Tuesday 26 February 2013

After arrest of teacher’s union leader Gordillo, is Pemex boss Deschamps next?

Gordillo had her enemies
Everyone knew that Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, the head of Mexico's 1.5 million-member teachers union, was corrupt. She loved her Hermès and Chanel. She flew in a private jet. She had who knows how many properties – a dozen at one count. Year after year the press had a field day and, this being Mexico, nothing was done.

But on February 26, 2013, her ride finally came to an end. Ms. Gordillo, 68, was arrested at Toluca airport outside of Mexico City and charged with misappropriating and diverging $2 billion pesos (US$156 million) from the union.

This, in a country where the average public school teacher earns about $7,000 a year.

Ms. Gordillo, formerly a member of the ruling PRI (she was expelled in 2006) has led the national teachers union for 23 years. The timing couldn’t have been better for president Enrique Peña Nieto, who had just signed into law ground-breaking education reform.

If implemented – and that’s a big if – the reform could transform Mexico, stopping the regressive practice of having teachers pass on their positions to younger friends or relatives, no matter their qualifications. It would also result in a proper census of schools, teachers, and students.

The arrest of Gordillo represents a significant purge of the old-guard, and shows that Peña Nieto is willing to play hardball. He clearly has Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office, the PGR, working for him in a spectacular manner: at a press conference after the arrest, the PGR revealed an impressive investigation into a web of bank accounts designed to diverge and launder the appropriated funds.

Gordillo is a hangover for the old, almost Soviet-style politics that the PRI was notorious for in the 20th century. Nonetheless, despite two presidents from the right-of-center PAN party spanning the past 12 years, Gordillo had to date remained untouchable. Only last October she was again acclaimed to another six-year term as union leader. 

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.

The theory is that Hernandez Galicia was seen as a threat, and had to be removed. Given that Peña Nieto is planning some sort of reform of Pemex, the state run oil company, Deschamps would seem to be a reasonable target. If the PGR is willing to play ball, and it looks like they are, it would be an easy take-down.

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. Two choice examples are provided below.

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

A quarter of a billion dollars frozen in accounts held by daughter of former Tabasco governor

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

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