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LATIN AMERICA | 29-05-2024 05:20

Claudia Sheinbaum: 'Ice Lady' scientist breaking barriers in Mexico

Dubbed the "Ice Lady" by her rivals, Claudia Sheinbaum – a cool-headed scientist with a PhD in energy engineering – is the favourite to become Mexico's first woman president.

Mexican ruling party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, a cool-headed scientist dubbed the "ice lady" by her rivals, is the front-runner to lead a country known for its passion, tragedy and machismo culture.

The left-wing ex-Mexico City mayor with a serious demeanor and a PhD in energy engineering is the favourite in the polls to triumph on June 2 and become Mexico's first female president.

The granddaughter of Bulgarian and Lithuanian Jewish migrants, Sheinbaum is riding high on the popularity of outgoing left-wing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a close ally and mentor.

Sheinbaum was born in Mexico City to parents caught up in the turmoil of the early 1960s, when students and other activists were seeking to end the Institutional Revolutionary Party's long grip on power.

"At home, we talked about politics morning, noon and night," the 61-year-old was quoted as saying in a recent biography.

Guillermo Robles, a former classmate at the prestigious National Autonomous University of Mexico, remembers Sheinbaum as a serious student.

"Neither she nor I were that into socialising with everyone," he said.

Sheinbaum's magnetism as a young woman lay in her left-wing political convictions, Robles said, adding that her commitment did not waver even when she was pregnant.

"She never said 'I can't.' She always went, especially to the rallies," Robles said.

Sheinbaum also spent several years as a researcher in California, where she honed her English language skills.

She was a contributing author for the United Nations' Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Her first public role was as Mexico City environment minister in the early 2000s.

 

Earthquake, metro collapse

Sheinbaum's political career has been marked by controversy and tragedy at times.

In 2017, a powerful earthquake caused a school to collapse in a southern Mexico City district where she was local mayor, killing 26 people including 19 children.

Sheinbaum denied that irregularities in the construction were her office's responsibility, and went on to be elected mayor of the entire capital the following year.

Her use of scientific methods and technological tools was seen in Mexico City's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, though it did not prevent a high mortality rate.

"She has an impressive capacity for analysis, reading data and finding very practical solutions," said Tatiana Clouthier, a former economy minister who is now a spokesperson for her campaign.

"Despite being a scientist, she is something of a social fighter, which makes a very good combination of heart and mind," Clouthier added.

In 2021, while Sheinbaum was Mexico City mayor, disaster struck again when a section of elevated metro track collapsed, killing 27 people and injuring dozens.

Sheinbaum rejected accusations that budget cuts were to blame.

She negotiated with the construction company owned by magnate Carlos Slim that built the line to obtain compensation for victims and avoid lawsuits.

"Governing is about making decisions. You have to make a decision and assume the pressures that can come from it," Sheinbaum said.

During a series of heated election debates, an unflappable Sheinbaum avoided looking at her main opponent Xóchitl Gálvez or even calling her by name, despite a barrage of accusations.

Gálvez branded Sheinbaum "cold and heartless," saying she lacked sympathy for child cancer patients and earthquake victims.

"I would call you the ice lady," Gálvez said.

Sheinbaum has shown a warmer side at times, kissing and hugging supporters, and revealing a nerdy sense of humor in TikTok videos.

She shared videos with the news of her marriage in November 2023 to her university sweetheart, Jesús Tarriba.

Robles, who has known Sheinbaum for 37 years, said success had never gone to her head.

"She does have love for Mexico. She's not ambitious like many politicians. Claudia is not even remotely like traditional politicians," he said.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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by Jean Arce / AFP

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