By RICARDO CASTILLO
Two events on Wednesday, Aug. 8, stood out on the Mexican political landscape. One was expected, but the second one was not.
To clear things up quickly, the expected event was when Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) finally got the official recognition from the Federal Electoral Court as president-elect- No surprise there.
The unexpected event happened at 1:30 a.m. – nearly 12 hours before AMLO got his diploma declaring him the future president of Mexico.
In theater terminology, it was a pure case of upstaging (a situation in which a lesser performer robs the lead actor of the public’s attention). The stunt was pulled off by Marco Del Toro, the lead lawyer for former National Education Workers’ Union Elba Esther Gordillo (SNTE). Del Toro announced in an unprecedented 1:30 a.m. press conference that he had been legally notified that Gordillo had been exonerated from the charges of leading an organized crime cell, money laundering, operations with funds stemming from illicit sources and tax evasion — charges enough indeed to tank anyone for life (or so you would think).
A court of law, however, determined that the Attorney General’s case was ungrounded and tossed it out. It cost “the teacher” five and a half years in the slammer with very little mercy, since she is now over 70 years old and ailing, which is indeed yet another shame for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) system led by current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
No doubt about it, the Elba Esther Gordillo exoneration upstaged AMLO’s “graduation” as president-elect.
It should be noted that AMLO looked both humble and happy as hell after receiving the recognition diploma from the Federal Electoral Tribunal recognizing him to be the next president of Mexico, starting on Dec. 1. Personally, I felt very happy too since I voted for him in the 2006, 2012 and 2018 elections. As it happened, after losing two times, his third bid for the presidency was a landslide, with him winning with 53 percent of the vote.
But back to the upstaging Elba Esther. A case like hers is nothing new in Mexico and it all has to do with politics, nothing else.
On Feb. 26, 2013, she was busted as she landed at the Toluca City airport on her private jet from a vacation in her mansion in La Jolla, California, just north of San Diego. From riches to rags, she was led straight to the Santa Martha Acatitla prison in Mexico City.
Those of us who have seen the political show of busting a union leader in Mexico before immediately sensed a déjà vu. Back in January 1989, former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari ordered the arrest of Mexican Oil Workers Union leader Joaquín Hernández (aka, La Quina, pronounced “La Keena,” please, for his taste for quinine water).
As in Elba Esther Gordillo’s case, La Quina was released after five years in jail as in the end his defense lawyers proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that accusations against him – mostly possession of assault rifles – could not be proven since La Quina was not only a recognized pacifist but a vegan, back when vegans did not even exist.
What was behind the arrest of first La Quina, under Salinas de Gortari, and Elba Esther Gordillo, in this administration? The public answer to that is simple: Revenge from a president who despised them. And it’s a proven fact that La Quina” led his union to vote for Salinas opponent Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas as well as the fact that Elba Esther Gordillo criticized Peña Nieto’s candidacy – without favoring AMLO, by the way – but it is clear today that Peña Nieto targeted her and sent her to trial. Trial in Mexico is carried out while the accused is held in prison.
Unfortunately for Peña Nieto, the Attorney General he chose to lead the case against her was – and still is – a flunky. Back in 2013, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam held many a press conference explaining why he had jailed Gordillo, but in the end, after five and a half years of detention, his allegedly trumped up case simply flopped.
And I say “allegedly trumped up case” because evidence of Elba Esther Gordillo’s corrupt behavior is more than abundant. It has been documented that she spent an average of 150,000 pesos a month on her beauty parlor – a regular teacher in Mexico makes an average of 10,000 pesos a month – and, like I mentioned before, she owned a mansion at La Jolla, as well as one in Miami. And, of course, she flew on a private jet. Union corruption in Mexico? Absolutely.
But now Elba Esther Gordillo has been exonerated, giving yet another political black eye to President Peña Nieto, who can do nothing about the court’s definite verdict, which was deemed “irrevocable.”
In any case, it was an interesting double dip – a double scoop of gooey political news — Wednesday, when Elba Esther was exonerated, AMLO got his presidential diploma and President Peña Nieto had to bite his tongue, unable to defend his case against Elba Esther and say nothing about the noisy on-going events.
That’s the fate of a lame duck president.