Mexican presidential candidates spar over security in final debate


  • World
  • Monday, 20 May 2024

Xochitl Galvez, the presidential candidate of the 'Fuerza y Corazon por Mexico', an alliance of opposition parties, gestures during the last presidential debate at the Tlatelolco University Cultural Center, in Mexico City, Mexico, May 19, 2024. REUTERS/Quetzalli Nicte-Ha

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's major presidential candidates squared off Sunday night in a debate focused on security, with the ruling party hopeful defending the outgoing president's policy even as her main rival harshly criticized both for record levels of violent crime.

Former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum of the leftist ruling Morena party pledged continuity with the largely non-confrontational security policies of her mentor, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, while also touting her crime-fighting record as leader of the sprawling capital.

"I'm the only one who can show results in security," said Sheinbaum, arguing that the murder rate on her watch dipped as she hired more police while also supporting social programs aimed at what she described as easing the underlying causes of crime.

Sheinbaum, a scientist, ran Mexico City from 2018 to 2023 when she stepped down to run for president, and earlier in her career served as the capital's environment minister under then-Mayor Lopez Obrador.

Her chief opponent, Xochitl Galvez, disputed Sheinbaum's record as mayor, claiming that murders actually rose due to a disproportionately higher number of deaths in which no cause was officially disclosed.

Galvez, a senator who represents a left-right coalition of parties that once dominated Mexican politics, repeatedly attacked the ruling party for turning a blind eye to lawlessness, especially the violent crime caused by the country's powerful drug gangs.

"The country is on fire because of the pact that you all have with criminals," said Galvez, recalling when Lopez Obrador warmly greeted the mother of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the jailed drug lord, in 2019.

Galvez, a businesswoman, repeatedly derided Sheinbaum as "the candidate of lies," flashing a graphic depicting her opponent with a Pinocchio-style nose, and promised to continue generous social spending programs enacted by Lopez Obrador.

The lively debate played out just two weeks before voters head to the polls on June 2 in an election that has for months seen Sheinbaum maintain a double-digit lead in most public polling.

If elected, Sheinbaum or Galvez, both 61, would be the first woman president of Mexico, where presidents are limited by law to a single six-year term.

A third candidate also shared the stage with the two leading women hopefuls - Jorge Alvarez Maynez, a 38-year-old ex-state legislator from the centrist Citizen Movement party.

He promised to prioritize children in his long-shot bid, including more funding for higher education, while also opposing the criminalization of abortion and recreational marijuana.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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