Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

An expensive handbag fight

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on July 8, 2011

by The Economist – Americas View, July 8th, 2011.

In many countries, teachers’ unions confine themselves to bickering about bureaucracy (in Britain, they even complain when the government tries to remove it). But in Latin America, and especially in Mexico, they are mighty things. Mexico’s National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) is the single biggest union (of any sort, not just education) in Latin America, with more than 1.2m members. Its power is one of the reasons why Mexico’s education system is roughly as good as that of Jordan, which is half as rich.

The union’s boss, Elba Esther Gordillo, is one of Mexico’s most extraordinary political creations. During a lifetime of public service, she has accumulated a fortune that reportedly includes mansions in Mexico City and California and a private jet. “La Maestra” (“the teacher”), as Ms Gordillo likes to be known, was spotted the other day in $1,200 shoes and with a $5,500 handbag, according to a local Mexican paper. The SNTE’s members’ dues run to some $60m a year. A recent audit of one taxpayer-funded education programme found irregularities in the records of 90,000 of its recipients. One teacher was receiving the equivalent of $66,000 a month.

The extent of Ms Gordillo’s political power has recently been revealed in more detail. Last week La Maestra confirmed the long-circulating rumour that before the 2006 election she made a “political arrangement” with Felipe Calderón, now the president, that she would back his candidacy in return for his agreement to appoint allies of hers to posts in the government. Mr Calderón, who won by the narrowest of margins, duly obliged, appointing Miguel Ángel Yunes to head the ISSSTE, the social security agency that deals with public sector workers, including teachers. (continue reading… )

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