), and the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico (PVEM).
Who Is Xóchitl Gálvez?
Born in Tepatepec, Hidalgo, Gálvez is mostly Otomi – her father was Otomi, and her mother was part Otomi (the Otomi were the earliest indigenous people to appear in the Mexican highlands, around 8000 BCE). Reportedly, she grew up poor, selling tamales in the street or Gelatina de Tres Leches, a “Mexican Jello” dessert, in the market – depending on who’s telling the story. More to the point, her education and work history focus on digital technology.
Gálvez studied computer engineering at UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and worked as a computer help tech at a call center before returning to UNAM as a research assistant. She finally earned her degree in Computer Engineering in 2010, at the age of 47. In the meantime, she was a programmer and then a systems analyst at INEGI (Mexico’s census bureau); she also served as director of telecommunications at Mexico’s World Trade Center.
In 1992, she set up High Tech Services, a company that developed projects that deployed digital technology to design intelligent buildings, increase energy savings, automate processes, and support security and telecommunications installations. In 1998, she founded Operation and Maintenance for Intelligent Buildings (OMEI). She was named one of the 100 Global Leaders of the World’s Future at Davos in 1999; in 2000, one of the 25 Latin America’s Business Elite by Business Week.
Interviewed by Bloomberg.com news service in 1998, Gálvez said that, amid rapid growth of young entrepreneurial companies, including her own, inequality became an issue for her. “I realized we were creating two Mexicos – one for people with dollars, and one in which people had nothing. The have-nots weren’t going to progress at all if they didn’t have proper nutrition.”
She set up the Foundation for the Future (Fundación Porvenir), which distributes food supplements to indigenous children suffering from malnutrition and works on supporting women in indigenous communities. Gálvez believes that the private sector should work to lessen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
In her late thirties, Gálvez became interested in politics as another way to strengthen Mexican society. Under President Vicente Fox – the 2000 candidate who overturned the PRI’s unbroken hold on the presidency – she headed up the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI). In 2010, she was the runner-up for governor of Hidalgo; in 2015, she was the PAN candidate for mayor of Hidalgo, and won. She had served for nearly three years when she ran for the Senate.
Can She Win the Presidency?
Probably not. Apparently, though, the dinosaur stunt stuck in AMLO’s craw. He has definitely increased her name recognition. Mexican presidents are not allowed to comment on candidates for office, particularly when they are running to succeed that president.
In late Spring of 2023, when it became apparent that Gálvez was the likely presidential candidate of the Broad Front coalition, AMLO began castigating her in his daily mañaneras (two-hour press conferences – what national president has time to gab with the press for two hours a day?). According to CNN online (July 23, 2023), he’s called her a “wimp,” a “puppet,” and “employee of the oligarchy.” He has said she didn’t grow up poor; he has released private financial information on her businesses and said their contracts are corrupt. (Gálvez has pointed out that some of those contracts are with the Mexican government.)
The National Election Institute (INE) has ordered AMLO to stop attacking Gálvez; the order has not taken effect, and you should note that the INE is also under attack by AMLO. El Financiero, Mexico’s Wall Street Journal, has said “AMLO is obsessed with Senator Gálvez,” and other commentators have joked that AMLO is the Senator’s campaign manager.
There is no doubt that AMLO’s ill-founded attacks have raised her profile to within striking distance of Sheinbaum. It’s not clear whether that’s enough, but it has definitely put her on the national stage for some time to come. Remember, it took AMLO himself three tries to get elected.