In a historic election, Claudia Sheinbaum will be the first woman to become president of Mexico, succeeding incumbent Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose “legacy” she promised to “save” at the close of her campaign on May 29. Who is she, what does she think, and what is her relationship with the Catholic Church?

Sheinbaum, the candidate of the Let’s Keep Making History political alliance consisting of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the Labor Party (PT), and the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM), obtained a solid majority of the votes in the country’s three-candidate June 2 presidential election.

The director of the National Electoral Institute (INE), Guadalupe Taddei, reported in the early hours of June 3 that according to the results from the rapid count, Sheinbaum led her principal rival, Xóchitl Gálvez, by between 30 and 34 points. Gálvez ran under the Strength and Heart coalition comprised of the National Action Party (PAN), Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

The rapid count showed Sheinbaum obtaining between 58% and 60% of the votes while Gálvez ran far behind with between 26% and 28%. Jorge Álvarez Maynez, the candidate of the Citizen Movement party, won between 9% and 10% of the votes. Sheinbaum will take office on Oct. 1.

López Obrador congratulated the candidate on X for her victory, calling it a glorious day that Mexico has elected its first woman president.

Who is Claudia Sheinbaum?

Born on June 24, 1962, in Mexico City, Sheinbaum comes from a Jewish family of Lithuanian and Bulgarian origin.

According to various national media, her paternal grandparents are Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated from Lithuania to Mexico in the 1920s. The parents of her mother, Annie Pardo, are Sephardic Jews who arrived from Bulgaria in the 1940s, fleeing Nazi persecution.

In a statement to the Spanish edition of The New York Times in 2020, Sheinbaum referred to her distance from Jewish religious practices: “Of course I know where I come from, but my parents were always atheists … I never belonged to the Jewish community and we grew up somewhat distanced from that.”

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Sheinbaum is a mother of two children and since November 2023, she has been married to Jesús María Tarriba, a financial industry consultant.

She graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where she studied physics. She also studied at the University of California-Berkeley.

In 2018, she became the first woman elected as the head of Mexico City’s government, a position that catapulted her as the favorite for the 2024 elections.

Sheinbaum’s principles

In line with the principles of her party, MORENA, founded by López Obrador, Sheinbaum is committed to a progressive agenda that promotes, among other things, abortion and gender ideology.

MORENA defines itself as an “anti-neoliberal and left-wing” political movement that is committed to “the fulfillment of its general obligations regarding human rights as well as with a gender perspective and taking into account intersectionality.”

At the beginning of her campaign, the candidate announced 100 commitments that she would fulfill if elected president, including that she would guarantee “access to health for women throughout their life cycle, especially with regards to sexual and reproductive health.”

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In different publications of international institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO), “sexual and reproductive health” as well as “sexual and reproductive rights” usually include so-called “safe abortion.”

In 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which had legalized abortion throughout the country, Sheinbaum declared that “it would be a setback” if the neighboring country were to make abortion, which she called a “right,” illegal. In response, her then-secretary of health, Oliva López Arellano, touted Mexico City as a safe haven for foreigners who wanted to have an abortion.

That year, when so-called homosexual “marriage” was passed in Guerrero and Tamaulipas states, Sheinbaum celebrated: “Today the entire country makes progress in equal rights with the passage of marriage equality in Guerrero and Tamaulipas. I celebrate this demonstration of the will of the people and the search for justice for all men and women by both state congresses. Love is love.”

In addition, the former head of the Mexico City government publicly condemned conversion therapy for homosexual people, considering it “from the inquisition” and saying that these are measures “that don’t belong in a city of rights.”

On Dec. 12, 2023, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sheinbaum shared on X an image along with commentary stating her strong desire “to strengthen the rights of sexually diverse people.”

“My dream is to continue to fight for sexually diverse people as I did in Mexico City,” she said.

Sheinbaum’s relationship with the Catholic Church

Both Sheinbaum and her top rival, Xóchitl Gálvez, met in February in individual private audiences with Pope Francis.

Sheinbaum announced through her social media that her meeting “was an exceptional hour that I will never forget, with a simple and warm way that shows his greatness.”

“In addition to being the highest representative of the Catholic Church, the religion of the vast majority of my people, I have profound admiration for his humanist thinking,” the candidate added.

In addition, while she was campaigning, Sheinbaum met twice with the country’s bishops.

The first meeting was in March to sign the National Commitment for Peace, an initiative proposed by the Catholic Church to address the growing violence in the nation. The second meeting was in April in connection with the 116th Plenary Assembly of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.

On the latter occasion, the candidate expressed her “desire to maintain good relations with the churches and, especially with the Catholic Church, with which she agrees on many points, especially with the thinking of Pope Francis.”

In the final weeks of the election campaign, rumors circulated that, if she won the election, Sheinbaum would close Catholic churches, including the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

On her YouTube channel, Sheinbaum denied the rumors: “They say — just imagine the lie — that we’re going to close the churches when we win the presidency. We’re going to win the presidency and we’re not going to close any church, any temple. Our respect to all the denominations, all the religions of our people. It’s false that we are going to close any church.”

López Obrador’s ‘legacy’ on abortion, gender ideology

During the six-year term of outgoing president López Obrador, through measures advanced mainly by legislators aligned with his movement, abortion has been decriminalized for up to 12 weeks of gestation in the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Baja California, Colima, Guerrero, Baja California South, Quintana Roo, and Aguascalientes. In Sinaloa, abortion was decriminalized up to 13 weeks of pregnancy.

In Mexico City — formerly the Federal District — abortion was decriminalized for up to 12 weeks’ gestation in 2007, when Marcelo Ebrard headed the Mexico City government. Ebrard is currently a member of MORENA and until recently served as the López Obrador administration’s minister of foreign relations.

On May 17, 2019, five months after taking office, López Obrador instituted what he called the “national day for the fight against homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, and biphobia.”

In May 2020, López Obrador’s then-secretary of the interior, Olga Sánchez Cordero, encouraged the legal recognition of “the name and gender” of a child or adolescent who identifies as “trans.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.