By RICARDO CASTILLO
Everyone was expecting a second upstaging of Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador by the former teachers’ union leader Elba Esther Gordillo on Sunday, Aug. 19, and Monday, Aug. 20. The first upstaging came on Aug. 8, when Elba Esther was exonerated by a judge of all charges that had kept her a prisoner in a federal penitentiary for the past five and a half years.
This time, the upstaging did not happen because AMLO held the national convention of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) political party on Saturday, Aug. 18, and Sunday, Aug. 19, while Elba Esther briefly appeared before the press on Monday, Aug. 20, in an attempt to clear her name and cry out loud that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “Education Reform has crumbled down.”
But let me review these two events one at a time, starting with AMLO’s closing speech at the convention on Sunday.
In the most attractive part of his speech, AMLO said that the change he wants to bring to Mexico is “in depth” and that this time there will be no “gatopardismo” to use the concept politicized in the Italian novel “The Leopard,” in which supposedly the invasion by the nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi would bring deep change.
Sicilian author Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa wrote a dialogue in his novel “The Leopard,” which in 1963 was turned into a film in starring Burt Lancaster portraying a night of partying late in the life of nobleman Lampedusa – the grandfather of the author. In the key dialogue of the novel, the following lines are exchanged by the lead character (Lancaster) and a follower. Lampedusa says:
“If we want for everything to stay as is, it is necessary that everything changes.”
“And now what will happen?”
“Bah, alleged meaningless shootouts after which everything will continue the same, regardless of the fact that it has changed. One of the battles being carried out right now is to have everything continue to be just as is.”
In short, the meaning of leopards is that one leopard is exactly the same as its offspring. They will always be leopards.
A Michoacan journalist Daniel Ambriz wrote the meaning of “gatopardismo” back in 2013, immediately after he realized that there would be no change after Peña Nieto was sworn in as president of Mexico. Peña Nieto, as it applies, was going to be the president of change, but in Mexican political parlance, not everyone knows what gatopardismo means, regardless of the fact that they get to enjoy its benefits. “Those who benefit do not accept it and those who practice it are the ones who deny it the most. Gatopardismo scares politicians, but they thrive embraced by it. It is a reality that strips naked a deciduous political system that refuses to die. Politicians from all political parties revive it because it means money, power and social status. Hypocrisy, cynicism, deceit, corruption and manipulation are the instruments that feed it to keep it alive!”
Now back to AMLO.
For the first time since he was elected Mexico’s future president on July 1, AMLO made an indirect reference to former president Vicente Fox (2000-2006), who “betrayed his followers.”
“Let me make it clear that we are not going to act as those leaders who upon arrival in power betrayed themselves and betrayed their followers,” he said. “In 2000, Mexicans wagered on an alternative and it all ended up in a harmful farce because, instead of changing the regime, the new government only restored it … leading to further damage during the past three six-year presidential terms.”
Of course, AMLO added that this was sheer “gatopardismo,” a practice that would be eradicated as much as possible during his administration, which starts of Dec. 1.
He told the Morena conventioneers that the upcoming regime “is not more of the same; it is not a simulation; it is not gatopardismo. Transformation is not playing a violin that has been an instrument that you grab with the left but play with the right.”
All in all, the Morena convention ended well, with all of AMLO’s followers who have one public office either by direct vote – they get to control both Houses – or by appointment. AMLO is for sure a man of good intentions, but now, since he mentioned it, he’s got to beware of the leopards in his backyard.
Now, let’s put Elba Esther under the microscope as she held a brief press conference Monday morning in which she introduced herself to reporters, saying “here you have the image that’s predominated during five years regarding my person and which is the product of a policy of harassment and political persecution. This is the product of charges based on lies and false accusations to make me seem guilty of something I did not commit. I am innocent.”
She called herself “a scapegoat” and announced she’s back in the fight for the leadership of the 2 million National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), which she lost upon her jailing in February 2013. The SNTE is the largest and most politically powerful union in Mexico. Some even claim that it is the most powerful in all of Latin America.
Elba Esther timed her press conference with the start of the 2018-2019 school year, which sent back millions of children to elementary and middle schools.
But now that she’s free and back in political circulation, Elba Esther is ready to declare war against current SNTE leader Juan Díaz de la Torre, who was one her closest confidants and best friends, but who she now labels as “a traitor” who will be toppled by her followers.
She will also be fighting the leaders of the National Alliance Party (Panal), which lost its registration as a political entity in the past July 1 election by not garnering the required 3 percent of the vote.
About the only thing Gordillo made clear is that she’s going to fight back to recover the SNTE leadership and “defend the rights of parents, children and teachers.”
And about the only thing we know for sure now is that there is going to be a great fight at SNTE as both leaders – Juan Díaz and Elba Esther – are giddying up for a tense face-to-face confrontation.