Democracy & Elections Foreign Relations & International Law

Lawfare Daily: Former Ambassador Roberta Jacobson on the Mexico Presidential Election

Anna Hickey, Roberta Jacobson, Jen Patja
Tuesday, June 18, 2024, 8:00 AM
Discussing the election of President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With
Brookings

On June 2, Mexico held one of the largest elections in its history and the electorate voted in the country's first women, and Jewish, president, Claudia Sheinbaum. Sheinbaum was endorsed by outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who critics charge as pushing a series of anti-democratic policies including a substantial judicial overhaul. 

To discuss this historic election and what President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum may do in office, Lawfare Associate Editor for Communications Anna Hickey sat down with former United States Ambassador Roberta Jacobson. They discussed the issues voters were concerned about, political violence by cartels plaguing the country, and whether Sheinbaum will follow AMLO's trajectory as a populist or chart her own path. 

 

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Click the button below to view a transcript of this podcast. Please note that the transcript was auto-generated and may contain errors.

 

Transcript

Roberta Jacobson: One of the big questions is how soon, if ever, she diverges from AMLO's policy. She will soon be the president. He will be an ex-president. But all the questions in Mexico and surrounding countries these days seem to be, who's going to govern? Him or her?

Anna Hickey: It's the Lawfare Podcast. I'm Anna Hickey, Associate Editor of Communications at Lawfare, with Roberta Jacobson, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Roberta Jacobson: What is she going to announce on security, if anything? And some things she may not announce for months, right? Do you want to announce on security before you know who's in the White House? Because that's your security partner? Maybe not. Maybe she holds on that. Or maybe there's pressure to do something because that was such an important issue for people.

Anna Hickey: Today, we're talking about the recent Mexican presidential election and what the election of President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum may mean for democracy in Mexico. So today you're joining us to talk about the recent elections that were in Mexico and first I just want to ask, who were people voting for? What were the offices that were up for election that day?

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah, it's a great question, because this turns out to have been the largest elections that Mexico has ever held. Over 20,000 offices were up for election, from president all the way down to your local council members, the entire Senate and lower House and state governorships in some cases, so it was a massive undertaking and a massive result.

Anna Hickey: And what were the results of this election? Did one party do especially well?

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah, I mean at the presidential level, most people believed that the current governing party, Morena, their candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, would win. And, indeed, she won. What I think was unexpected was the size of her victory. It was enormous. She beat her rival, her closest rival, by 30 points. Morena took 7 out of 9 governorships, if we include Mexico City, which is considered a governorship these days, as well as getting a super majority in the lower house of Congress.

Which means a lot in terms of what kinds of laws can be passed and constitutional changes and being two seats shy of a supermajority in the Senate, which for practical purposes may be a supermajority on individual issues. So it was a landslide in many ways. And so that was what surprised a lot of people.

Anna Hickey: Moreno, if you were to put that on the political spectrum of left to right, where would they fall on that spectrum?

Roberta Jacobson: I think you could say anywhere from center left to left, certainly, although, the former president, the current president, who will be leaving office shortly, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, was really more a populist, and I would argue veering authoritarian than he was a classical leftist.

But the party, I would say would be center right, center left or leftist.

Anna Hickey: What were the main issues on the top of voters’ minds as they went to the ballot box to vote for this election?

Roberta Jacobson: I think in Mexico, as in our own country, the economy is always on people's minds. It's always a high priority for people, but I think what was interesting about this election was the polls showed that people were extremely concerned about security issues, personal security, cartel violence in the country.

And yet, although AMLO had really done very little about the violence, in fact, it got worse during his tenure, the party was reelected in a landslide. So there's an interesting sort of juxtaposition. Now, on the other hand, economically, the country has had very anemic growth. Obviously, some loss economically during the COVID pandemic, as most countries had, but it really hasn't recovered fully to leap up.

It's had an anemic growth rate of between one and three percent every year for quite a while now. But what, López Obrador did that was very interesting is he changed the social programs --- and the social programs, which benefit more than 26 million Mexicans, now give you a cash card that goes directly to you if you have children, and you're getting social benefit for childcare that doesn't go to the childcare provider.

You don't have to use it with a childcare provider. You just get the money. The same is true for care for the elderly and other things. And so there was a very direct connection made by many Mexicans between their president and the money they got from the government. And I think that played a big role when you're looking at the economy.

There were clearly a lot of people not doing that well economically. But they felt connected to this president, and they felt that this president understood them in a way that Mexican politicians, quite honestly, had not in, in recent decades, frankly.

Anna Hickey: And has Mexico also faced the high inflation that other the U.S. and other countries have faced post COVID?

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah, it's certainly faced higher inflation than it had in a while. When you're looking at Latin America and you have countries, such as Argentina or others at various times, which are talking about triple digit inflation. The first time I ever saw barcode scanners were in Argentina because they couldn't put prices on the actual items in a grocery store fast enough because that's how fast the inflation rate was moving.

It is not hyperinflation and it's not high by many standards in this region. But yeah, it was higher than it has been, and that takes its toll, there's no doubt.

Anna Hickey: Obviously, you mentioned that the results, this massive victory by the Morena party, were a little bit shocking. There have been some concerns that kind of this massive result may lead to more of a one party political system that Mexico has seen in the past.

How seriously are you taking those concerns, or do you think people should in general take those concerns?

Roberta Jacobson: I think the answer is, I take them quite seriously and I think and hope other people are. Obviously the PRI, the institutional revolutionary party, ran Mexico for 71 years until you had a change in governing party in 2000 for the first time, so Mexico's experience with alternating parties in power in some respects is only 24 years old.

It's a young democracy in many respects. And I think the reason for the concern is really not just that the same party has been reelected. I think many of us are perfectly comfortable with a party that gets reelected if the population believes they deserve it. I think the thing that makes me more concerned is some of the actions that López Obrador has taken as president that really further concentrate an already fairly presidentially centric, if you will, system in the presidency.

There has been the gutting of some budgets of independent agencies, including frankly, the electoral agency. Mexican elections are publicly funded. That is not to say that private money doesn't get into them somehow, but they are publicly funded. And as part of that is a nationwide electoral institution, which had been at various times the envy of the world, the, the head of their electoral institute would go around the world giving talks about how to set this up.

And it was really reduced by, I want to say, well more than 50 percent of its budget as well as its staff at a time when you were having the largest election ever in Mexico. However, in the end the elections came off okay, but then you had a proposal by AMLO in February that would basically do away with all the independent regulatory agencies and put them into the federal government, the executive branch secretariat or ministry that they were nearest to. So your telephone regulator might get put into your ministry of communications and transport, or your competition regulator, your antitrust regulator in some respects might get put into your economy or your finance ministry.

That is worrisome. He also frankly had very little patience with what I think is critically important and that's civil society; NGOs. He disparaged them publicly at the microphone in his daily press conferences. He disparaged some journalists putting some of their lives in danger. And so it is actions like those that make me much more worried about authoritarianism and potential for one party rule, even more than just a party getting reelected once, right? So I just think it's something that we need to keep an eye on.

Anna Hickey: For the first part that you mentioned with the defunding of the electoral agency, did AMLO give a specific reason for why he was reducing the staff and the funding to that agency before the largest election in Mexico?

Roberta Jacobson: The ostensible reason was that it was wasted money, that they had too many people, that there was a lot of chaff that could be cut. The same way he cut government ministries by a third when he came into office, both for fiscal reasons, he said budgetary reasons, and because he just didn't think they needed all those people.

Many people suspect that AMLO's real reason for cutting INE, the electoral authority, was that in 2006, the first time he ran for president, this was his third attempt, but in 2006 he came the closest until he won when Felipe Calderón was elected by only 0.58 percent of the vote. And he insisted at that time that he had actually won, that there had been fraud and that he was the legitimate president of Mexico for months.

And so there were many who suspected that his actions vis a vis the INE, frankly, was revenge for what he thought was keeping him out of the presidency years ago.

Anna Hickey: And has the President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum said anything about whether she supported those cuts or whether she'd want to reverse them when she, took office?

Roberta Jacobson: It's very interesting because although she has some very different views than AMLO does, and we could talk about that in a second, especially as the election grew closer, I would say in the last year or two, she has never contradicted AMLO. In fact, there were many, myself included, who thought she was becoming a kind of mini me for the president.

And that included areas which were really surprising, frankly. AMLO made a lot of comments during the COVID pandemic that frankly were anti science. And she associated herself with those remarks. She said that she supported the president. This is a woman who was educated as a physicist, and trained as an environmental engineer, saying she agreed with some positions that were anti science, or that she agreed with his position to pursue almost solely fossil fuels during his presidency when she was a member of the IPCC, the UN agency intergovernmental pact on climate change that won the Nobel prize in 2007 and was a real booster of renewables in Mexico City. So there were some strange moments, some things that looked odd, but there was no way she was going to let any daylight come between herself and a president who was wildly popular in her pursuit, frankly of the candidacy that she eventually got and now has won the presidency.

Anna Hickey: What was President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum’s position before running for president and how closely tied was she to the national Morena political party?

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah, that's interesting. Morena as a political party didn't really exist until I want to say it was 2013 or 2014. So AMLO had the same progression that, that Claudia had, which is to say they started as members of the PRI, they became members of the PRD, the party of revolutionary democracy, which was a left of center offshoot of the PRI, and then AMLO founded Morena, and the PRD has almost ceased to exist. So he's been through this trajectory of three parties, and she has been the same. Although she's younger than him, she started out as a member of the PRI, and the PRI at that time, and I think this is interesting about Morena now, the PRI for years was such a huge party, right? It was one party government. It had what were called currents within it. So you had people from almost the far right to the far left who were all part of the PRI. Morena has in some ways replicated that. AMLO sounded many times like the PRI of the 1970s. He's fairly statist. He is populist, not a small “d” democrat in many ways. And she's had that same movement, but I would say you know, having begun as a sort of a local council person in Mexico City and then moved to the mayoralty, which is a huge job in a city the size of Mexico City. And now the presidency, she's strong and disciplined as a person and policymaker, I think but she doesn't demonstrate that authoritarian streak.

I think she is a committed small “d” democrat. But one of the big questions is how soon, if ever, she diverges from AMLO's policy. She will soon be the president. He will be an ex-president, but all the questions in Mexico and surrounding countries these days seem to be, who's going to govern?

Him or her? Which may be a little bit of sexual bias there, gender bias, because, a woman couldn't possibly actually run the country, seems to be what's being suggested. But it is a question that's legitimate since she has been his protege from being his environment secretary when he was mayor of Mexico City.

Anna Hickey: One of the things that I know has been brought up recently: she has recently mentioned judicial overhaul reforms that AMLO had also talked about earlier. Can you talk about what exactly these reforms would do and why people are so concerned about them?

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah, I think that's really important. The reforms that he announced on February 5th of this year are numerous but the changes to the judicial power are the ones that are getting the most attention, I think greatly because they would make virtually all judicial positions, judges at all levels, right up through the Supreme Court and indeed the tribunal that actually comes up with the criteria for selection of judges, popularly elected positions.

And there are obviously judges elected in the United States in some communities, but I don't know that many of us think all of these positions should be elected. Obviously, many of them, federal judges and the Supreme Court are confirmed by the Congress. So there is an indirect, representation there confirmed by the Senate.

But I think that's the one that has people the most worried because the level of uncertainty that could bring to Mexico's judicial system is pretty startling. And the one thing that investors and business people who are trying to expand in Mexico and get more investment for nearshoring, the one thing they hate is uncertainty. And I am very worried about that, and a lot of other people are as well. There are other provisions, such as the codification in law of the military's role in certain domestic activities, such as running the ports, the airports, and much infrastructure that is also part of those initiatives that AMLO announced on February 5th.

And I think those two worry a lot of people. But I think the judicial power overhaul is the one that really has people concerned because with a sweeping election like this in which Morena was so very strong, there's no real way… Would all judges be politically Morenistas from the party?

It's just not clear. And that could be very worrisome, I think.

Anna Hickey: Right now, are any judges elected in Mexico or would this be a true overhaul?

Roberta Jacobson: That is a good question. I don't think any judges are elected right now, but there could be a sort of equivalent of a local judge or justice of the peace that's elected.

I think the biggest problem with this also is that AMLO has progressively reduced the checks and balances on the presidency, right? You're going to have supermajority or virtual supermajority in both houses of the legislature. If you elect judges, one presumes they will be judges all the way up and down, will be more in line with your political positions.

And that is the thing that, that, that has worried me the most, where I don't necessarily think Sheinbaum will move away from this. Will she continue it or accelerate it? I don't know. But this closing of checks and balances, reducing the power of checks and balances on a president with increasing authority, I think is very worrisome.

I don't know that she will be able to do as much as he has. He is a super charismatic figure. He really does connect with people. You might say that she is the anti-charisma character candidate. She's very serious. She's not outwardly demonstrative. You have to go around and glad hand and kiss babies and all that good stuff.

And she always looked quite uncomfortable with that, but she's incredibly smart and she is disciplined. She’s more technocratic than he is and a little bit perhaps less ideological. So it'll be interesting to see whether some of the things that I think are overreach during his government are simply not possible by her because she doesn't command the same kind of affection that clearly lots of people voted for her, but how many of them were voting for a continuation of him? Unclear.

Anna Hickey: Returning to a comment you made earlier about violence being on the top of voters minds, there were reports of political violence leading up to this election, especially for local candidates. Can you talk a little bit about the violence that local candidates and some federal candidates like faced and who was targeting these candidates?

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah, I think as of election day, there were 36 candidates or people associated with campaigns who were killed ahead of the elections. However, there were hundreds of cases of people threatened and who subsequently pulled out by death threats or whose families were threatened or other people killed as part of this sort of reign of terror in some ways pre-election.

It was, to the best information that I have, entirely carried out or almost entirely carried out by narcotics cartels. Which cartels in which areas? I'm not sure I could say exactly, because there are some overlaps in places; where the violence is greatest, it's because one or two or more cartels are actually fighting for territory.

But this was a very bad year. There was just a lot of intimidation and pressure. And it was much more at the local or state level. It was not at the federal level. If you were running for Congress at the federal level, it doesn't mean you might not have gotten some threats. But you were in much greater danger if you were a lower ranking official.

And part of the reason is because what the cartels care most about, they care about the laws that are being passed at the national level, but what they really care about is will you let them use your territory as they ply their trade, right? Will you allow them to carry out their activities?

And so they want a mayor or a council person or a governor who's going to turn a blind eye or not have very effective policies. And so that's what was going on in many cases. It was pretty obvious that where people were targeted, it was because they had said things like we're going to go after organized crime in this state.

We're not going to let this continue. People are dying and we're going to lower this, the level of violence by going after some of these guys.

Anna Hickey: Have there been any calls for protection for political candidates like from the federal level or policies that could be implemented in the next congressional term to protect people running for office?

Roberta Jacobson: Certainly. There were a number of very prominent NGOs, which spoke out quite forcefully on the need to protect candidates. There were candidates who requested and got protection, either state-level protection because there are local, state, and federal police, or national guard. And there were many who got that protection.

There were others who thought I can't go out campaigning with bodyguards all around me. It just sends the wrong message. I can't communicate with people well. And it was the most well-intentioned instinct in the world, but it probably wasn't smart in the end. I think there is going to be a hard look, certainly by the opposition.

If not, some of the candidates that were killed included Morena ruling party candidates, but I think they are going to have to take a look at how they organize and protect polling places, candidates, candidate fora when they go to local communities. And the other difficulty is it wasn't in one or two sections of the country. It was in many. There are states with lower violence rates than others, but there are none that are untouched by this.

Anna Hickey: While she was running for office, did Claudia Sheinbaum mention any specific policies to combat these high levels of violence, or was it just a continuation of AMLO’s policies from the previous six years?

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah, to the best of my knowledge, she did not come out with anything specific on the security situation and the violence. I suspect that's in part because his policy, which was referred to as hugs, not bullets because in Spanish it rhymes, abrazos no balazos. So he wanted to attack the problem at its socioeconomic level and try and get kids to not join the cartels.

And frankly, he didn't even do enough of that to make a difference. But he certainly didn't go after these guys either in prosecution terms or potentially extradition. He did extradite a number of people late in his term, but it was very late. Not as many as his predecessors had done. So she has said very little in part because I think almost anything she said would probably look like a criticism of him and his policy.

But some of the rumored cabinet selections suggests she may be thinking about doing more certainly more than he did, as she did, frankly, more in Mexico City. Mexico City's crime rate while not as low as people would like it, did come down somewhat during her tenure. Whereas nationwide, it was continuing to skyrocket.

And she picked a career cop for her interior ministry, which is very interesting. A young guy who's really very impressive. So I think it'll be interesting to see what she does on the security issue. I'm hopeful she will do more than he did, but I don't know that she could say so until she's in power.

Anna Hickey: And did the opposition candidates have any specific policies to roll out?

Roberta Jacobson: Yes. Sorry, I knew where you were going with that. They did. They certainly made a big deal of the lack of ability to control this by the governing party. And that people could just expect more of the same in violence.

They did have some policies that they talked about, although in some respects it wasn't a policy heavy election. They did talk about, about prosecuting people, about the timidity of this administration to go after bad guys and prosecute them, which was in some ways seen in its most unfortunate form when, I think it was quite early in his government, the military went into Culiacán Sinaloa, which is where Chapo Guzmán was based, where he lived and his family still lives, and there was a shootout taking place among gang members that then turned on the military, and it was led by one of Chapo's kids.

And after quite a while of this going on in the middle of town, there were discussions between the two, and basically Chapo's son Ovidio said if you're going to keep coming after us, we're just going to kill everybody here. We'll kill half the town. And AMLO decided to, in essence, do a strategic retreat from the town rather than lose both all these civilians and potentially a lot of his military participants, but it was seen as a terrible message to send, all you have to do is overpower us by force and we leave.

So you know, there were lots of things that happened that the opposition could capitalize on by saying, you've got to prosecute these people, got to prosecute them here. You've got to send them to the U.S. More than that, I don't know that there were a lot of specifics. My own view is that the most important thing Mexico and the U.S. could do is follow the money. The old Watergate saying is still true. Money is the absolute essential for these guys, whether they get it by extortion or murder or drugs or trafficking people. And so you can crack down on one crime or another. But until you dry up the ability to launder their cash and the cash itself, they're just going to come back doing something else. You're playing whack a mole.

Anna Hickey: And then thinking about cooperation between Mexico and the United States, obviously early on in AMLO's term there were reports that he, and at the time President Trump, did not fully get along. After President Biden was elected, what was the relationship between AMLO and President Biden?

And does that tell us anything about how we can expect President-elect Sheinbaum to work with President Biden this fall and then whoever wins the U.S. presidential elections in November?

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah, it's interesting because I think, although there's no doubt that AMLO disagreed with a lot of policies that former President Trump was implementing, whether it was the wall or other things, I thought it was interesting because AMLO saw himself like Trump as an outsider to politics, shaking up the system. He did. And he was highly transactional, which Trump was also. So there was a weird relationship that AMLO had. In some respects, it wasn't as bad as it should have been based on policy.

I think AMLO has gotten along quite well with Biden. Partly it's a personal thing. Biden is a sort of old-time folksy politician. AMLO, as populist as he is also somebody who loves meeting the voters and talking with them and all the rest of that. I think what AMLO was really afraid of was that the United States would focus on things like democracy, human rights, femicides in Mexico, other things.

And, Mexico has always hated that interference, the way they view it in some cases. And AMLO was particularly sensitive that we not as a U.S. government that, that didn't muck around in their internal affairs and in particular on things that, that mattered to him. What was interesting was the relationship ended up being very heavy on migration, and the other issues were not as public, at least.

And that suited AMLO just fine, because on migration, while it wasn't an easy thing for him to do, he held the cards, right? Mexico could help at its southern border and throughout the territory of Mexico, or it could not help and let things get really awful right at the border, which has happened, obviously, on many occasions.

And so I think he did and cooperate with the United States and have a decent relationship, but it was much more on his terms than I think than the U.S. would have liked. And so I think Sheinbaum would have a very positive relationship with a Biden administration 2.0. I think it would be a little bit more diverse. But that depends entirely on what migration numbers really are and whether they stay. Because right now they're quite low. People don't realize that because they were so high at the end of last year and beginning of this year, but they're actually quite low right now.

I am presuming that a relationship between Sheinbaum and a Trump's second term would be much more tense because we would go back to talking about walls and worse yet in the environment in the U.S. Congress, there'd be discussion of invasion or sending military, which would never actually come to pass because Mexico would have to agree.

But I could see where that relationship might be much more difficult. And she isn't a folksy personality. Neither is Trump, but I'm unsure how they would get along. I think it would be formal and correct when and if they met, and in between, perhaps it's a little uglier; I don't know.

Anna Hickey: And to focus in on something you mentioned, which was, during a lot of the Republican primary presidential debates, and then obviously some Republican congressional members have mentioned a possible, I think one of them mentioned like bombing cartels in Mexico or---

Roberta Jacobson: Yes. I heard that one.

Anna Hickey: Bringing in the U.S. military into Mexico. How much traction did those comments get in the Mexican political commentary, and was that brought up at all during the Mexican presidential elections as, something to watch out for, how the candidates would address that, or was it really just tertiary to the big, corruption, violence, economy issues?

Roberta Jacobson: It's always interesting to me. U.S. presidential elections and U.S. politics are so much more important in Mexico than vice versa, right? So I think, the reaction to those kinds of proposals in the United States, such as bombing the cartels, et cetera, was huge in Mexico. It's one of the few things that unifies Mexicans is opposition to those kinds of proposals.

But I think at the same time, it didn't really have much staying power in the campaign. Whether you could have a good relationship with the United States is usually an issue. But I think this time around, both Xóchitl Gálvez, who was the opposition largest candidate, and Claudia Sheinbaum both asserted, I think correctly, that they could have productive, positive relations with the United States.

And so right now, Mexicans are thinking more of Biden, not of our election. And so on the whole, that kind of statement gets a day or two of righteous indignation from everyone. And then they move back to: “but what are you going to do about the economy?” and “what are you going to do about security?” and “what are you going to do about a collapsing healthcare system?” frankly, and so forth.

So it was interesting that in some respects it didn't have the impact that I thought it might. But that could change when the U.S. presidential election heats up and we have our debates and so forth. And more of this kind of talk gets to Mexico after their own elections. You may hear this become much more a conversation among the American people, political and economic leaders than you have.

Anna Hickey: And you also mentioned femicide earlier, and violence against women and femicide has been a serious issue in Mexico. And Claudia Sheinbaum has become the first woman first Jewish woman elected president. And I believe this was the first presidential election in Mexico where the two primary candidates were both women, both female candidates.

Roberta Jacobson: Yeah.

Anna Hickey: Does this --- the rise in female politicians and women in political power --- have any indication for how Mexico is addressing femicide and violence against women?

Roberta Jacobson: I think the only thing I can say to this is I hope so. I really hope so. I, Sheinbaum has definitely spoken about it, about the importance of protecting women, of reducing these kinds of killings, of changing Mexican society, if you will. She views her own both candidacy and now election as a reflection of that. And it surely is the notion that two women were the major candidates for this election was just stunning in many respects, but it was also interesting, because Mexico has had electoral quotas for a number of years now. Parties must have, for example, in their congressional lists, they must have 50 percent women.

And the houses of Congress have the party system. It’s interesting because some of the congresspeople and senators are elected directly, and some are part of a plurinominal list in which, depending on the percentage of votes a party gets, the first 15 names on the ballot might get into the Senate.

Or the house and not the next five or the first 20, but not the rest. So it's an unusual hybrid system, but there have been women at the local and at the national level in Congress for quite a while now because of these quotas. And to the extent that results in more acceptance of women candidates, I think that may have played a role, even though neither of these women --- actually, I take it back; Xóchitl Gálvez was in the Senate when she ran for president, so she was part of that quota, so it's interesting. Claudia Sheinbaum, I don't think ever was because she was at a local level, but the party still has to demonstrate they're putting women candidates forward. And I've always had mixed feelings about quotas, but it may well have worked.

Anna Hickey: And then looking forward to this fall, I believe, President-elect Sheinbaum will take office October 1st. What are you looking at in her first months in office to see whether or not she will continue, potentially anti democratic policies?

Or what are you looking at to see what she may reverse out of AMLO's term?

Roberta Jacobson: It's interesting. It's a strange system partly because the new Congress comes in September 1st. The new president comes in October 1st. So you have this odd month in which AMLO will still be president, but he's going to have the new Congress.

But in any case, I think there are a couple of touch points. One will happen far earlier, which is she'll announce her cabinet picks. And that will be very instructive, I think. But I think the other thing that I would look for is that she made a comment recently that she might have some of her own constitutional reforms that she's interested in advancing.

And the presumption there was that he would succeed in getting his passed in that month period when he's still president. I don't know if he will or not. I wonder what those will be. Will she announce something soon? She is much less comfortable with a strong military role in civilian functions than AMLO is, much less comfortable.

I don't know that she would directly take AMLO on that issue, but it'll be interesting to see if she finds a way. to re-civilianize a little bit the security apparatus, the National Guard, for example, which really is military now. It's not a civilian national police the way it once was; the way they once had.

What is she going to do on health? COVID, and a series of very unfortunate decisions by the government on prescription pricing and other things, has resulted in almost the collapse of the public health system. If you go to a private doctor or hospital, you can still do fine, but it costs way too much for most people.

How is she, I would look to some of those things, which are on people's minds. What is she going to announce on security, if anything? And some things she may not announce for months, right? Do you want to announce on security before you know who's in the White House? Because that's your security partner?

Maybe not. Maybe she holds on that. Or maybe there's pressure to do something because that was such an important issue for people. How early she deviates from her political mentor, I think will be interesting. It may come on energy with more oomph behind the renewables. It could come on an agreement to really get some of the deep-water drilling done in the Gulf of Mexico, which Pemex, the state oil company, can't do.

It doesn't have the capability. It can only do that in consortia with international oil companies, which, you were formed under the energy reform under the previous government before López Obrador, but they've all gotten stalled because Pemex wants to control everything. Does she try and get those moving?

They're going to need the revenue. Their oil revenues are dropping and they won't get enough renewables replacing that soon enough. So I would look to some of those economic decisions. Maybe a security decision and a kind of a kitchen table decision, whether that's on health or other things that will resonate with her base in the first months.

Anna Hickey: And then do you have any final thoughts for us today about the elections Mexico or what U.S.-Mexico relations may look like in the coming months and years?

Roberta Jacobson: I think a couple of things, Anna. First of all, I guess what I would say is given the budget cuts to the electoral authority and the violence that plagued parts of the country ahead of the election, it was a remarkably peaceful day on the election day itself.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans voted outside Mexico for the first time in person, not just by mail or internet. And so I think the Mexican people and the electoral authority, it sounds trite, but they are to be congratulated for going to the polls and casting their votes despite everything.

And there were a lot of things that could have hindered them. Second, I think there is a sense of hope and optimism in having the first woman president in Mexico, that I think those of us who've been doing this work for a while can get really cynical about whether that matters. And I think the answer is it does matter, and I hope it matters to a lot of people.

I was the first female U.S. ambassador in Mexico, still the only one. I had families coming up asking if I would take a picture with their daughter, right? That's what's going to happen to Claudia Sheinbaum on a much larger level than the U.S. ambassador. But our little Mexican girl is going to now think about being president.

I want to try and end it in a sense on a, on an upbeat note because I'm an inveterate optimist and I think this relationship to me has always been the most important for everyday Americans on a daily basis because our economies are so linked, because our families are so linked, and because our, some of the plagues that affect us are so linked like drugs, we really need to keep this relationship strong and I think there's some optimism that it will stay that way.

Anna Hickey: On that optimistic note, we will leave it there. Ambassador Jacobson, thank you so much for joining us today.

Roberta Jacobson: Thank you. Really appreciated it.

Anna Hickey: The Lawfare Podcast is produced in cooperation with the Brookings Institution. You can get ad free versions of this and other Lawfare Podcasts by becoming a Lawfare materials supporter through our website, lawfaremedia. org slash support. You'll also get access to special events. And other content available only to our material supporters.

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Anna Hickey is the associate editor for communications of Lawfare. She holds a B.A. in interdisciplinary studies: communications, legal studies, economics, and government with a minor in international studies from American University.
Roberta Jacobson was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from June 2016 to May 2018. She is a founding partner of Dinámica Americas.
Jen Patja is the editor and producer of the Lawfare Podcast and Rational Security. She currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of Virginia Civics, a nonprofit organization that empowers the next generation of leaders in Virginia by promoting constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement. She is the former Deputy Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and has been a freelance editor for over 20 years.

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