By Andrés Oppenheimer
Most pundits predict that Mexico’s leftist populist ruling party will win next year’s election. But Sen. Xóchitl Gálvez, a woman of Indian descent, announced Tuesday that she will run for president. She has a formidable story to tell, which could give the opposition a chance to win in 2024.
Gálvez was born in poverty, with an Indian father and a mixed-race mother, but she became a successful computer engineer, businesswoman, and politician. She can communicate in her native Indian Otomi language, which may be a powerful campaign tool.
Gálvez faces major hurdles to becoming president, starting with her upcoming battle to win the opposition coalition’s primary elections. But she has an impressive resume for a presidential candidate.
She was born in the small town of Tepatepec in central Mexico and moved to Mexico City at a young age to study in the country’s most prestigious public university, UNAM. She graduated in computational engineering and founded a successful engineering firm before becoming a public servant.
In the early 2000s, she was head of Mexico’s National Institute of Indigenous People, which oversees Indian affairs. In 2018, she was elected senator for the center-right PAN party.
Her life story would effectively destroy populist President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador’s narrative that Mexico’s opposition leaders are oligarchs who want to preserve their privileges at the expense of the poor.
Galvez could even turn the ruling party’s rhetoric upside down and expose some of its leaders as people who enriched themselves in politics without having ever worked in the private sector.
In an interview last week, Galvez told me that, “I come from the bottom, I’ve been fighting for those who have the least, I have worked indefatigably for the indigenous people.” That, and the fact that she became a self-made successful businesswoman, led many people to convince her to run for the presidency, she said.
Galvez made her announcement on June 27, posting a tweet showing her in front of the National Palace that said: “ I will be the next president of Mexico.” It went viral and, a day later, had 3.7 million views on Twitter.
Galvez initially had planned to run for Mexico City mayor in the 2024 election. But a public confrontation with Lopez Obrador last week, after he falsely accused her of wanting to scrap subsidies for the elderly, drove many Mexicans to push her to run for the presidency, she told me. She drew national attention when she showed up at the presidential palace demanding equal time at the president’s daily press conference to rebut his claims and was turned away. She effectively denounced him as a coward.
As for her political platform, Gálvez told me that among her top priorities would be attracting investments to reduce poverty and migration, and fighting climate change.
The “nearshoring” trend, whereby multinational firms move their factories out of China and closer to the U.S. market, “may be our best opportunity in 100 years,” but Lopez Obrador has failed to take advantage of it, she said. And instead of betting on clean energies, the president “keeps betting on oil,” she added.
When I asked what would she change in Mexico’s foreign policy, she told me, “I don’t like to support authoritarian regimes or non-democratic regimes.”
It won’t be easy for Galvez to win the presidential nomination for the opposition Frente Amplio Por Mexico (Broad Front for Mexico) coalition. She is not part of her PAN party’s hierarchy, nor does she have a big political machine to gather the 150,000 signatures needed to be among the coalition’s contenders.
Also, as the daily Excelsior executive editor Pascal Beltrán del Río wrote in a recent column, some see her as arrogant. “The big enemy of Sen. Galvez’s political career is her ego,” he wrote.
Maybe so. But as a woman who rose from poverty to become a successful businesswoman and politician, she probably had to elbow her way in a hostile environment to get ahead. Many voters will understand that.
The fact that Lopez Obrador tried to smear her even before she made her presidential announcement makes me think that she is the opposition figure he fears the most. She may, indeed, pose the biggest challenge to whoever becomes the president’s party’s nominee.