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Mexico's Larger-Than-Life Teachers Union Chief Will Remain Behind Bars

Feb 27, 2013
Originally published on February 27, 2013 6:42 pm

Elba Esther Gordillo will remain behind bars, a Mexican judge decided today.

Gordillo's arrest, yesterday, shocked the country. She is the president of Mexico's national teacher's union and considered the most powerful woman in the country, having the ability to sway both small, local elections and even presidential ones.

According the Mexican blog Animal Politico, Gordillo did not speak during her first public appearance behind bars, but a judge decided against granting her bail because her alleged crimes are "grave."

The AP has a bit more background:

"Gordillo was charged with embezzling 2 billion pesos (about $160 million) from union funds and was arrested Tuesday afternoon as she returned from San Diego for a meeting of leaders of the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers she has led for nearly a quarter-century. She was heading the union's fight with President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration over the country's most sweeping educational reform in more than 70 years.

"Her arrest came a day after the president signed the reform into law.

"'This is a case that has absolutely no political motivation,' Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told the Televisa television network."

But the AP says many Mexicans see that as unlikely. They view her arrest as a "a shot across the bow of potential foes," warning them against opposing President Enrique Peña Nieto's reforms.

Remember Peña Nieto and his party — el PRI — retook power last year. The Institutional Revolutionary Party ran Mexico for some 70 years before that modern break in power.

The BBC reports that Gordillo had just weeks earlier vowed to remain "president for life."

"My epithet will read 'Here lies a warrior, and as a warrior she died,'" Gordillo said.

Back in 2012, McClatchy ran a profile of Gordillo. They report:

"She flaunts wealth and power, and she can walk through the gates of Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, at any time. Sitting presidents fear and court her.

"Routinely ranked as the least popular of the nation's most prominent figures, friends and enemies alike know her simply as 'Elba Esther' or 'The Teacher.'

"Her opaque and strong-arm style and the personal fortune she's amassed underscore how the old Mexico of corrupt power and privilege, which reigned in the 20th century, still endures in pockets even as the nation inches toward modernity."

Animal Politico has sifted through the charges made by Mexican authorities. Among the highlights:

-- Gordillo's associates are accused of transferring $3 million to Neiman Marcus to settle a credit card under the name of "Elba Esther Gordillo Morales."

-- Another million was used to buy a property in San Diego.

-- $650,000 were paid to an art gallery.

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