MEXICO CITY – Elba Esther Gordillo, one of the most powerful women in Mexico and head of the country’s huge and controversial teachers union, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of misusing more than $200 million in union funds, Mexican officials said.
The arrest is likely to make significant political waves in Mexico. Gordillo, 68, is a longtime political power player who, with more than a million union-member votes at her command, enjoyed the ability to sway national elections. More recently, she organized the opposition to a national education reform plan that has been a key priority for Enrique Pena Nieto, the new Mexican president.
The reform, which Pena Nieto signed into law this week, stripped Gordillo of her power to hire and fire teachers, granting that power instead to the federal government.
To many Mexicans, Gordillo has become a symbol of the lumbering, inefficient Mexican labor movement at its worst. The Mexican education system is among the worst-performing in the hemisphere. With her designer outfits and $5,000 purses, Gordillo was long suspected of illicitly enriching herself.