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LATIN AMERICA | 06-06-2024 11:31

Sheinbaum's Mexico election win bolsters Latin American left

Claudia Sheinbaum's victory means that both Brazil and Mexico – Latin America's two biggest nations in terms of population and economic output – remain firmly on the left side of the political spectrum.

Claudia Sheinbaum's election as Mexico's first woman president has shored up the left's dominance of Latin America, a region more used to sometimes-dramatic political shifts in recent years.

Sheinbaum will take office on October 1, replacing her political mentor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known by his initials AMLO, who became Mexico's first leftist president in 2018.

Her victory means that both Brazil and Mexico – Latin America's two biggest nations in terms of population and economic output – remain firmly on the left side of the political spectrum.

"Under a Sheinbaum Presidency there will probably not be much change on Latin America's political chessboard," said Michael Shifter, an expert at the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank in Washington.

"Sheinbaum may be even more committed to leftist ideology than AMLO, though her administration is not likely to seek to exert much influence on like-minded allies in the region," he sid

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who replaced far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro in January 2023, warmly welcomed Sheinbaum's election and vowed to deepen economic ties.

Chile, Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras have also shifted to the left in recent years.

Although they are accused of being authoritarian, the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela consider themselves socialist, as does Bolivian President Luis Arce.

In contrast, Argentina’s ultra-liberal conservative President Javier Milei swept to victory in November in a country weary of traditional politics and a severe economic crisis.

He is now part of a regional right-wing bloc that also includes Ecuador, Paraguay and El Salvador.

 

'Urban middle class'

Sheinbaum was elected on a promise to preserve López Obrador's legacy, but nuances between the two put her closer to a "progressive left," said writer and analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson.

While López Obrador, 70, is a "social fighter of rural origin," Sheinbaum hails from the "modern urban middle class," he said.

Even so, her victory means that Mexico is going against a trend in Latin America in recent years of swings between the right and the left.

Of the 22 presidential elections held in the region since 2019, only four resulted in political continuity, according to an analysis by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

"Alternation is now the norm in Latin America," where a desire for change reflects a "disappointment with governments that are ineffective in keeping promises," said Marcela Ríos, Latin America director of the intergovernmental organisation, which promotes democracy.

"It's positive because it shows that electoral institutions are fulfilling their role," said Ríos, a former Chilean justice minister.

The biggest change has undoubtedly been in Argentina with the arrival of Milei, an outspoken outsider and self-declared "anarcho-capitalist."

The presidents who did keep their jobs include El Salvador's popular gang-busting leader Nayib Bukele, who was re-elected at the start of the year.

Sheinbaum's victory comes at a time when Latin America faces major challenges requiring regional cooperation, from climate change to insecurity and US-bound migration, Ríos said.

The region struggles to speak with "one voice," partly due to the existence of competing multilateral forums, some with an ideological bias, she said.

If Donald Trump, who has pledged the biggest ever US deportation programme, returns to the White House then he would pose "a huge challenge" to the region, Rios said.

"I think this will change the configuration of alliances again," she added. "Latin America must be prepared."

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by Alexander Martínez, AFP

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