Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Teachers union head Elba Gordillo, who made big bucks fighting teacher accountability in Mexico, has been arrested

Teachers union leader Elba Esther Gordillo fought against assessments for teachers in Mexico. I guess she figured that's what teachers pay dues for. American teacher union leaders seem to feel the same way.

Mexican union boss arrest sounds warning to reform foes
The arrest of Mexico's best-known trade union leader on fraud charges has thrown down the gauntlet to powerful interests standing between President Enrique Pena Nieto and his plans to shake up Latin America's second-biggest economy.
By Dave Graham
Feb 28, 2013

The arrest of Mexico's best-known trade union leader on fraud charges has thrown down the gauntlet to powerful interests standing between President Enrique Pena Nieto and his plans to shake up Latin America's second-biggest economy.

For a generation, even presidents shied away from taking on teachers' union boss Elba Esther Gordillo, making her Mexico's most prominent female politician and a formidable enemy to those who accused her of fostering corruption rather than education.

Pena Nieto, who has been in office for less than three months, crossed that line on Tuesday when police arrested Gordillo and three other people with her at Toluca airport near Mexico City.

Mexican television showed Gordillo, 68, wearing a prison uniform and standing behind bars as a state prosecutor formally charged her with embezzling around $200 million from union coffers and using the money to pay for U.S. property, luxury goods, designer clothes, works of art and plastic surgery.

She is not allowed to apply for bail under the charges.

Gordillo, who deferred comment to her lawyers, faces a maximum jail sentence of 30 years, though prisoners can apply to be moved to house arrest at age 70.

"It is clearly a criminal case," Attorney General Jesus Murillo said in a television interview. "The case is very solid."

A former grandee of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, Gordillo has denied accusations of corruption.

She was snared a day after Pena Nieto signed a law aimed at improving education standards that she had opposed because it would weaken her union's clout.

Mexico union leader Elba Esther Gordillo arrested
26 February 2013

Union head Elba Esther Gordillo, known as Mexico's most powerful woman, has been arrested on corruption charges.

Ms Gordillo, who runs the 1.5 million-member Mexican teachers' union, is alleged to have diverted about $200m from union funds to personal accounts.

No-one from her legal team has responded to the allegations, but in the past she has denied any wrongdoing in handling the funds.

The arrest came after major reforms to the education system on Monday.

President Enrique Pena Nieto signed the sweeping reforms, which seek to change a system dominated by Ms Gordillo in which teaching positions could be sold or inherited.

"We are looking at a case in which the funds of education workers have been illegally misused, for the benefit of several people, among them Elba Esther Gordillo," Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said.

His office alleges Ms Gordillo, 68, spent the funds on plastic surgery and a luxury home.

Real influence

The BBC's Will Grant in Mexico City says that Ms Gordillo is one of the highest profile figures in Mexican political life, known simply as "la maestra" or "the teacher".

For more than 20 years she has led the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE).

With an estimated 1.5 million members, Ms Gordillo has held real influence over governments and individual presidents by persuading her union members to vote as a single bloc, our correspondent says.

The teachers were also responsible for manning polling stations on election day.

Her union is also very wealthy, and can count on an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars.

It is on claims that she mishandled those funds, allegedly diverting money intended for the union's coffers to her personal accounts, that she has now been arrested.

The reforms appeared set to weaken the powerful teachers' union, which has largely controlled access to the profession.

The union has argued that reforms could lead to massive lay-offs.

Critics also say the changes could signal the start of the privatisation of education in Mexico.

Mexico's education system currently ranks bottom in a list of members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The reforms will require teachers to undergo regular assessments, something that has previously never taken place inside Mexico's primary and secondary schools.

Many teachers in Mexico are said to have a very low standard of education themselves, with some only having graduated from high school.

Another change is intended to tackle the problem of absent or even deceased teachers receiving wages.

Ms Gordillo has been an outspoken critic of the current education minister and his approach to the reforms.

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