While controlling the SNTE teachers union for almost 25 years, Elba Esther Gordillo garnered vast political influence and a reputation of being virtually ‘untouchable’. She was also able to amass a considerable personal fortune, allegedly using misappropriated funds to subsidise her lavish lifestyle. However, Gordillo's illusion of invulnerability was swiftly shattered by the Peña Nieto administration, which cut ties with the former union leader despite her support during the 2012 elections.

Impact

  • Labeled Mexico’s ‘Most Powerful Woman’ by Forbes México in 2012, Esther Gordillo, the former Head of the National Educational Workers Union (SNTE), has long been seen as an ‘untouchable’ informal elite who acted with impunity and lived an extravagant lifestyle at the expense of the union members she was tasked with protecting before her eventual arrest in February 2013. By aligning herself with both PRI and PAN administrations and successive presidents, she was able to consolidate her hold on the SNTE and divert millions of dollars of public funds into her own accounts while maintaining protection.
  • Due to her political affiliations, Gordillo had successfully avoided numerous corruption charges. Throughout her 24 years as Head of the SNTE, Gordillo operated with relative impunity with the knowledge that the country’s political elite would not prosecute her and risk losing her influence over the union – or the 1.5 million votes that she could guarantee during elections.