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LATIN AMERICA | 28-05-2024 08:06

Xóchitl Gálvez: From sweet seller to Mexican presidential contender

Overcoming adversity and pursuing presidential dreams – a look at Xóchitl Gálvez's political rise in Mexico.

As a child growing up in a poor rural town, Xóchitl Gálvez sold homemade candy to help her family. Now she is a successful entrepreneur hoping to be Mexico's first woman president.

The 61-year-old centre-right opposition senator and self-made businesswoman with indigenous roots often evoke her simple upbringing in Tepatepec in the central state of Hidalgo.

The Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) leader's childhood was marked by domestic violence and an alcoholic father, according to the candidate and her relatives.

"They came to live here because they were struggling financially," Gálvez's cousin Norma Angélica Ruiz said during a tour of the house the politician once called home with her grandparents, parents, and siblings.

Photographs of Gálvez as a teenager with her family still hang on the walls.

"Since there was no refrigerator, the famous candies were hung in baskets up there on those rafters," said Ruiz, a dentist.

At the time, the town only had a primary school, so Gálvez had to travel long distances to continue her studies.

Ruiz remembers Gálvez as a studious child.

"In high school, she learned to sew and then she taught it to women" from disadvantaged communities, the 68-year-old said.

But in Tepatepec, where outgoing President Andrés Manuel Löpez Obrador's ruling party has strong support, not everyone is won over by the rags-to-riches story.

"It's a lie that they were so poor. It's one of the biggest houses in town," said Dalila García, a merchant at the local market.


'Nobody controls me'

Gálvez, who was born to an indigenous Otomi father and mixed-race mother, speaks with pride of her origins.

Her first name means "flower" in the Nahuatl language, and her background sets her apart from the traditional conservative opposition.

The Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) leader wears traditional clothing, uses colloquial language peppered with swear words and is known for travelling around Mexico City by bicycle.

Between 2015 and 2018, Gálvez was mayor of Miguel Hidalgo, one of the districts of Mexico City, before winning a seat in the upper house of Congress.

"I follow my own convictions... Nobody controls me – not even my husband," she likes to repeat to underline her independence.

Although she is now aligned with the conservative opposition, Galvez's record is one of a liberal defender of abortion, LGBTQ rights, and even outgoing López Obrador's social welfare programmes.

At the same time, she has criticised the left-wing populist's security strategy, saying "ovaries are needed" to confront organised crime.

In another message to López Obrador, she said: "Machos like you are afraid of an independent and intelligent woman."



Dinosaur costume

After leaving Tepatepec at the age of 17, Gálvez studied at the prestigious National Autonomous University of Mexico and went on to found a successful high-tech company.

In 2000, conservative president Vicente Fox entrusted her with policy for indigenous peoples.

As a senator, the mother-of-two once went to Congress in a dinosaur costume to criticise the government.

In a series of presidential debates, Gálvez launched stinging attacks against ruling party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum, calling her an "ice lady" and "narco-candidate."

"While you danced ballet at the age of 10, I had to work," she told the former Mexico City mayor, a scientist by training who was born in the capital to a family of Jewish immigrants.

Despite the fiery performance, Gálvez is lagging more than 20 points behind Sheinbaum in polls.

People close to Gálvez recognise her low popularity in Tepatepec, where there is more visible support for Sheinbaum in the streets.

"In this town, if you're successful, people are suspicious of you," Ruiz said.

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by Sofia Miselem, AFP


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