Unlike several Latin American countries including Argentina, Chile and Brazil, Mexico has never had a female president.
But that could soon change as Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum is seen as a leading contender to secure the ruling Morena party’s nomination for the 2024 presidential election, and polls suggest she would be very hard to beat.
But Sheinbaum isn’t the only woman with her eyes on Mexico’s top job. Senator Beatriz Paredes Rangel and Senator Claudia Ruiz Massieu Salinas, both of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as well as Senator Lilly Téllez García of the National Action Party (PAN) have all indicated they will seek endorsement to contest the 2024 election as an opposition candidate.
The newspaper El País recently spoke with Téllez about her presidential ambitions during an interview at the home of the 55-year-old former journalist.
The senator — who was elected to the upper house as a Morena candidate at the 2018 election — asserted that she would be the best choice to face off against the ruling party’s candidate, describing herself as a “born leader” who knows how to be a faithful representative of the Mexican people.
“In our country there is great contempt for the political class because it has been very corrupt,” she told El País.
“I can no longer say that [because] I’m fully involved in politics and I’m going to seek the presidency. I’m an outsider, a new arrival [to politics], but I’m not worth less because of that. On the contrary, it’s a [positive] quality to come from outside,” Téllez said.
The Sonora native, a state she now represents in the Senate, claimed she is “the most competitive” option as a presidential candidate for the opposition, whose three main parties — the PAN, the PRI and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) — are in an electoral alliance called Va por México and will likely field a common candidate at the 2024 election.
“It’s about winning and the candidate must be the most competitive [person], the one that can beat Morena. I’m the most competitive [among the possible candidates]. … I haven’t yet started a campaign but I’m already the most competitive,” Téllez said.
In fact, an El Financiero newspaper poll whose results were published late last month found that former tourism minister Enrique de la Madrid — son of former president Miguel de la Madrid — was seen as the strongest PAN/PRI/PRD candidate by the highest percentage of respondents, although Téllez ranked a close second. The poll also found that the senator ranked behind Monterrey Mayor Luis Donaldo Colosio Riojas — son of murdered 1994 PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta — and de la Madrid in terms of the percentage of respondents who have favorable opinions of those potential opposition candidates.
Probed by El País as to why she sees herself as the most competitive option for the opposition, Téllez responded:
“Because I just entered politics and I wear my [Mexican] citizenship as a badge of honor and I’m a journalist and I’ve spent my whole life denouncing government corruption, injustice and organized crime.”
She also said she’s a woman of her word and that she is already planning the policies she will put forward as a presidential candidate.
“I’m putting together proposals with a team in order to develop a national project, obviously based on the most important things for Mexicans: rule of law, [a good] health system, education, prosperity,” Téllez said.
Asked whether she had any concrete proposals to combat corruption and crime, she responded that she wouldn’t “make an impunity pact with corrupt politicians or organized crime, like López Obrador did.”
Earlier this year, the president rejected claims that he has links to organized crime, asserting that his government — unlike its predecessors — doesn’t allow officials to collude with criminals.
Elaborating on what a Téllez presidency would look like, the senator took another shot at López Obrador, saying that under her leadership public money “won’t go on a whim to grandiose projects” — such as the Maya Train railroad — “but to the health system,” which struggled to cope under immense pressure during earlier stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m looking for, and I already have, excellent professionals that will design how [to go about governing]. Because of my journalistic training that’s how I work — consulting experts, that’s what I’ll do as president of this country. In the team I’ve put together, there are experts in public policy, security and every field,” she said.
Asked whether she would make López Obrador a focus of her campaign even though he cannot stand for reelection, Téllez responded that the president is in fact a central player in the 2024 presidential election.
“Who’s playing at this upcoming election is López Obrador, only he’s playing through Claudia Sheinbaum, the submissive Juanita,” she said.
“López Obrador knows that Sheinbaum as a candidate is terrible so he’s campaigning for her. The message is: ‘re-elect me through Claudia Sheinbaum,’ he’s just using her as a puppet,” Téllez said.
She added that opposition forces need to unite in a “great coalition” to defeat Morena, and expressed “enormous confidence” in her ability to win the presidential election.
Téllez said she respects Paredes and Ruiz, the PRI senators who are eyeing a presidential run, but charged that their political pasts would be a burden rather than a benefit in an election campaign and at polling stations.
“I wasn’t part of the governments that led Mexico to a situation that was so bad that it created a favorable situation for the arrival of López Obrador,” she said.
“I don’t have skeletons in my closet and I haven’t embezzled a cent in my life,” Téllez said.
Asked about her defection to PAN from Morena and what kind of confidence that gives citizens, the presidential aspirant said:
“I believed in López Obrador, I was one of those who fell for the deceit of the campaign he conducted to show himself as a moderate. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, as millions did. What a disappointment, what a tragedy.”
Téllez added that the thing that finally made her take the decision to leave Morena was López Obrador shaking hands with the mother of convicted drug traficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
“I left when López Obrador said hello to the mom of El Chapo Guzmán,” she said.
While she started her political career with the leftist Morena party, Téllez declared that she’s “on the right” of the political spectrum, “but not the far right — making that clear is very important.”
“… I’m on the right toward the center. I believe in freedom, and the state … should be as small as possible — an extremely small and efficient state that guarantees security first and foremost,” she said.
Téllez also offered a summary of her political influences. “I’m going to sound very strange, but since I was a young lady Abraham Lincoln inspired me a lot, I started reading Lincoln biographies at about 16 years of age,” she said.
The senator also cited Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell and Marie Curie as people she admires, the latter because she never used the kind of “feminist victimhood discourse” that is currently “in fashion.”
“The life of Hernán Cortés inspires me a lot,” added Téllez, referring to the Spanish conquistador that led the overthrow of the Aztec Empire, or Triple Alliance, in the early 1520s. “The spirit and heart of Hernán Cortés [inspires me].”
Probed as to how she could admire Cortés given the abuses he carried out in Mexico, Téllez said he didn’t do anything that the Spanish and other people haven’t suffered themselves in the past.
“I’m not afraid of things, I understand them on a human level,” she added.” I also like [Justin] Trudeau in Canada, Margaret Thatcher, I don’t agree with [Emmanuel] Macron on many things, but I like his consistency,” she said, before expressing her profound admiration of Manuel Clouthier, the PAN’s candidate at the 1988 presidential election.
Whether Téllez gets the opportunity to be the opposition’s flag bearer for the 2024 presidential election will ultimately come down to a selection process that hasn’t yet been defined.
“I hope it’s a method that selects the most competitive [candidate] and [the candidate is not [decided] by one’s political background and illogical considerations,” she said.
The senator can expect to face a packed field of potential opposition candidates, as numerous other political figures — as well as a few people from outside politics — have declared their intent to seek the presidency or have been touted as possible aspirants.
López Obrador said in October that a total of 43 people have either expressed interest in vying for the presidency or have been mentioned as potential contenders, a figure that included three possible candidates for Citizens Movement, a party that has ruled out joining the PAN/PRI/PRD alliance.