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Mexican leader of the National Education Workers Mexican leader of the National Education Workers' Union, Elba Esther Gordillo remains at court on February 27, 2013, in Mexico City. Gordillo was arrested on February 26, 2013 at the airport of Toluca, Mexico, for embezzling money from the teachers Union. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)  

Arrest of powerful teachers union leader sends shockwaves through Mexico

Photo of Robby Soave
Robby Soave
Reporter

Mexican policymakers are reeling from the arrest last week of Elba Esther Gordillo, the mighty boss of that country’s largest teachers union and a significant player in Mexican politics.

Gordillo is accused of stealing millions from union funds to pay for two houses in California, plastic surgery and pieces of art, according to The New York Times.

In power since 1989, Gordillo is called simply “La Maestra,” meaning “The Teacher.” She is a sharp political kingmaker known for delivering votes to key allies, including former Mexican President Felipe Calderon in 2006.

Gordillo was re-elected president of the teachers union in October without a single vote cast against her — a demonstration of the tremendous power she wields.

The timing of her arrest appeared suspicious to some observers, as it came only one day after President Enrique Pena Nieto signed off on a series of education reforms designed to weaken unions’ control over schools.

Gordillo was transferred Friday from one prison to another out of concern for her health, according to The Huffington Post. She is now being held in a facility with better medical treatment options.

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