Claudia Sheinbaum makes history: What to know about Mexico’s 1st woman president

Claudia Sheinbaum addresses supporters.
Claudia Sheinbaum addresses supporters early on Monday, June 3. (Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

Claudia Sheinbaum was elected as Mexico’s next president on Sunday, making her the first woman in the country's 200 years of democracy to hold its highest office. She won with more than 58% of the vote against Xóchitl Gálvez — marking the first time in Mexico's history that the two main presidential candidates were women.

Sheinbaum is the successor of outgoing president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has been president since 2018 and who also belongs to the left-wing Morena party.

Sheinbaum’s election is significant because the government of Mexico has traditionally been male-dominated and because she will also be the first Jewish person to lead the predominantly Roman Catholic country. Her six-year term will start Oct. 1.

“For the first time in 200 years of the republic, I will become the first female president of Mexico,” Sheinbaum said on Sunday. “And as I have said on other occasions, I do not arrive alone. We all arrived, with our heroines who gave us our homeland, with our ancestors, our mothers, our daughters and our granddaughters.”

Sheinbaum, 61, is a Nobel Prize-winning climate scientist who received her PhD in energy engineering from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

In 2000, she began a six-year term as the Secretary of Environment under López Obrador while he was Head of Government of Mexico City, a position similar to a mayor in the U.S. Sheinbaum also served as Head of Government of Mexico City, from 2018 to 2023 — resigning to seek the Morena party’s nomination for president.

López Obrador, sometimes referred to as AMLO, doubled the minimum wage, invested in college scholarships and programs to keep young people out of cartels, dissolved the federal police and pushed construction projects forward to beef up infrastructure across the country.

Read more about López Obrador’s legacy from AFP.

In her victory speech, Sheinbaum said she would continue to enforce policies enacted by López Obrador, such as his social welfare programs, to address economic inequality.

“I promise to protect López Obrador’s legacy,” Sheinbaum concluded.

While López Obrador still has a high approval rating in Mexico, and despite their mentor-mentee relationship, Sheinbaum has spent the last few years toeing the line between supporting the outgoing president and differentiating herself as a separate candidate.

Mexico’s high levels of violent crime will be Sheinbaum’s most immediate and biggest challenge once she takes office. During her campaign, she told supporters that she would focus on building “a strategy of addressing the causes and continue moving toward zero impunity.”

According to a report by Vision of Humanity, a research company dedicated to analyzing data on peace-making efforts around the world, organized criminal activity is the “main driver” of homicides and gun violence in the country. Such activity has been on the rise over the last few years.

As Head of Government of Mexico City, Sheinbaum lowered homicide rates by half.

Mexico’s relationship with the U.S. was brought up several times during the election, as the numbers of migrants traveling over the border from Mexico to the U.S. have reached record highs.

But Sheinbaum has made it clear she is pro-migrant and stressed that she would not allow the U.S. to dictate how the Mexican government should handle migration.

U.S.-Mexico relations regarding U.S.-bound migrants are complicated by the possible reelection of former president Donald Trump, who has vowed to execute the largest deportation operation in history to remove undocumented migrants, should he return to the White House.

In a statement, President Biden congratulated Sheinbaum on her “historic” election.

“I look forward to working closely with President-elect Sheinbaum in the spirit of partnership and friendship that reflects the enduring bonds between our two countries,” Biden wrote. “I expressed our commitment to advancing the values and interests of both our nations to the benefit of our peoples.”

Read more about why Mexico’s election matters to the U.S. from the BBC.