Thursday 28 February 2013

After Gordillo arrest, new union leader embraces reform: but what about the “hundreds of political gangsters” in Mexico?

Gordillo and Diaz de la Torre
After the arrest of Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, the head of Mexico’s national teacher’s union, on allegations that she defrauded the union of 2 billion pesos (US$156 million), the union’s new leader, Juan Diaz de la Torre, has done an abrupt about face and agreed to the educational reforms proposed by president Enrique Peña Nieto.

Elba Esther Gordillo, who was arrested February 26 at an airport outside Mexico City, had vehemently opposed the reforms, which include an attempt to break the tradition of bequeathing jobs to friends and relatives.

Clearly chastened by the actions of the government, as well as the rigorous investigatory practices of the federal attorney general’s office, the National Union of Education Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, “SNTE”) says it will now line up behind the government’s reform agenda.

No doubt Diaz de la Torre hopes this will buy him some breathing space. Clearly, given the extent of Gordillo’s alleged crimes, corruption may exist throughout the upper echelons of the union.

The select approach to attacking corruption is a long tradition in Mexico. It is usually more about asserting power than transforming society through the equal application of the law. This view was recently asserted by Eduardo Buscaglia, president of the Institute for Citizen Action in Mexico (Instituto de Acción Ciudadana en México).

Buscaglia, speaking in Spanish to Mexico’s Milenio newspaper, said that with regard to the Gordillo arrest: 

“This is typical of an administration that comes to power and wants to impose discipline on corruption, but that doesn’t necessarily want to combat or prevent it.”

This explains perfectly de la Torre’s about face: he is being disciplined in order to put limits on his power relative to the federal government, but also as part of an understanding that he will now be left to slowly re-build his own corrupt power base.

In the Milenio interview Buscaglia said that one arrest won’t make much of a difference. He made the same argument with La politica when we met with him in Mexico City in the days leading up to last year’s election, recommending a widespread purge of the “mafias” that exist in all the main political parties – PRI, PAN, and PRD – as well as throughout the labor movement. Only then, he argues, can the cancer of corruption end.

He says it is possible: both Brazil and Italy have made progress. However, in Mexico a serious approach would require the arrest of “hundreds of political gangsters in the PRI, PAN and PRD, and that is still not happening.”

Could Romero Deschamps, the head of Mexico’s oil union, be next? Possibly. In 1989 the then head of the oil workers union, Joaquin Hernandez Galicia, was arrested early in the administration of president Carlos Salinas.

A certain amount of corruption is tolerated at all levels in Mexico, including with the president, but in recent years it has become obscene, with family members complicit in large-scale graft. Three examples are provided below.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

February 10: Mexico’s president Peña Nieto received mysterious “donations”

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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