Thursday, February 28, 2013
Elba Esther Gordillo, charged with organised crime
She appeared with two other detainees linked to the case and was told she was not eligible for bail. Visible only vaguely through bars separating the prison from the court, and, when asked if she had any questions, she shrugged and said: "No."
The judge in the case has an initial period of 72 hours to determine whether to indict Gordillo, although this could be extended for a further three days.
With the aid of complicated diagrams, the attorney general, Jesús Murillo, laid out a triangulation scheme in which nearly 2,000m pesos (close to £100m) was funnelled out of union bank accounts in Mexico into other accounts at home and abroad of three associates and a business, and then used to finance Gordillo's legendarily expensive tastes, from luxury homes to plastic surgery.
The money allegedly includes up to $3m (£2m) spent in the luxury US department store Neiman Marcus, and tens of thousands of dollars spent on plastic surgery in California.
The smoothness of the arrest contrasts with the drama of the fall that is being interpreted in Mexico as an assertion of authority by the incoming president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his Institutional Revolutionary party, or PRI, returned to the power it lost in 2000 after 71 uninterrupted years at the helm.
It is also seen as a message of caution to other so-called de facto powers, ranging from feudal-style governors to television giants, who had filled the power vacuums left by the weakened presidency of the intervening 12 years.
One of the few public figures now prepared to admit a friendship with Gordillo, Castañeda added that the union leader's "excesses, bad taste and sometimes offensive behaviour" should not lead to the presumption of guilt.
At the same time, she had become a national figure of ridicule. Her extravagant designer outfits lay uneasily with the low salaries of the teachers, and she was mercilessly mocked for her, at times rather odd, personal appearance, born of repeated plastic surgery and chronic illness.
The Teacher's near mythical reputation for subterfuge also provided fantastic stories, including the claim that she once held off an imminent attempt to depose her in the late 1990s with the help of a witchcraft ceremony up a Nigerian mountain in which she was clothed with the pelt of a white lion that had been skinned alive.
The union did not immediately respond to the arrest of the woman named its leader-for-life several years ago. While she has always had to face dissidence, Gordillo maintained support through adept negotiations of above-average improvements in wages and conditions for teachers.
Gordillo was made head of the union in 1989 by then president Carlos Salinas, at a time when her predecessor and former mentor was struggling to control a wave of dissidence after 17 years in the job. She struggled through the next administration headed by President Zedillo, but came into her own in the weaker governments of the post-PRI period.
Gordillo became a personal friend and trusted adviser of Vicente Fox of the National Action party, or PAN, after he became president in 2000. At the same time she cemented her independent political power base with the creation of the New Alliance party, or Panal, which is credited by many with helping Felipe Calderón, also of PAN, win a wafer-thin victory in the 2006 presidential elections. This allowed her to negotiate further quotas of power during his administration.
With the 2012 elections on the horizon, Gordillo's party negotiated an alliance with the PRI, but when that broke down many predicted her days were numbered. The voices of doom got louder when Peña Nieto kicked off his administration with an education reform proposal. Gordillo was arrested a day after the president signed the reform into law.
At a speech delivered on her 68th birthday earlier this month, she said: "I want to die with the epitaph: Here lies a warrior. She died like a warrior."