Mexico's first female president faces critical issues, challenging US relationship | Opinion

Jennifer Apperti

Mexico鈥檚 presidential election has given the country a historic first: Claudia Sheinbaum becomes the country鈥檚 first woman president. That is an important milestone in a country that continues to struggle with gender inequality.聽

However, the lead-up to the June 2 vote made history for another reason: This election cycle 鈥攕panning from Sept. 2023 to May 2024鈥 became the most violent one in the country鈥檚 history. There were 24 candidates killed in 2024 alone, and according to a joint聽聽by Mexican think tanks Me虂xico Evalu虂a, Data Ci虂vica and Animal Poli虂tico, a total of 573 people have suffered political violence since the electoral process began. Now,聽Mexico鈥檚 newly elected president聽has to face a country not only more polarized than before, but also one where criminal violence has spread into the country鈥檚 political life.聽

Sheinbaum will also have to think how to best navigate the U.S.-Mexico relationship when she assumes power in October. Considering the current state of politics in Mexico, some of the items on the national agenda are likely to morph into challenging topics for the U.S.-Mexico relationship. Priorities for U.S.-Mexico relations include:

Texas National Guard troops prevent migrants from entering at the border wall in El Paso on May 11, 2023. (Credit: Omar Ornelas/El Paso Times)
  • USMCA review in 2026:聽Will Mexico's new administration opt for trying to get over the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement鈥檚 review without much hassle, or will it take the opportunity to use it as a bargaining chip with the U.S. for other topics, like border immigration? Whichever the case, Mexico's new president will also have to wait and see how relations with her U.S. counterpart start. It鈥檚 in both countries' best interest to review it and move on as soon as possible, but it remains to be seen if both presidents can let the negotiations run at a more technical level instead of the high political tone that has occasionally surfaced since the agreement was signed in 2020.聽聽
  • Immigration:聽If the new president continues down the road of the current administration in terms of cutting funding for the National Immigration Institute (INM is its acronym in Spanish) and the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR in Spanish), then there will not be much improvement into what these agencies can do to tend to the growing number of asylum seekers and refugees both in the northern and southern borders of the country, nor in trying to implement better ways to try and mitigate the number of people crossing into Mexico from Central America. This will continue to be a priority for the next U.S. administration, which means more pressure for Mexico.聽
  • Nearshoring:聽If it wants to capitalize on attracting countries back into the region, Mexico needs to step it up in energy and infrastructure.聽 Energy needs to be a priority since the state-owned electrical company CFE currently cannot supply enough energy to the private sector in some areas of the country, especially in the more industrialized north. With many cities across Mexico currently suffering from outages due to budget cuts and outdated infrastructure, this will become one of the more urgent topics for American companies in Mexico and companies looking to invest in the country.聽
  • Rio Grande water:聽With cities in the north like Monterrey and Tampico facing water shortages and both people and private companies having water shut off sometimes for hours and in some cases days, this is becoming an urgent issue. However, Sheinbaum will face an even bigger challenge: The United States might begin to ask Mexico to fulfill its water duties. A binational treaty regulating rivers between both countries since the late 1800s states how much water one country has to give to the other and vice versa. Recently, the Rio Grande Valley鈥檚 agricultural sector has been facing economic hardship due to lack of water. Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers began asking U.S. Congress to press Mexico to fulfill its water obligations. If this drought spell continues both in South Texas and northern Mexico, this issue could escalate to the highest level of the bilateral relationship.聽

Apperti is the director of the SMU Dallas Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center.