How an election reveals Mexico’s liberal politics | WORLD
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Going south

IN THE NEWS | Mexico’s presidential election shows a persistent shift toward left-wing politics

Claudia Sheinbaum attends a campaign rally in Mexico City. Raquel Cunha / Reuters / Redux

Going south
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ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, Mexican presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum periodically shows up to events wearing a rosary with a crucifix around her neck. She once sported a skirt featuring the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She’s also bragged about meeting with Pope Francis.

But Sheinbaum, 61, isn’t Roman Catholic and doesn’t support traditional values. She has offered Mexico City as a refuge for foreigners wanting an abortion. And she championed pro-LGBTQ policies while serving as Mexico City’s mayor. Sheinbaum is of Jewish heritage and claims to be a woman of faith, but she holds no religious affiliation.

Even so, Sheinbaum is on track to win the presidential election set for June 2. As of May 14, she remained the front-runner in Mexico’s presidential election by a daunting 27 points, according to the Bloomberg Poll Tracker.

In fact, despite its overwhelmingly Catholic population, Mexico has put three presidential candidates on the ballot who bless liberal social causes the Catholic Church has traditionally condemned. Sheinbaum’s closest competitor, Xóchitl Gálvez, also supports abortion and gay-­affirming policies, as does Jorge Álvarez Máynez, who is running a distant third. Meanwhile, conservative challenger Eduardo Verástegui, a pro-life actor, never made it onto the ballot.

This roster of candidates illustrates a waning of traditional Catholic values in Mexico. Experts blame the political trend on two concerns they say most voters now consider more important than traditional morality: They want the current president’s generous social programs continued. And they want Mexico’s out-of-control crime stopped.

Over his six-year tenure, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has won the loyalty of many Mexicans through government handouts to the lower classes the ruling elite have historically ignored. His protégé, Morena Party candidate Sheinbaum, promises to continue his largesse to the marginalized.

“They see the president as someone who is willing to give money to the Mexican people without limits. They fear losing social aid from the government if they vote for someone else,” says Aarón Lara, president of the Ibero-American Congress for Life and Family.

Lara says Obrador has presided over “a furious onslaught from the executive branch to infringe upon the family, life, and liberties.” Notably, several political figures have been convicted and punished for criticizing transgender ideology.

Xóchitl Gálvez speaks during a campaign rally in Zapopan, Mexico.

Xóchitl Gálvez speaks during a campaign rally in Zapopan, Mexico. Medios y Media/Getty Images

Despite Sheinbaum’s lead, Lara hopes the country elects National Action Party candidate Gálvez, whom he sees as willing to listen to conser­vative perspectives.

While Obrador has focused on social programs and promoting left-wing ideology, Mexico’s long-standing crime problem has significantly worsened under his administration, according to Earl Anthony Wayne, a public policy fellow at the Wilson Center who co-chairs its Mexico Institute Advisory Board. “Criminal groups are very active in many ways, including in shipping fentanyl and other deadly drugs to the United States,” Wayne said. “I think the government has not really taken that challenge on in the way that many Mexicans had hoped they would.”

Despite Mexico’s capture of several cartel criminals last year, Obrador’s policies have discouraged police from confronting cartels. During his administration, cartels essentially took over at least 12 midsized Mexican cities. And tourist areas are no longer off-limits. Gangs have targeted victims in resort cities like Cancún and Acapulco. Homicides in Mexico topped 30,000 for the sixth consecutive year.

Cartels have also killed more than 50 priests since 2006—at least nine during Obrador’s tenure. The Catholic Church in Mexico has asked all presidential candidates to address the violence. Gálvez’s popularity, though less than Sheinbaum’s, stems from her crime-reduction platform.

Experts speculate that another Morena Party president, combined with a Congress already ruled by the same party, will cement far-left policies in Mexico for years.

Sam Rodriguez, an evangelical pastor and president of the U.S.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, says the Mexican Catholic church won’t decry hard-left ideology but does condemn violence. “At times to its own peril,” he says.

Rodriguez argues the influence of 1960s liberation theology on the Latin American Catholic Church, including in Mexico, is still strong. Its Marxist underpinnings, which promote “empowerment” of the poor, align with Obrador’s appeal—and now Sheinbaum’s—to the lower classes.

Experts speculate that another Morena Party president, combined with a Congress already ruled by the same party, will cement far-left policies in Mexico for years.

“These elections are … perhaps the most important in our history,” says Lara. “Not only politics of economics will be defined—the [moral] values with which we govern will be defined. That’s what’s at stake.”

—with additional reporting by Carlos Páez


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