Powerful Mexican Teachers’ Leader Accused of Embezzlement

Randal C. Archibold and Elisabeth Malkin, New York Times, February 28, 2013

She offered 59 brand new Hummers to regional union leaders to buy their loyalty. Mexican newspapers have closely tracked her displays of wealth, from California mansions and $5,000 Hermès bags to noticeable shifts in her looks as she went under the knife.

But the love for luxury flaunted by Elba Esther Gordillo, the most powerful woman in Mexico, might have been her undoing. She was arrested Tuesday night on suspicion of embezzling $200 million in union funds for her personal use, including plastic surgery, multimillion-dollar spending sprees at luxury department stores and those seaside mansions near San Diego.

In court papers on Wednesday, Mexican prosecutors said her web of financial subterfuge, filtered through intermediaries and American and Swiss banks, was an act of organized crime. {snip}


Her downfall, a shock to a nation accustomed to powerful figures untouched by the law, amounted to a bold statement by the new government that could open the way to weakening the vice grip of the 1.5 million-member teachers union, the largest in Latin America. It has exerted its influence so thoroughly that the government does not even know how many teachers there are—the union does the hiring, with jobs passed among family members like heirlooms—or even how many schools it has because they, too, are essentially run by the union.

Ms. Gordillo, given to bombastic speeches in her nearly 25 years at the union’s helm, lorded over Mexico, delivering votes to politicians like former President Felipe Calderón, whom she helped elect in 2006, and thwarting efforts to clean up a system everyone agrees is broken. Mexico’s education ranks in the cellar among nations of similar size and wealth, a deficiency long cited as a prime reason the country has not developed as much as it could have.

“The action taken by the government is very symbolic, and in politics symbols matter a lot,” said Marco A. Fernández, a former Education Ministry official and political scientist at Duke University who is writing a book on Mexican education and politics. {snip}

Ms. Gordillo’s arrest came a day after President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a law that takes hiring out of the union’s control, mandates a census of schools and outlines steps toward weeding out bad teachers.

Congress must still rewrite Mexico’s education law for the changes to take effect, and analysts like Mr. Fernández noted that the union remained intact despite the arrest of the leader. It has immobilized states, and the nation’s capital, with strikes and other tactics to get its way. Before her detention, union leaders were meeting in Guadalajara to plot actions to block the law.


Blanca Heredia, a professor at CIDE, a Mexico City research institution, found it breathtaking that, according to prosecutors, Ms. Gordillo spent $2.1 million at Neiman Marcus in San Diego in the past few years. She said the daily spending would be $3,000, three times what a well-paid teacher gets a month.


Elba Esther Gordillo

Elba Esther Gordillo

Topics: , ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • bigone4u

    The woman’s picture shows a “white” Hispanic of the type who control the government in San Antonio all the way to the Mexican border. I constantly see small signs of corruption everywhere I look. If the truth ever comes out, the arrogant, corrupt actions by Mexican public officials in Mexico would be matched by Mexican public officials in the USA. You have Mexicans, you get Mexico, which is why immigration reform must lead to expelling them.

  • So CAL Snowman

    Looks like she should have received a refund for those plastic surgeons. Although maybe that’s what the Western media means when they say Mexico is full of butchers.

    • stymie82

      I’m wondering if she paid extra to have her head shaped like a ham (butt portion, of course).

  • Spartacus

    All that money, and she couldn’t afford a plastic surgeon with a license ? She looks like a frog…

    • bigone4u

      You haven’t spent much time around Mexicans. Around here, she would be considered a real beauty.

      • IstvanIN

        That guy from La Cage Aux Folles made a better looking woman.

        • LeGrandDerangement

          Did Hillary get a dye job?

  • John K

    “Mexican teachers”. What do they teach, that “evil whitey” stole their lands?

    • Alexandra1973

      Oh, we steal everyone’s lands, don’t you know?

  • MBlanc46

    It’s Mexico. What do you expect?

  • haroldcrews

    Embezzlement is the corruption of amateurs. They almost always get caught. There is too much of a paper trail. If she had been more intelligent she could have ended up with far more wealth and maintained her position.

  • Greg Thomas

    This is how mexicans do “business.” They do the same here when put in positions of authority.