Xóchitl Gálvez — a National Action Party (PAN) senator running for president in Mexico — chose to visit Texas on the last day Mexican voters could register to participate in the primary election of the Frente Amplio por Mexico, known as FAM. (FAM is a coalition of three political parties: PAN, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD.) The primary election was planned for Sept. 3 across the country, but was later canceled because all other contenders declined in Gálvez’s favor.
Now, Gálvez is the FAM coalition’s nominee for the presidential election on June 2, 2024. Her sudden rise and apparent popularity will not only make the race more interesting, but they are already making incumbent President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his party (the National Regeneration Movement, known as MORENA) nervous.
Why The Woodlands?
As for the visit, it is somewhat surprising that Gálvez’s first trip to the United States as a potential opposition presidential nominee was to a place like The Woodlands, a posh suburb located located approximately 30 miles north of Houston. This suburb is well known for the large number of upper- and middle-class Mexicans who live there, and contrasts with Gálvez’s own personal story of humble beginnings and her campaign messaging, which promises to prioritize the poor.
Nonetheless, the decision to visit there was not a random one. The signatures the FAM coalition collected abroad for its primary election — which were amassed mainly in the U.S, which Gálvez likes to refer to as the 33rd state of the Mexican Republic — amounted to 70,000 of the 555,000 signatures that moved Gálvez to first place for the following round in FAM’s primary election.
The senator pointed out that the number of signatures from abroad were lower only than those collected in Mexico City and the state of Querétaro. In the 2018 presidential election, López Obrador obtained 65% of the vote abroad, winning 63,863 votes of the 98,470 votes cast outside of Mexico. Gálvez’s engagement with the Mexican diaspora is important: Since 2006, Mexican voters abroad have tended to choose the winner of every presidential election.
Gálvez is not unfamiliar with The Woodlands. Just north of the suburb is the notorious “gray house,” which José Ramón López Beltrán, the eldest son of López Obrador, occupied with his family for a year and which is owned by a top executive of Houston-based energy company Baker Hughes. In August 2022, Gálvez published a video in which she appeared in front of the house and decried that seven months passed without an official investigation into this probable conflict of interest between a member of the presidential family and the executive, who is the beneficiary of million-dollar contracts with Pemex, Mexico’s national oil company.
The gray house scandal, which has dogged the president since it broke, is what positioned Gálvez as one of the few people both willing and able to confront López Obrador and drive him away from his comfort zone. The media investigation that resulted from the scandal has become the longest-lasting in Mexico’s dizzying news cycle. Even so, while the gray house is one of the few controversies to hit below the waterline of the presidential boat, its outcome has been the same: impunity.
The Art of Language: Why Gálvez Connects With Voters
Gálvez’s event in The Woodlands — titled “Texas, Talk to Xóchitl” — was no different than many other political events, which are generally designed to follow a script that leaves little room for surprises or improvisation. Even before the event, it had been determined who could participate, who could ask questions, and what questions could be posed. This is common practice, as no candidate wants to face uncomfortable questions or embarrassing situations at their own event. Despite this, Gálvez’s event came across as sincere and interesting, for several reasons.
For starters, there is a certain degree of genuineness, and even joy, to Gálvez’s candidacy. During the event, the senator appeared happy and comfortable. She did not attempt to imitate or emulate any politician: She seemed authentic. Her origins and background, as well as her use of language — including the way she expressed herself and told her story, connected well with the audience, especially women. In fact, much of her success could depend on her ability to connect with Mexican women and attract young voters who might today see a future considerably more difficult than they had anticipated.
Other important aspects of her speaking style stood out. First, she began by greeting her audiences in the indigenous language — a voice that is still absent today in Mexican politics. On that she neutralizes the accusations of the president: that she is a candidate only for conservatives and the rich. (López Obrador is of Spanish descent, whereas Gálvez is an indigenous woman.)
Second, Gálvez drew attention to her personal struggles against sexism — an ever-present problem facing Mexican women that underlies a horrific trail of femicides in the country. This contrasted with the way López Obrador has dealt with women’s protests — by dismissing them as politicking against him. Gálvez also surprised with a story of having defended herself with a soldering iron from sexual assault, a kind of experience many Mexican women are all too familiar with. Sexual abuse and harassment are one of the country’s most persistent social problems.
Third, Gálvez captivated with her story of gaining a college education, which she said changed her life. Despite difficult circumstances, she managed to attend Mexico’s most prestigious public school — the National Autonomous University of Mexico, known as UNAM. There, she studied engineering and computer programming. Gálvez said the experience showed her that when given the opportunity, the poor can rise to the occasion — an idea that contrasts with the president’s past discourse. (He has essentially argued that the poor cannot rise from their condition and that it is the state’s role to take care of them.) Gálvez drove her points home by reminding the audience that she overcame many obstacles before becoming a prominent businesswoman, a philanthropist in her own indigenous community, a Cabinet member, and finally a politician.
Her message was clear: She was not simply describing the many problems facing the country today, but had personally faced and overcome them in her own life.
During the event, she also recounted other, lesser-known stories. She shared that López Obrador himself, along with another of his sons and Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum (who has recently been chosen as MORENA’s presidential nominee), came to Gálvez’s house to invite her to join a political project they called “The Fourth Transformation.” Gálvez declined, sensing that the project would not bear fruit. Time may have proved her right: Mexico today faces problems even more daunting than those it was dealing with when López Obrador took office.
Gálvez also noted in passing that her sister is in prison for crimes committed and that her brother is a general in the Mexican army — but these disparate details add to her narrative. In the end, these circumstances embody the ups and downs of hundreds of thousands of families whose lives contain both good and bad.
The senator’s dramatic narrative and anecdotes allowed the audience to learn about her life and trajectory and relate to her. But they are also a fundamental strength of her candidacy, and precisely what shield her from attacks from the president and the ruling party on the opposition — including the famous expressions “fifi” (snob) and “the establishment mafia,” which López Obrador often uses to refer to his rivals. It is then not surprising that Gálvez talks about her personal story in a variety of forums; she knows the value of her humble beginnings. And she embeds that narrative into the structure of her campaign presentations.
Xochinomics: A Blend of Old and New Policies
At the event, Gálvez made some criticisms of the López Obrador administration before moving to her own proposals for Mexico — many of which are clearly still being developed. Gálvez agreed with López Obrador’s past assertion that the main problem in Mexico is poverty and inequality, and she quickly went on to assure recipients of the government’s social programs that, were she to become president, she would not end or reduce any the social programs that López Obrador has created — largely implemented through cash transfers— for the elderly, working mothers and the young.
However, she made it clear that these social programs would have new rules, and that cash transfers would not be the only way to achieve their goals. She seemed to imply that Mexico’s present social programs lack the foundation and durability needed to grow into a lasting welfare system — later remarking that the best way to help the poor in Mexico is to institutionalize such programs instead of just handing out money here and there, with no apparent organization, strategy or accountability.
This led Gálvez to promise the return of a national child care system, full-time schools with meals served, special programs for children with disabilities, more access to health care, and many other programs and that the López Obrador administration eliminated in one fell swoop in favor of cash transfers, with no apparent organization. She went on to mention the president’s ambitious political proposals that have never materialized: a universal health system, internet throughout the country, and English and computer classes in all schools.
In the end, Gálvez claimed to be the candidate who knew Mexico best. She also outlined her work plan, which she calls “Xochinomics.” The plan is broad and growing, and partly a diagnosis of the country’s current situation and the circumstances of its people — which Gálvez noted she will continue to pay attention to as she travels the country and listens to citizens who are looking, once again, for hope. In a related note, she declared that her Xochinomics plan would facilitate the relocation of international companies and their production chains to Mexico, a process called nearshoring.
Gálvez outlined some policy areas that she plans to focus on if she becomes president:
- Rule of law. Enforce all laws and regulations, with clear rules for investors.
- Public security. Create a national police force with civilian command (not military command, as under López Obrador) — and use intelligence and smart tactics to combat organized crime.
- Energy. Ditch fossil fuels and focus on renewable energy.
- Infrastructure. Reestablish certain trust funds for infrastructure maintenance and other programs that were eliminated under the López Obrador administration.
- Human capital. Provide workers with the technical training necessary to work in companies that require higher skills.
- Responsible spending. End the waste of resources on massive projects that are unlikely to bring their promised benefits, such as the Dos Bocas refinery, the Santa Lucía airport, and the Mayan Train.
- Macroeconomics. Continue López Obrador's financially and fiscally sound policies. (Gálvez said she recognizes the responsible management of fiscal policy by the president and indicated she will follow a similar path.)
- Accounting for regional identities in economic development. Promote economic development while understanding that the country is diverse and that there are many different regional identities.
- Universal social protection. Make social security accessible not only to those working in the formal economy, but also to people engaged in the informal economy.
- Reducing poverty and inequality. Require the rich to can contribute more. (Gálvez noted the rich can, should, and want to do so.)
At times, Gálvez appeared to lose sight of the fact that the majority of her Texas audience resides in suburban areas, where 28% of the population have a household income over $180,000. Perhaps centering her discourse on her public safety and security strategy would have connected more with this audience — especially since many of them fled the insecurity that plagues the country today in search of better goods and services for their families, which they could not obtain in Mexico despite paying taxes.
Indeed, many of the people who attended the event in The Woodlands left their families and businesses in Mexico and remain deeply connected to the country and committed to helping it. Of course, this was not lost on Gálvez. She also raised many novel proposals like using blockchain technology for government applications and telemedicine in indigenous communities. Some of Gálvez’s proposals might seem futuristic in Mexico, but are already enjoyed in many other countries; Mexico is already behind.
Undoubtedly, we still need to know more about Gálvez’s platform. But this was her first visit abroad, and in future visits, she will likely add more detail. We are still in the early stages of the race for the presidency, but little by little, Gálvez has added teams of specialists to her campaign to work on different policy areas and give more content and depth to her Xochinomics.
Gaining Support From Mexico’s Opposition Coalition
Finally, during her visit to the Houston area, Gálvez broached the lack of support her campaign had received from the parties that form the FAM coalition. The large delegations of legislators and party leaders that always accompany potential candidates at campaign events were not there. When questioned about why she seemed to be alone, Gálvez responded that the political parties in question saw her as an outsider — but that if they wanted to win, they had to support her. She was clearly aware of her own appeal, above and beyond the structures of the political parties in the coalition.
The day after the event in Texas, Santiago Creel, another potential presidential candidate, stepped out of the race in Gálvez’s favor. Later that week, the PRD threw its support behind her, and soon after, the last remaining FAM contender also stepped out of the race and endorsed the senator. The day after that, the PRI announced Gálvez would be its candidate. It is increasingly clear that if Gálvez wins, everyone wins. If she loses, everyone loses. All bets are on.
A Successful First Step in the U.S.
In politics, there are no coincidences. Gálvez’s team made the right decision to choose Texas and The Woodlands for their first visit to the United States. The Woodlands represents a new type of Mexican migration to the United States: It is the refuge of many families seeking security, legal certainty, and opportunities that they could not find in their native country. These families bring with them a deep desire for a better Mexico, perhaps one they could return to when the conditions are right.
And we should not forget that there are 12 million Mexicans in the U.S. who are eligible to vote in Mexican presidential elections. While this sleeping giant has not yet awakened, there is potential. In The Woodlands, working professionals in the diaspora had the opportunity to meet a different kind of candidate — a person whose personal story might contrast in many ways with their own, but who they can be enthusiastic about all the same. This is where the strength of Gálvez’s candidacy lies.
A bonus: In this new world, Gálvez seems far removed from the defeatism that had characterized the opposition until recently. In her speech in The Woodlands, she appeared focused on more than just opposing the López Obrador coalition, led by MORENA, which has a majority in Congress.
Gálvez is going for the presidency. She will undoubtedly need the support of the Mexican community in the United States to win office, and from what was seen near Houston, she has successfully taken the first step.
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