Mexico’s presidential candidates promise security or continuity as campaigns officially begin

IRAPUATO, Mexico — Mexico’s presidential campaigns officially launched Friday with underdog opposition coalition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez leveraging the country’s ongoing security problems to differentiate herself from Claudia Sheinbaum, the choice of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Gálvez got the early jump on the campaign, holding an event in the violence-torn central state of Zacatecas just after midnight. The former senator and tech entrepreneur said that under her leadership “hugs for criminals are over; they will face the law.”

That was a play on López Obrador’s shorthand for his security strategy “hugs, not bullets,” which steered resources to social problems at the root of violence.

Four Mexican soldiers were killed by a land min e in the state of Michoacan, López Obrador confirmed Friday. The president called it a “trap” likely set by a cartel.

The soldiers inspecting a camp on the outskirts of Aguililla Thursday when an anti-personnel mine was triggered.

On Monday, gunmen killed two mayoral hopefuls in the Michoacan town of Maravatio within hours of each other, the latest signal of organized crime’s willingness to engage in local elections.

Gálvez posed the choice as: “continuing on the same path which would mean giving in to crime or fighting to defend families, to defend the youth, to defend those who work.”

Sheinbaum was scheduled to hold her campaign launch Friday afternoon in the main square of Mexico City, the capital she governed until stepping down to run for president. She has largely promised to continue the policies of her predecessor, something she repeated at an event Thursday, saying she would present 100 proposals Friday to drive the next stage of López Obrador’s “transformation.”

In places like Zacatecas and neighboring Guanajuato, Gálvez’s heavy handed security approach could sway voters terrorized by warring drug cartels. Gálvez planned an event in Guanajuato’s Irapuato later Friday.

“There will not be a more important priority than Mexicans’ safety,” Gálvez said.

She promised to double the size of the National Guard that López Obrador created to 300,000, but put it under civilian leadership. She also proposed closer collaboration with the United States to confront a “common enemy” in the cartels, something that has been a constant source of tension for López Obrador with his neighbor to the north.

Her challenge – and one she appeared to anticipate – will be convincing people, especially in conservative states like Guanajuato, that she is up to the job.

“It seems to me with the violence problem there is in Guanajuato, if it already got out of control for a man, imagine it with a woman,” said Armando Fernández, a 61-year-old government employee. “Women are more pacifist, they aren’t about violence, conflict.”

For her part, Gálvez first official campaign speech was all about disabusing skeptical Mexicans of that misperception.

She shouted that she is a “brave woman” and promised to build a maximum security prison so the criminals know where they will end up.

“Their business is over,” she said of the cartels and gangs that extort and kill. “They are not going to live off the fear and work of Mexicans.”

Maria Bermudez, 21, waiting just off Irapuato’s square for a store to open, said she thinks about 30% of the population still holds chauvinist attitudes.

“They’re always going to be like that,” she said. “It’s the same with racism. It’s something that’s very difficult to change. For some you’ll never get it out of their head.”

Bermudez said she intends to split her vote between the major parties, “so that there’s debate between them.”

Alejandro Zarate was having breakfast at a taco stand on the main square with his son, Emilio, on Friday. The elder Zarate is convinced that Mexico is not only prepared to have a woman president, but that it will be Sheinbaum.

“There’s a chasm of difference (between the candidates), Claudia is very prepared. The other, Gálvez, is a clown,” he said.

Not many people are even talking about the only man in the race, Jorge Álvarez Máynez of the smaller Citizen Movement party. The 38-year-old will also launch his campaign in a violent state, choosing Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco for his first official event.

Zarate’s son, Emilio, thinks the country is ready for a woman president, but isn’t convinced by either of the two candidates. “Unfortunately, as a society, we don’t have the best options. Sadly, we have to choose among the least worst.”


Sánchez reported from Mexico City.

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