Mexico's incoming president announces top posts but her new cabinet includes familiar faces

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s incoming president announced her appointees for top posts Thursday, but hopes for a fresh approach were dashed by the re-appearance of old faces in the new cabinet.

President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum announced that Rosa Icela Rodríguez, who headed outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s failed security strategy, will serve as the next interior secretary.

That is Mexico’s top domestic political post, responsible for handling negotiations with protesters and Mexico’s 32 powerful state governors. Sheinbaum will take office Oct. 1.

As expected, Omar García Harfuch — who served as Mexico City police chief when Sheinbaum was mayor — was appointed to head Mexico’s increasingly powerless Public Safety Department, the top law-enforcement post.

García Harfuch is credited with bringing down homicides in the capital, though the numbers he claims are disputed. He gained respect after he survived a dramatic 2020 drug cartel ambush that wounded him and left three other people dead.

Sheinbaum has pledged to strip control of the National Guard, Mexico's main law enforcement agency, from the Public Safety Department and turn the 117,000-member force over to the Army. García Harfuch will control little other than the country's prisons when he takes over the job.

But it was the appointment of Rodríguez that turned heads: a very poor public speaker with no experience in campaigns or as an elected official, she breaks the long-standing practice of appointing experienced political pros — often former state governors — to the interior ministry post, where negotiating skills are key.

Rodríguez is also closely identified with López Obrador's “hugs not bullets” strategy of not confronting drug cartels, and militarizing law enforcement. In his six-year term, López Obrador has not been able to significantly reduce record-high levels of killings in Mexico.

Sheinbaum belongs to López Obrador's Morena party and has pledged to continue all of his policies.

In June, she also asked López Obrador's Treasury Secretary, Rogelio Ramírez de la O, to stay on in the post. The job is similar to that of a finance minister, controlling spending and budgets.

Of the top four cabinet posts, only Harfuch is a new face in the federal government. In June, Sheinbaum tapped Juan Ramón de la Fuente as her secretary of foreign affairs.

De la Fuente, 72, is a former academic who served as Mexico’s ambassador to the United Nations under López Obrador and is known for a calm and diplomatic demeanor.

Sheinbaum has also allowed several other officials who served under López Obrador to remain in the cabinet.

There had been hopes that Sheinbaum, a former scientist known for her love of data-driven policy, would break with López Obrador's habit of choosing old allies known more for their loyalty than their expertise for cabinet posts.

In June, Sheinbaum did appoint Luz Elena González, an expert in sustainable development, as the next secretary of energy. However, that post is almost secondary in importance to the head of the state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos.

Perhaps the most powerful position in Mexico, the defense secretary, has not been announced yet. That is in part because Mexico's secretive army has never had a civilian serve in the post; in the past, top army generals have submitted a list of the generals they would accept for the job, and the incoming president would choose among them.