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What Mexico’s new president means for the U.S

America’s closest partner — on trade, migration, energy and more — has made history by electing its first woman as president. Now the U.S. is watching Mexico’s Claudia Sheinbaum with one question in mind: Will she be a facsimile of her predecessor or blaze her own path?

Sheinbaum served nearly five years as mayor of Mexico City, resigning in 2023 to seek the presidential nomination. Before entering politics, she was an environmental engineer, worked on a UN panel of climate scientists, and received the nickname “la Doctora” for her stellar scientific credentials. Sheinbaum’s landslide victory was propelled by the endorsement of Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), her political mentor and the wildly popular founder of the country’s dominant, populist MORENA party (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional). She’s promised to follow many of his precedents, including cooperating with Washington on reducing migrant border crossing, but it’s not yet clear whether she’ll diverge from him on key issues highly relevant to the U.S. including gang violence, energy and international investment.

To understand the significance of Sheinbaum’s election for U.S.-Mexico relations, Nightly spoke with Lila Abed, the director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute and a columnist for El Heraldo de México and Opinión51. We discussed how Sheinbaum’s election fits into the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship, and what may be on the horizon for the U.S.’s top trade partner.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are the key differences between AMLO and Sheinbaum, the former president’s hand-picked successor? What changes can the U.S. expect?

Security cooperation between Mexico and the United States under the AMLO administration really deteriorated. There’s going to unfortunately need to be a rebuilding of mutual trust between U.S. and Mexico’s security agencies. From speaking to folks close to Claudia’s team, there really is an incentive to restart the relationship with the United States in terms of security cooperation. Sheinbaum, at least in her political platform, has signaled stark differences, one being that she wants to create a national intelligence agency that can better gather intelligence and information, that coordinates all levels of federal, state and municipal level in terms of security cooperation. I think this will allow the United States and Mexico to better exchange intelligence and information and continue doing operations on the ground that serve both the U.S. and Mexico’s priorities in terms of security.

How do you expect Sheinbaum to cooperate with the Biden administration on immigration?

On the migration front, Sheinbaum is going to continue to cooperate with the United States because Mexico has a real objective to stem migrant flows into Mexico. Mexico is no longer just a transit country for migrants. It is now a destination, and the Mexican government has to absorb thousands of migrants that are going to potentially stay in Mexico if they can’t reach the U.S.-Mexico border. Sheinbaum has stated that she wants the United States to provide funds and resources so that Mexico can absorb these migrants on Mexican soil. She will press, like AMLO did, for the United States to fund some of the social programs that in her view could really address the root causes of migration.

Sheinbaum is a renowned climate scientist. Do you see her following her predecessor’s investment in domestic fossil fuel infrastructure, or pivoting to renewables?

She has said that she wants to attract more investment for the renewable and clean energy sector. That’s very different from AMLO’s preference for fossil fuels and dirty energy. She is a scientist by trade. So that might drive her idea of bringing more foreign direct investment in the renewable energy sector, which is super important for the United States. I think Sheinbaum has a better understanding of how vital the energy sector is for the United States and how important it is to preserve a good standing as the top trading partner of the United States in order for the economy to keep growing.

Despite being the U.S.’s top trade partner, Mexico has also been cozying up with Chinese investors. What is Sheinbaum’s stance on China, and how could that impact the Mexico-U.S. relationship?

It is true that investment from China has increased in Mexico in the past years. Sheinbaum understands that this is a hotspot for the United States, but she is going to have to balance this relationship with China because, for example, Chinese companies offer Mexican citizens a cheaper alternative to EVs than the United States. So she’s going to have to keep her consumers happy and at the same time make sure that she keeps the United States happy and keeps U.S. national security protected.

Mexico’s high level of violence will be one of Sheinbaum’s most urgent challenges upon taking office in October. How will she tackle Mexico’s pervasive gang violence?

If we look at what she did as mayor of Mexico City, we can get an idea of what to expect during her six-year term. Her security strategy in Mexico City did provide really positive results on a variety of issues. I think she’s going to have a much stronger security strategy than AMLO’s failed “Hugs Not Bullets” strategy, which focused on the prevention side of security instead of frontally combating transnational criminal organizations. And she will receive pressure from the United States. I think Mexico will continue to place the illicit flow of arms from the United States and Mexico as a priority for the Mexican government on the security agenda. There’s real optimism from different U.S. security agencies that this will be a restart, a 180 from what they saw with AMLO.

What’s the significance of Sheinbaum’s landslide and the extreme dominance of the MORENA party?

The governing party won not just the presidency, but won a super majority in Congress, seven out of nine governorships, the mayorship of Mexico City, and the majority of the major districts in the Capitol. So it really is a testament that Mexico’s democratic system is reversing into a single, dominant hegemonic party. Why is this important to the United States? Because if Mexico doesn’t have a democracy, forget about security cooperation, forget about nearshoring, because companies are not going to want to invest in a country where there’s no separation of powers, where there’s not an independent, autonomous judicial branch, where there’s no clear rules of the game. All of this could affect all aspects of the bilateral relationship and that is something to keep an eye on.

Source: Politi CO