President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum. (AP)

President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum. (C. Sheinbaum Facebook)

LatAm in Focus: In Mexico, Claudia Sheinbaum Won Big. Now What?

By Carin Zissis and Chase Harrison

IPADE’s Brenda Estefan, IMCO’s Oscar Ocampo, and FTI’s Isaac Morales look at what a Sheinbaum sexenio means for foreign affairs, energy, and cybersecurity.

¡Presidenta! ¡Presidenta! ¡Presidenta!” The shouts filled the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square as supporters gathered deep into the early morning of June 2 to celebrate the election of Claudia Sheinbaum as Mexico’s first woman president.

 Sheinbaum’s victory was not a shock—she polled well ahead of her rivals since the race began. But the overall results came as a surprise. Sheinbaum and her Morena party won el carro completo, which roughly translates toto saying: they won it all. She beat her rivals in 31 out of Mexico’s 32 states. Morena took seven out of nine governorships up for grabs. And the party gained congressional majorities that could allow major reforms.

Sheinbaum has a huge mandate. Now what’s she going to do with it? 

"I believe that we as women can govern, not just men."—Sandra Contreras, 51, a voter in Mexico City.

AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis and Chase Harrison were on the ground in Mexico. They spoke with voters about their top concerns, and sat down with three experts to discuss issues that could shape Sheinbaum’s sexenio: energy, foreign affairs, and cybersecurity. 

Oscar Ocampo
Oscar Ocampo

“There is a critical difference between … Claudia Sheinbaum and President [Andrés Manuel] López Obrador,” explained Oscar Ocampo, energy and environment coordinator at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a think tank based in Mexico City. “President Lopez Obrador has never mentioned energy transition. Not once. Not in one single mañanera. Sheinbaum is well aware of that and she has been repeatedly talking about accelerating the energy transition.” But Ocampo does caution that a proposed energy reform, while not as aggressive in its statist vision as past attempts, could hinder investment by creating uncertainty. He spoke with Zissis about the priorities the Sheinbaum government needs to set for the country’s energy sector, proposals to tackle the country’s water crisis, and prospects for North American energy security. 

Brenda Estefan
Brenda Estefan

Will we see a shift in Mexico’s foreign policy? We explore the answer with international affairs analyst Brenda Estefan, the Reforma columnist and professor at IPADE Business School. She believes that Sheinbaum will have a less “explosive” style than her predecessor. “I think Mexico's foreign policy has suffered of schizophrenia in the past few years,” she explained to Zissis in a conversation that covered the future of Mexico’s ties with Washington, Beijing, and the world. “We need to have a coherent stance on the current political situation. The world is dramatically changing, and Mexico could benefit from that.” 

Isaac Morales
Isaac Morales

One area where Mexico’s is engaged in global cooperation is cyber policy and for good reason—the country ranks among the most vulnerable to cybercrimes in the world. But despite being internationally involved, Mexico's domestic approach,  explains Isaac Morales of FTI Consulting, has been slower and oriented toward relegating responsibility to the military. “I do believe that it will be very clear that the army, the National Guard, will have more and more responsibilities linked to cyberspace, linked to cybercrime,” he told Harrison. As more Mexicans digitize and organized crime groups increasingly using cyberspace to commit crime, he sees the digital realm as a top priority for the Sheinbaum government.

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Carin Zissis: The results of Mexico's June 2 election were a shocker, but not because Claudia Sheinbaum won. She polled far ahead of her rivals since the race began. No, what surprised many was that she and her Morena party won el carro completo. 

That roughly translates to saying, "They won it all." Sheinbaum beat her rivals in 31 out of Mexico's 32 states. Morena took seven out of nine governorships up for grabs, and the party gained congressional majorities that could allow major reforms.

Zissis: Mexico's first woman president won a huge mandate. Now, what's she going to do with it?

I'm Carin Zissis.

Chase Harrison: And I'm Chase Harrison.

Zissis: And this week, we covered the elections from Mexico City to get views from top experts on issues facing the next government.

Harrison: We spoke to voters in the capital who shared their views on the election and their next president.

Karen: Today I went out to vote for Claudia Sheinbaum because that is what I want, that is what most of Mexico wants, because we have seen a change for the better.

Zissis: That's Karen, a 31-year-old Sheinbaum supporter who said that since AMLO came into power in 2018, she's seen more equality and opportunities.

Harrison: 50-year-old Edgar Sandoval told us he thinks Sheinbaum is well-prepared, and the fact that she's a scientist means that she has a distinct way of thinking from other politicians.

Edgar: She’s a well prepared woman. She’s a scientist. And she has a distinct way of thinking. 

Harrison: But Edgar, like others, is worried about violence in the country.

Edgar: It’s undeniable that violence keeps happening, no? It’s undeniable that narcotrafficking is governing Mexico. 

Zissis: And many we spoke with were hoping for change in areas like education, the economy, and health, expressing concerns about shortages of medicines. Younger voters in particular told us they're worried about economic opportunities, like 23-year-old Yanette, originally from AMLO's home state of Tabasco.

Yanette: Disadvantaged youth are the ones who have to fight for themselves more and they are the ones this country should help.

Zissis: So what should we expect from Mexico's next president? What will she do with her party's dominant political force? Will she find herself beholden to the political legacy of her mentor, popular President Andrés Manuel López Obrador? Or will she be able to strike out on her own when it comes to issues like security, foreign policy, and climate change?

Oscar Ocampo: Well, there is a critical difference between, at least a narrative difference, between President Claudia Sheinbaum and President López Obrador. President López Obrador has never mentioned energy transition, not once, not in one single mañanera. Sheinbaum is well aware of that and she has been repeatedly talking about accelerating the energy transition, increasing the renewable generation capacity.

Zissis: That's Oscar Ocampo, Energy and Environment Coordinator at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness. He told us priorities the Sheinbaum government needs to set for the country's energy sector.

Harrison: We also hear from Isaac Morales of FTI Consulting, who previously worked at Mexico's Foreign Ministry, on cyber defense, cybercrimes, and what a Sheinbaum approach to these issues might look like.

Isaac Morales: I do believe the Army, the National Guard, will have more and more responsibilities linked to cyberspace, linked to cybercrime.

Zissis: But first, we delve into the ways the Sheinbaum presidency could reset Mexico's presence on the global stage in a conversation with Brenda Estefan who teaches geopolitics at IPADE Business School and writes for Reforma.

Brenda Estefan: I think Mexico foreign policy has suffered from a schizophrenia in the past few years. So I think we need to have a coherent stance on the current geopolitical situation. The world is dramatically changing and Mexico could benefit from that.

Zissis: Thank you for tuning in. Subscribe at your podcast platform of choice so you don't miss an episode of Latin America in Focus. And a special shout-out today to listeners in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, and of course, Mexico City.

Soundtrack: You are listening to Latin America in Focus. A podcast by Americas Society/Council of the Americas on politics, economics, and culture in the region.

[NARRATION] Zissis: President López Obrador, known as AMLO, has been known for saying that the best foreign policy is domestic policy. Will Sheinbaum, his political protege, follow in his footsteps? Well, for one thing, in her victory speech, she said that under her watch, Mexico would continue pursuing a non-interventionist approach to global affairs.

On the morning after the election, I sat down with Mexican international affairs analyst, Brenda Estefan. She told me Sheinbaum will, like her predecessor, probably hold a favorable position towards the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, while avoiding a tough stance on Moscow. But she does think Sheinbaum will be more likely to consult on policy with the country's foreign service than does AMLO, whose tiffs with world leaders have sparked diplomatic breaks with countries like Ecuador and Peru.

Estefan: We might see a change in style but not necessarily substance in terms of international relations. I see her with a pragmatic view towards a relationship with the U.S., which is basically what has happened along AMLO's or López Obrador's administration. I think she understands the monumental importance of the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship. She just made it clear through different interviews that she wants to continue North American trade integration. So I'm hoping we'll see a big shift in that. I think it's going to be telling to know who she appoints as key negotiator for 2026 USMCA review.

Zissis: So in this election, foreign policy wasn't really a major campaign issue at all. As you yourself noted recently in Reforma, Mexico's presidential debates didn't give much space to the issue. I did notice in the one debate that was supposed to be talking about foreign policy, Sheinbaum said that Mexico would be present at future international climate change forums.

It was a little detail, but it had me wonder, AMLO rarely traveled internationally, and he really didn't travel to any summits or international forums where he'd be sharing the stage with other global leaders. Do you think that's something that could change with Sheinbaum?

Estefan: I think so. I think she's going to travel more than AMLO did, probably not as much as previous presidents did, but definitely more than AMLO.

And it's funny that you bring up this topic about climate change because during the debate when she started talking about this, she said, "I'm going to say something new," and she mentioned her interest in climate change. So I do think there's a shift there. If one considers her scientific background, it's understandable that she's going to take a different approach towards climate change and probably champion that from from the Mexican side.

Zissis: I'd like to return to the U.S. You touched on it a little bit, but even while Mexico may have settled its elections, we now have to find out what will happen in the United States in November.

Given that uncertainty, how do you see the future of a U.S.-Mexico relationship with a Sheinbaum government? And in particular, can you compare and contrast a little bit how it might be between a Trump administration versus a Biden administration?

Estefan: I do think there's going to be more complicated relationship if Trump goes back to office just because his focus on the regulation would probably clash with Sheinbaum's green agenda, and also, it's well-known that Trump doesn't share that view of climate change. But also, because during Trump's first presidential term, we saw a unilateral take on problems that should have a shared responsibility focus, like migration. So Title 42 or Remain in Mexico, most of them were unilaterally set and then basically adopted with no other choice because of the tariff manners that Trump set on the table.

One thing that one needs to keep in mind is even though our countries are intertwined and that there is an interdependent, asymmetric relationship, there is a growing protectionist view in the States. It started with Trump. It continued with Biden's administration and it's probably going to continue regardless of whether Trump or Biden repeat in the White House.

On the other hand, Claudia Sheinbaum's ideological views are close to protecting the Mexican sovereignty in terms of national security, energy, technology. The combination of those two stances will probably have some clashes in the coming years, combined with the fact that there are very sensitive issues in the agenda currently, like the lack of water in the border region, like the growing number of unsettled disputes within the USMCA. There's also, of course, a growing number of undocumented migrants crossing from Mexico to the U.S., which is also a tense topic and has always been. Of course, as we mentioned before, the traffic of opioids and the traffic of weapons from the U.S. So the combination of sensitive topics on the table with these inward-looking visions, which is the trademark around the world, will be difficult to navigate.

[NARRATION] Zissis: Another tricky topic is relations with Beijing. Given Washington's sensitivity about China's growing presence in Mexico's economy, we should expect to see the issue as a point when the USMCA is up for review in 2026.

Estefan: One just needs to look at the numbers. Around 2023, 20 percent of the cars that were sold in Mexico were Chinese. So some Chinese car companies have expressed their interest in bringing factories in Mexico, and that has concerned the States because some are arguing that this would be a backdoor for Chinese companies to avoid U.S. tariffs on electrical vehicles, for instance. Considering that if a Chinese company is based in Mexico and it complies with the Mexican law, it pays taxes, it hires Mexicans, the cars are produced there, that company will have the benefits of the USMCA, which means basically zero tariffs.

Now, one has to note that currently what happens with car companies from other countries like Japanese or Korean or German is exactly that model. There's going to be a lot of debate around this, and I think the U.S. is going to try to push Mexico to take a harder stance towards Chinese investment in Mexico.

Zissis: Speaking a little bit more broadly, if you could sit down with President-elect Sheinbaum tomorrow and tell her one or two priorities she should focus on when she takes office in terms of international relations, what would it be?

Estefan: I think Mexico foreign policy has suffered a kind of a schizophrenia in the past few years. I think Mexico needs to advance its national interests through foreign policy, and having a clear stand on topics like war in Ukraine. So we've had a position from Mexico at the UN General Assembly, but that's very different from what the president has said in his morning pressers.

So I think we need to have a coherent stance on the current geopolitical situation. The world is dramatically changing and Mexico could benefit from that, but we need to understand our role as one of the main economies—the 13th, 14th economy in the world,our role as the gate between Latin America and North America. 

So you compare, I don't know, to Brazil for instance. They have seven embassies for every embassy Mexico has. If you compare countries around the world in terms of GDP percentage that we expend in foreign policy, we spend 0.15 percent. If we compare to other countries with an economy the size of Mexico, they have higher percentages. So I think understanding the relevance of the current changing geopolitical landscape, having a vision and devote resources to follow that vision would be definitely number one.

There's something that's key, I think. The Mexico-U.S. relationship has been focused on migration for many years now, and it seems that it will continue to be. Mexico has two things to do, crucial things to do on that agenda. One is to put back in the agenda topics that are not as sensitive and stressing— academic exchange, scientific cooperation, cultural exchanges—many topics that could enhance the agenda without stressing it. But one thing that I've known from my professional background is that Mexico hasn't been able to establish a proper counterpart for migration debates with the US. We've had the intelligence body address it. We've had the Ministry of the Interior address it. We've had the National Migration Institute address it, but we don't have a group of experts in migration that would address the topic in proper manners in bilateral negotiations, and I think we need to address that immediately.

[NARRATION] Zissis: Looking ahead, can the next government help Mexico take its rightful place in the current geopolitical landscape? Estefan worries that Sheinbaum's political views of the world could be an obstacle, but there's reason for hope.

Estefan: I think Claudia has a group of advisors who understand the topic of international relations, and I think that's key. We need to stop using the foreigner service positions or the diplomatic positions to take political favors and start placing people who understand the relevance of diplomacy that the current geopolitical landscape presents to Mexico.

[NARRATION] Zissis: While Mexico's elections were taking place, the country was also facing extreme weather with record temperatures and widespread drought. In a capital that wasn't built for this kind of heat, the scorching sun and water shortages were a constant reminder of looming climate woes.

Meanwhile, Sheinbaum's government will need to face challenges ranging from a stressed power grid to a heavily indebted Pemex. Now that Morena will have an even stronger presence in Congress, will the next government seek to expand AMLO's status vision for the country's energy sector?

I spoke with an expert on these topics to get his view.

Oscar Ocampo: I'm Oscar Ocampo. I am Energy and Environment Coordinator at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, an economic think tank based in Mexico City, where I conduct research on energy markets, on water regulation, and overall mechanisms to fund and accelerate the energy transition in Mexico.

[NARRATION] Zissis: If Ocampo could sit down with President-elect Sheinbaum tomorrow to give her a priority list of areas to focus on, what would be on it? The answer: power generation, power transition, and natural gas.

Ocampo: First of all, investing public and private investment in power generation capacity. Why? Because Mexico's generation capacity has remained mostly static for 2022, 2023, 2024, and demand has grown. Demand is growing more or less at a 3 percent rate annually. And at this very moment, we're suffering from the consequences of years of underinvestment where the Mexican power system is suffering to satisfy the demands, and demand will only grow in the years to come because of the electrification of economic activities, because of nearshoring, because of electromobility. So this is probably the most critical challenge in terms of energy security for the next six years in Mexico.

Second, investing in the power grid. It's useless if you have a lot of generation capacity if you're not able to transport that energy. And here's where we need expanding and modernizing the power grid, which has suffered for decades of underinvestment. And if we are to incorporate more renewable energies—for example, solar or wind—those are, let's say, variable energies because you can only generate solar energy when you have sunlight and wind when you have wind. And in order to address this variability, you need to reinforce the transmission grid in order to maintain the safety and the reliability of the grid. So that's the second-most-pressing challenge.

And the third one is to invest in natural gas infrastructure. Natural gas is currently the cornerstone of Mexico's generation capacity. It accounts for more or less 60 percent of Mexico's total power generation, but we lack infrastructure to deliver natural gas in all the states, specifically in southeastern Mexico, the worst-off region economically and socially speaking in Mexico, and we also lack natural gas storage infrastructure.

That's a problem because we import most of our gas from Texas, which is in itself good news because it's the most competitive, the cheapest natural gas in the world. However, we don't have the infrastructure to store that gas. So when there's, for example, a cold wave in Texas, the CFE, Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission, which has virtually the monopoly in power retail and is a major player in power generation, well, they suffer because one of two options. Either they cut the gas shipments to Mexico or the gas prices hike at comparable prices and they'll have a financial problem. So we need to invest in natural gas storage capacity.

Zissis: You mentioned the south of Mexico, and we know that that has been a real priority for the López Obrador government, for Morena. Can you talk a little bit more about the south and why that could be an area of opportunity in the Sheinbaum government?

Ocampo: Absolutely. Mexico's southeastern states are the least-developed states in Mexico. However, there is an interesting opportunity here because the geographic proximity of southeastern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, Port Coatzacoalcos, a port in Veracruz, or the Progreso Port in Yucatan could become the gateway to the U.S. East Coast. Mexico has about 15 percent of market share in U.S. imports. However, in the East Coast, Mexico's market share is virtually non-existent. It's 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent, depending on the state. And if we are to increase Mexico's market share in the US, the East Coast is the answer. And how do we penetrate the East Coast? Well, southeastern Mexico is the gateway to the U.S. East Coast.

Well, what do you need to do to harness this opportunity? Well, first of all, you need a rule of law. You need a logistical excellence. You need human capital, and critically, you need energy infrastructure. You need natural gas, you need renewable energies, you need transmission infrastructure because if you don't have energy, you will never attract investment. You will never attract high-value-added industries. So that's the first indispensable, the right condition to trigger development in that area.

And that has been the focus of President López Obrador and will likely remain one of the priorities of the Sheinbaum administration. For example, the Trans-Isthmus Corridor in Oaxaca and Veracruz, which aims to compete against Panama. It might not compete against Panama, but still it can become the gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, and that could work, this sort of special economic zone in Isthmus area. Also, the Mayan Train, if it works, if it actually functions as a cargo train, also it could progress. It could become an interesting port to the Gulf states, to the US East Coast.

And that is the big opportunity here, to develop those states in the context of nearshoring, but also in the context of the priorities of the Sheinbaum administration.

[NARRATION] Zissis: Now, the fact that Moreno won such a big share of seats in Congress raises a question. Will the next government finally usher through AMLO's energy reform? During his administration, he tried twice to push through reforms that could benefit the CFE, which is the state electricity utility, over private investors. The first was rejected by the judiciary, the second by Congress. Now, AMLO has once again proposed a reform that could be carried through by Sheinbaum.

I asked Ocampo about this third try.

Ocampo: I must say that it's not as aggressive as those previous attempts, but still, if approved, it will have negative implications for investment, for competitiveness in the power sector because it adds uncertainty. The proposal says no stakeholder, no external player can be above CFE. And okay, how will that be implemented? Are you talking again that CFE will have a priority in the power dispatch, or is it just saying that the private won't be able to have a more than 46 percent of the market share as Sheinbaum has proposed? There's no clarity there.

And second, they are limiting investment in the power grid because although the power grid is a state monopoly, there are possibilities of funding it through private sources, through financial mechanisms, financial terms, and public-private partnerships. This reform intends to eliminate all those, say, funding mechanisms and just leaving it to CFE and CFE alone to invest in the power grid. And that, in a context of budget constraints, high interest rates, high indebtedness, or relative high indebtedness of the Mexican Treasury, it might not be the best idea.

And third and probably most important, they are changing the legal nature of CFE, the public utility, from a state productive enterprise with the legal mandate of generating economic value to the Mexican state, for a public service company, allowing them to operate in red numbers. And that might not be the best idea in this context where public finances are under challenges.

Zissis: I want to ask you, there's been an assumption that given Claudia Sheinbaum's scientific background, and because of some things that she says that have indicated more openness to a green transition, that she may be more open to renewable energy, and we've seen some pushback against renewables under the AMLO administration.

Based on her proposals, what are your expectations and what are some of the opportunities in the next administration, the next sexenio?

Ocampo: Well, there is a critical difference between, at least a narrative difference, between Claudia Sheinbaum and President López Obrador. President López Obrador has never mentioned energy transition, not once, not in one single mañanera. Sheinbaum is well aware of that, and she has been repeatedly talking about accelerating the energy transition, increasing the renewable generation capacity. She has a more statist view than, for example, the Xóchitl Gálvez campaign. So we shouldn't expect the market as we knew it, for example, before December 2018.

However, she has been quite explicit saying, "Okay, CFE should maintain 54 percent of the power generation market share." That's an arbitrary number, but that's a proposal because that was CFE's market share back in 2018 when López Obrador won the presidency. That's the reason behind that number. However, there is margin for privates to have up to 46 percent of the power generation markets, and that in the end is politics because it depends on how do you measure market share and at what pace CFE expands its renewable generation capacity. So that will be in the end a way of, let's say, acknowledging President López Obrador's priorities while opening a window for private investment.

So we should expect more investment in renewable generation, both from CFE and likely also some room for private investments.

Zissis: Now, we know who the next president of Mexico will be. We don't know who the next president of the United States will be and I want to take a moment to look at U.S.-Mexico energy cooperation. I want to ask, what should be the priority for the two countries in terms of energy security and how do you see a Sheinbaum government engaging with the United States on the energy front?

Ocampo: Ideally, Mexico and the U.S. and Canada—we should think about this at the North American level—we should think about cooperation. For example, Canada and the U.S. have this added layer in the USMCA regulating cooperation in the transmission grid and in pipelines, and that was the original energy chapter of the USMCA, however, Mexico withdrew from that chapter. But those are the terms where we should be thinking about increasing cross-border infrastructure. For example, Canada is now developing this transmission line from Quebec all the way to New York to provide New York, the New York and Long Island region, with a clean wind and hydro energy from Quebec, which is an amazing example of the possibilities of cross-border investments in clean energies. That should be at least the aspiration.

What's the state of things now? We are in the middle of the USMCA consultation process regarding Mexico's energy policy. I will be cautiously optimistic there because the US is, let's say, denouncing the Mexican state for practices that violate the letter and spirit of the agreement. However, most of those practices have been nullified either by the judiciary or by the government itself. For example, an attempt to monopolize a natural gas retail, the amendments to the electric industry law, which were dismissed by the judiciary.

So in the end, this will depend upon Sheinbaum's government's ability to show openness for an incredible commitment to allowing or to opening investment or some form of investment in the power generation market. Of course, this will depend on who wins in November. We shouldn't expect any results before the November election because Sheinbaum will assume office on October 1, one month before the US election, so we should wait to see the results of the US election to make some forecasts.

Zissis: One thing that is on a different subject, and I want to close with this, this is very different but I know that you have also talked and done research on this, is the issue of water. We're talking here in Mexico City where it's very hot, which is strange for Mexico City, and there have been a lot of water concerns. There's been this concern that the city's going to run out of water by June 26. We're seeing, across the country, droughts.

And one thing that's interesting is not only did Claudia Sheinbaum win the election, but also in Mexico City, the Morena candidate won as well. So it's a big challenge in the capital, but it's a big challenge beyond the capital. But we could see some alignment between the Mexico City government, the federal government perhaps.

I'm curious to hear what your views are on what the Sheinbaum government could do about water, what they should, and what they should prioritize.

Ocampo: Well, first of all, Mexico City now is a warm city. It's a hot city. That is quite a development. That is new.

Talking about water, in the end, Claudia Sheinbaum and Mayor-elect of Mexico City Clara Brugada, they proposed similar measures to tackle this issue, which in the end, there's a wide consensus on what is to be done. Water treatment, investing in Mexico's water treatment system, which is underfunded and limited, rainwater. In Mexico City, there is rain in Mexico City from June all the way to September. So there is a margin to capture rainwater. Maintenance of the pipeline, of the water pipeline network, which in the end, is probably the weakest part of the water chain because of course, in Mexico City, that's not necessarily the case because Mexico City's water system is reasonably well-funded. But if you think about Mexico's 2,500 water operators, if I tell you that 50 have enough resources, I mean, that’s being generous; we have thousands of operators that they don't have the money to invest in minimal infrastructure, and that would be the first challenge.

I mean, the challenge is not to build a new dam. Of course that's useful and it looks good when a politician inaugurates the dam. That's always good politics. However, it doesn't solve the issue. The main issue is that between one-third or 40 precent of water is lost because of the poor state of water infrastructure. And that's the main challenge. In Mexico City, for example, pipelines can be as old as 50 years. So there is a need for investment there, renewing the infrastructure.

And I would say those three measures were proposed by Sheinbaum and by Clara Brugada, so hopefully they will find the way of allocating enough resources to address this issue.

[NARRATION] Harrison: When we talked with voters, one after another named crime and violence top worries.

In this electoral round, at least 32 candidates were assassinated, casting a shadow of political violence over the campaigns. But the face of crime is shifting in Mexico. Organized crime groups and shady actors are diversifying their activities, and that includes expanding to cybercrimes. Mexico ranks among the most vulnerable countries to cyber attacks in the world.

I spoke to Isaac Morales, Senior Director for Cybersecurity and Data Privacy in Latin America at FTI Consulting. He explained that, on one hand, over AMLO's term, there's been a lack of resources committed to cyber protections, plus a lack of legislation and rules guiding its management. A comprehensive piece of cyber legislation introduced to Congress in 2023 has yet to pass, and yet Mexico has matured in its cyber capabilities thanks to collaborations between authorities at the national and international levels, as well as with the private sector.

Isaac Morales: We have a lot of studies, a lot of information coming from many different stakeholders showing how cyber attacks, risk, cyber situation, or emerging technologies-related risks have increased in Mexico, in Latin America. Now in Mexico, you can see the number, the increasing number of incidents, of sophisticated attacks, relevant threat actors operating in the region, targeting companies of all levels in the country, et cetera.

I'm sure that the next government will be delivering something linked to cybersecurity in particular and in emerging technologies and cyberspace risk more general. It's interesting that the campaigns, the political campaigns, actually Claudia Sheinbaum presented a document on ideas for the next government, and it's very relevant today, and she included two elements. One linked to connectivity very specified, and the other one related to digitalization policies, like more linked to E-government, and then simplified processes, et cetera, of digitalization.

But the element of connectivity is then advancing the idea that we do need to bridge the gaps here. Of course, we do need more like a universal internet access which was very prioritized, I would say, during the current government. So we can see a continuation of that more social view on the digital and connectivity elements.

In terms of cybersecurity and countering cybercrime, for instance. I do expect a continuation of these more dedicated from the Army, from the National Guard, dedicated experts and dedicated areas tend to deal with cybersecurity, cyber defense, et cetera. I do believe the Army, the National Guard will have more and more responsibilities linked to cyberspace, linked to cybercrime. One element which definitely needs to be improved, it's the one of cybercrime level, and then improving the capacities of the local level and the local cyber police, for instance, not only in Mexico City, but actually in the whole country to deal with this increasing cybercrime pressure.

Harrison: We talked to voters at the poll on Sunday, and a lot of them talked about reforms to the National Guard, security reforms undertaking during AMLO's administration. Help me understand the intersection between insecurity in Mexico and cybersecurity.

Morales: Well, this is also a crucial question because you do need to understand insecurity and in general, organized crime in Mexico and evolution of organized crime in Mexico as a criminal market. I mean, they are working, they are consolidating criminal markets. So as a criminal market, criminal organizations have also evolved then to incorporate some technologies and some improvements that the new technologies, the digitalization, the cyber advancements bring, right?

Of course, for the next government, they will need to deal with this, sometimes tensions, between advancing the control of cyberspace, cybercrime, countering cybercrime, et cetera, and exercising human rights or protecting human rights online.

Harrison: When I think about the intersection between human rights and cybersecurity, I immediately think of the Guacamaya hack that occurred in 2022, which was a hacktivist group hacked Mexico's defense secretariat and published a lot of information about what was going on in this ministry.

How did the Guacamaya attack change the country's approach and awareness of cybersecurity?

Morales: Of course, Guacamaya presented a new reality, and this new reality was basically sending the message that even the most powerful, I would say, and most protected institution in the country, which is the National Secretaría de la Defensa, the National Defense Secretariat or ministry, was attacked. The message was that even the most robust, the most powerful in terms of cyber capacity was vulnerable.

Guacamaya elevated the conversation, I feel, not necessarily only to Army and to National Guard and to security institutions, but actually critical infrastructure. So more discussions at the national level in the government, the National Security Cabinet, for instance, then improve and then advance on conversations how to better protect critical infrastructure from cyber risk and cyber threats.

So you have these two stories, like the day-by-day, this increasing attention, this increasing maturity, which is not the ideal, but advancing, but is still dealing with lack of legislation or strategy robustly implemented.

[NARRATION] Harrison: Morales explained Pemex, the central bank, and the water commission have all been hit by major cyber attacks in the past few years. Another way Mexico is moving the needle? International cooperation as it works with its USMCA partners.

Morales: It's really interesting to see how during these recent years, despite the narrative that we have been very focused on national sovereignty, then you have a clear advancement on cybersecurity-dedicated dialogue from a bilateral with the U.S. and trilateral levels.

Let me just share two examples. During the last three years, it was created or formalized, the very first trilateral dialogue, expert dialogue on cybersecurity. And the second example is Mexico joining from the very beginning the White House ransomware initiative. I mean, when you take a look on the international multilateral dialogues, then you will see, again, a more active participation of Mexico, despite the fact that it has not a robust implemented cybersecurity. It has not a robust national legislation in place. But yes, this attitude to participate, to get involved, to be active.


Thank you for listening to this special edition of Latin America in Focus with coverage from Mexico. 


Podcast credits

This episode was produced by executive producer Luisa Leme and Fabrizio Ricalde. Carin Zissis is the host.

This is the sixth episode in our 2024 election series. Prior episodes covered how Latin America figures into the Trump-Biden battle, the economic agenda for Panama’s next president, the youth vote in Mexico, Nayib Bukele’s global reach, and how the Dominican election bucks regional political trends. Get this content and more electoral insights in this year’s election guide.

The music in this podcast includes “La folia,” “Descarga Gandinga, Mondongo y Sandunga,” and “Llorarás” all performed for Americas Society. Learn about upcoming concerts at:

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Opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Society/Council of the Americas or its members.