Last Friday in Mexico City, Morena’s presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum launched her campaign. In the wake of AMLO’s popular presidential term, the left-wing party looks set to consolidate and build on its accomplishments.

Claudia Sheinbaum, presidential candidate for the Morena party, during a campaign launch event in Mexico City on March 1, 2024. (Victoria Razo / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Friday, March 1, Mexico’s left-wing Morena party marked the beginning of the country’s official presidential campaign season with a kickoff event in Mexico City’s central square, or Zócalo. Before a maximum-capacity crowd and following an introduction by the party’s mayoral candidate for the city, Clara Brugada, presidential standard-bearer Claudia Sheinbaum laid out a hundred-point plan for building the “second floor of the transformation.”

While many of the proposals dealt with consolidating projects already underway or under consideration — including a package of constitutional reforms sent to the Congress of the Union by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in February — Sheinbaum offered glimpses into how this second floor would look different from the first. It includes a greater emphasis on women’s issues, building on programs instituted during her term as mayor of Mexico City; the most eye-catching proposal was one to reduce the age at which women could qualify for the universal adult pension, with a partial payment kicking in at the age of sixty.

Sheinbaum’s platform also entails greater attention to education, culture, sports, and the arts, including health and social security benefits for artists typically left out of those systems. It offers an increased focus on preventative and mental health, including a national mental health program that encompasses victims of violence. It promises to tackle Mexico’s chronic water problems, including reforms to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)–era National Water Law that turned hydric resources over to wealthy licensees and corporations (Sheinbaum has said that water will be a defining issue of her administration). And building on Sheinbaum’s strengths as a climate engineer, it promises to drive the energy transition — not along the lines of the greenwashing model promoted by energy multinationals but within a framework of strengthened public control over the sector, which has been one of the most significant battles of AMLO’s term.

Still Such a Need for Justice

For Anglo-American audiences used to the induced apathy of major-party politics, it may be difficult to picture what it’s like when Morena sweeps into town. Hours before the scheduled event time, Mexico City’s historic city center begins to morph into a block party, with marchers descending upon the Zócalo from all sides; on the street corners, bands play and people dance. For the overflow crowd leery of joining the crush of people trying to get into the plaza, monitors are set up to give them a chance to follow the proceedings. On this occasion, some 350,000 people — close to the population of Cleveland or New Orleans — turned out on what was both a weekday and a workday.

Unlike opposition rallies, which are older, angrier, and very white, Morena gatherings better reflect the ethnic and geographic diversity of the 80 percent mestizo and indigenous nation. Near the Allende metro station, I was approached by Honorato from the Sierra Otomí Tepehua region of Hidalgo, who had traveled six hours to see Sheinbaum in person. “They say ours is a marginalized region,” he said. “But they were the ones who marginalized it, all of the ex-presidents!” Others had traversed the city itself on foot, like José Luis, a retiree who, with public transportation being interrupted by the arrival of attendees, had decided to walk down from the La Raza barrio north of Tlatelolco.

Susana, another Morena supporter Jacobin spoke to, said a Sheinbaum government represents an opportunity to continue along the path of growth, “unlike the opposition, which is firm in propping the door open for nationals and foreigners to continue to plunder the country.” A woman named Margarita expressed a hope that was more intimate but no less political: for her, Sheinbaum might better be able to understand the plight of other women dealing with disappeared children or having to care for family members with illnesses. Ideally, her election will lead to a “raising of awareness among women” regarding these and other similar issues. “There is still such a need for justice,” she notes.

Bucking the International Trend

The turnout for the Sheinbaum launch suggests popular enthusiasm for what Morena has managed to accomplish so far. Beyond the war of sneer-and-smear coming out of Anglophone media, the party in barely a decade has created a structure that has netted it the presidency, the Congress, and a majority of governorships and state legislatures — and if the polls are any indication, is headed for a landslide that could match or even beat its 2018 performance.

Morena has made these advances at a time when the far right is on the march worldwide, with the parliamentary left in the Global North mired in a seemingly perennial crisis and fellow progressive leaders in Latin America — such as Gustavo Petro in Colombia or Gabriel Boric in Chile — facing significant political headwinds in the face of constant barrages from the Right. The party’s success, of course, is setting it up to be the target of fiercer attacks.

In the months to come, we can expect a drumbeat from the international media decrying a “narco-election,” an “authoritarian regime,” and a “democracy in peril.” If Claudia Sheinbaum does indeed win the presidency on June 2, it’s likely the victory will be weaponized against her with cries of an “election of state.” We can also expect dangerous calls for US intervention to increase.

Fortunately, the movement around Morena has developed a resilience that has inured it to much of this predictable pablum. That is just one of the things the global left might learn from the rather singular Morena experience.

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