Xóchitl Gálvez, Mexican presidential candidate: ‘The López Obrador administration represents corruption and the inability to govern’

The opposition candidate for the presidency of Mexico is confident that she will defeat the ruling party’s candidate — Claudia Sheinbaum — on June 2, despite the fact that the polls show her lagging far behind

Xóchitl Gálvez
Interview with the candidate for the presidency of Mexico for the Frente Amplio, Xóchitl Gálvez, in Madrid, on Sunday, February 11, 2024.Claudio Álvarez

On June 2, 95 million Mexicans will be eligible to elect 20,000 public officials, including the president. And in this election, one thing is already clear: regardless of who wins, for the first time in history, Mexico will have a female head of state.

Claudia Sheinbaum — the candidate for MORENA (the National Regeneration Movement), the party of incumbent President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) — is the favorite, polling around 30 points ahead of her main rival, Xóchitl Gálvez.

A 60-year-old computer engineer and former senator from the state of Hidalgo, Gálvez represents a coalition that brings together the conservative National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — which ruled Mexico uninterruptedly from 1929 until 2000 — and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The candidate of the Frente Amplio denies being — as López Obrador maintains — a puppet of the oligarchy. She labels herself as an advocate of “social democracy.”

In an interview with EL PAÍS, she explains that the reason for her two-day-long trip to Spain is to meet with Spanish politicians and members of the Mexican community. The candidate also plans to participate in a lunch with members of a business council in Madrid that prioritizes economic relations between Spain and Latin America. Before traveling, Gálvez wryly noted that her visit to Madrid wouldn’t be to ask Spain to apologize for the conquest of the Americas — a clear allusion to López Obrador’s demand from 2018, which generated surprise.

Question. What’s your agenda on this trip to Madrid?

Answer. We proposed meetings with members of the government to the Spanish ambassador in Mexico, but we still haven’t received a response. The person who has already confirmed that they’ll sit down with us tomorrow is [the president of the right-wing Popular Party, Alberto Núñez] Feijóo.

Q. You ruled out meeting with Vox. Were you afraid that Mexicans would associate you with the far-right if you did?

A. In my youth, I was a member of the Marxist Workers’ League. When they want to attack me, [my opponents] either bring up my Trotskyist side, or they say that I’m far-right. I’m a center-left, social democratic woman. I’m not a member of any party; I’m a candidate who — although it pains the president to admit it — comes from below. I sat in the PAN bloc [in the Senate], but I’m not a member of that party.

Q. What’s your program for Mexico?

A. To return peace and tranquility to Mexicans. There will be no hugs for criminals [under my administration] — instead, there will be law enforcement. It’s obvious that social security is fundamental: 50 million Mexicans don’t have access to healthcare. We went back 10 years in education with López Obrador and, in mathematics, 20 years, according to the PISA report. The issue is to stop spending money on PEMEX (the state oil company), where the government has lost $50 billion that should have been used for healthcare, education and public safety. The only way out of poverty is — in addition to a social program — a well-paid job. And that’s achieved with investment, not with hate, division or polarization. The administration represents corruption and the inability to govern.

Q. It’s said that, if elected, you’ll implement neoliberal policies.

A. The only person who’s a neoliberal is the current president. The oligarchy’s candidate is Claudia [Sheinbaum], because she represents economic power in Mexico and the use of money for an electoral campaign. Thousands of billboards, thousands of trucks with advertising, tens of millions of pesos spent on social media. Her party has just been fined by the INE (the National Electoral Institute) for 60 million pesos (more than $3 million) because her campaign didn’t declare all the funds that were being spent. Many businessmen have doubled their fortunes during the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who isn’t the people’s candidate.

Q. Well, the candidate isn’t López Obrador at all. It’s Sheinbaum.

A. He’s the candidate. He’s the one who makes the campaign proposals. The only thing she says is that she’s going to continue what López Obrador has done.

Xóchitl Gálvez during the interview with EL PAÍS this Sunday in Madrid.
Xóchitl Gálvez during the interview with EL PAÍS this Sunday in Madrid.Claudio Álvarez

Q. The polls give your rival an advantage of up to 30 percentage points.

A. [The governing party] pays for surveys and buys the media off with state advertising. The president would like the election to be won with a poll, but 50% of people don’t respond to those surveys, because they’re afraid that their social benefits will be taken away [if they give their answer]. Furthermore, if we pay attention to the polls, [Sheinbaum] has lost 14 points (according to a recent poll that reduced the gap between both candidates).

Q. Will there be a massive mobilization of voters at the last minute that could favor you?

A. People are going to mobilize because this government is a failure. If you talk to your colleagues in Mexico, ask them about security. Ask them how the organized crime is and [about the extortion of] farmers, avocado and lemon producers, and those who sell chicken. Mexico’s extortion is worse than ever. States like Chiapas and Tabasco used to be states with poverty but they weren’t dominated by organized crime that, today, controls a third of the national territory. Ask about the healthcare system, which has collapsed. In Mexico, one million people [died due to Covid] according to the excess mortality index published by the INEG (the National Institute of Statistics and Geography). We lost four years of life expectancy and the president says that we have a healthcare system like Denmark’s.

Q. Can the opposition reject López Obrador’s constitutional reforms — which include, for example, increasing pensions — without being punished by voters?

A. That’s a political campaign. The president can implement many of these reforms today. Why doesn’t he pay retired teachers a full pension if he’s the boss? Because he doesn’t want to. He eliminated the popular [health] insurance program that was universal… and now, he proposes creating universal insurance. Many of the reforms don’t need to be in the Constitution, because they’re already public policies. But I told the president that I will approve them immediately. As a senator, [I voted to put these policies] in the Constitution. Nobody can oppose reforms of a social nature.

Now, there are other reforms that aren’t going to pass, such as his attempt to destroy the INAI (the Institute for Transparency, Access to Public Information, Protection of Personal Data and Accountability), or to [alter] the courts (the government reform proposes reducing the number of judges on the Supreme Court from 11 to 9 and appointing them via popular election). If the president really wanted to benefit Mexicans, he would have presented these reforms on the first day of his administration, not the last.

Q. The coordinator of your campaign in the state of Nuevo León — Francisco Cienfuegos — is being investigated for alleged money laundering.

A. Those who are guilty [of corruption] should be investigated and punished. I’m not going to put my hand in the fire for anyone. But who has this government punished for corruption when they’ve had years to investigate? What this president does is make the corrupt people go with him: he rewards them and appoints them as ambassadors.

Q. You’ve criticized the president’s policy towards the United States and the agreement he reached with Donald Trump regarding the return of migrants, both Mexican and non-Mexican.

A. [He’s accepting] the return of migrants in exchange for nothing. Well, in exchange for the U.S. ignoring the lack of democracy in Mexico. It would have been a good agreement if resources had been provided to care for migrants, who, today, are living on the streets. This is a violation of their human rights. The EU gave money to Turkey so that Syrian migrants were in a condition that protected their human rights. Also, what’s going to happen to the 11 million [undocumented] Mexicans who’re in the United States? What has the president done to fight for their legal documentation? Nothing. He has given up.

Q. What do you expect from Spain and the European Union if you become president?

A. Cooperation. I love the European Union’s climate agenda, which promotes renewable energy and environmental protection.

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