Mexico’s presidential candidates promise security or continuity as campaigns officially begin – Metro US

Mexico’s presidential candidates promise security or continuity as campaigns officially begin

APTOPIX Mexico Elections
Presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum greets supporters upon her arrival to her opening campaign rally at the Zocalo in Mexico City, Friday, March 1, 2024. General Elections are set for June 2. (AP Photo/Aurea Del Rosario)

IRAPUATO, Mexico (AP) — Tens of thousands of people packed a stadium in a violence-torn western Mexico state while even more did so in Mexico City’s central square Friday as the country’s leading presidential candidates officially kicked off their campaigns with promises of greater security and support for the outgoing president’s social programs.

Former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s chosen successor, drew a multitude of supporters to the heart of the capital who expressed a desire to see her continue her mentor’s policies.

“I will never submit to any economic, political or foreign power,” Sheinbaum said. “I will always work for the supreme interest of the people of Mexico and the nation.” She said the voters’ choice is continuing the “transformation” begun by López Obrador or allowing corruption’s return.

In Irapuato, Guanajuato, the country’s homicide capital, there was no greater priority than improving security.

Opposition coalition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez launched an aggressive attack on López Obrador’s security policies Friday and said voters would have a clear choice of continuing on the same path or electing her to take a much more aggressive approach to securing the nation.

“Hugs for criminals are over,” Gálvez said during her Irapuato rally. “We’re going to punish those who harm our youth.”

That was a play on López Obrador’s shorthand for his security strategy — “hugs, not bullets,” which steered resources to social problems that he says are at the root of violence.

“I have a head, I have a heart, but I also have the guts to take on criminals,” Gálvez said.

Malena Gómez, an Irapuato resident and activist with a civic group, said safety was her biggest concern.

“Here in Guanajuato and in the entire country,” she said. “This Morena government (of López Obrador) allowed organized crime to get into everything.”

Organized crime has long controlled swaths of Mexico through violence and corruption. It has diversified beyond drug trafficking in recent years, extorting businesses big and small for protection payments.

Farmer Amadeo Hernández Barajas, who grows corn and beans on his farm in Acambaro, Guanajuato, said he supported Gálvez because Sheinbaum just promised to be more of the same. He said farmers are also targets of organized crime.

“How do you get the product out?” he asked. “Because the criminals charge you for every ton of corn you take out and they charge the combines and harvesters too.”

He said the reliance on the military, which López Obrador, as well as his predecessors, used against the heavily armed cartels hasn’t worked. “What are soldiers and National Guard in the streets worth if they don’t do anything, just put up yellow tape after something happened?”

But López Obrador enjoys high popularity, largely because of his extensive social spending that has benefitted his low-income base and efforts to target corruption.

Those are the programs that Sheinbaum has promised to extend.

Gabriel Ruiz, holding a silhouette of Sheinbaum, said “we have to continue with what we have.”

“I’ve liked this government and that it has tried to eradicate corruption and that it’s with the people,” said the 54-year-old teacher.

He expected Sheinbaum to continue López Obrador’s security policies, but noted that no administration has managed to contain organized crime. “There has always been violence,” he said.

Sheinbaum has maintained a comfortable lead over Gálvez in polling. The race’s third candidate is Jorge Álvarez Máynez of the smaller Citizen Movement party. The 38-year-old launched his campaign in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco Friday.

But it is highly likely that Mexico will elect its first woman as president June 2.

That excited Dante Robles, a 24-year-old student, though he hoped it would be Sheinbaum “to take away the privileges of the business owners.”

“There are a lot of business owners who don’t even pay taxes and are protected by politicians from the conservative regime,” he said.

Four Mexican soldiers were killed by a land min e in the state of Michoacan, López Obrador confirmed Friday. The president called it a “trap” likely set by a cartel.

The soldiers inspecting a camp on the outskirts of Aguililla Thursday when an anti-personnel mine was triggered.

On Monday, gunmen killed two mayoral hopefuls in the Michoacan town of Maravatio within hours of each other, the latest signal of organized crime’s willingness to engage in local elections.

Earlier Friday, at an event in the violence-torn state of Zacatecas, Gálvez posed the choice as: “continuing on the same path which would mean giving in to crime or fighting to defend families, to defend the youth, to defend those who work.”

In places like Zacatecas and neighboring Guanajuato, Gálvez’s heavy handed security approach could sway voters terrorized by warring drug cartels.

She promised to double the size of the National Guard that López Obrador created to 300,000, but put it under civilian leadership. She also proposed closer collaboration with the United States to confront a “common enemy” in the cartels.

“There will not be a more important priority than Mexicans’ safety,” Gálvez said.

Sánchez reported from Mexico City.