Mexico City – The president-for-life of Mexico's 1.7-million-strong teachers union told Efe she has no plans to retire and certainly will not be pushed out amid recent corruption allegations, although she acknowledged that plans must be made for an eventual changing of the guard within her organization.
"The education workers and I - due to the time I've served - are are the only ones who can retire me," Elba Esther Gordillo said when asked if a campaign is in the works to oust her from the SNTE teachers union she has headed for the past 22 years.
Gordillo, one of Mexico's most powerful women, told Efe in an interview Wednesday in this capital that she sees herself staying on in the SNTE but said one must think "serenely and maturely" about eventual replacements and that "cadres (already are being) organized."
The boss of Latin America's largest union has found herself in the eye of the storm in recent weeks after confirming a long-standing rumor that she helped then-candidate Felipe Calderon win the presidency in 2006 in return for his agreeing to appoint some of her associates to posts in his administration.
As part of those bargains, erstwhile Gordillo ally Miguel Angel Yunes was named head of the ISSSTE, the agency that administers health and pension benefits for public employees, although the union boss said his appointment was not part of an electoral pact but rather was intended to ensure a reform of that institution.
In her public remarks in late June, the union boss also said she had nothing to do with the management of the ISSSTE - which provides benefits to SNTE members. She said some 8 billion pesos ($685 million) had disappeared due to fraud and called for an audit.
Gordillo told Efe, referring to the arrangements with Calderon, that there was "nothing illegitimate" and "no state secret" involved in reaching accords "to achieve very clear and defined objectives in a democratic system," including an agreement to improve educational quality.
The union leader's remarks, analysts say, marked the severing of her alliance with Calderon, winner of the bitter 2006 contest by a margin of less than 0.6 percent over leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who continues to maintain the election was stolen.
Meanwhile, Yunes, who is no longer the ISSSTE's director, created a firestorm on July 5 by accusing the union boss of demanding he funnel 20 million pesos ($1.7 million) a month to a political party she helped create.
In comments to the press, Yunes said Gordillo first approached him in February 2007, two months after Calderon took office.
Gordillo, once described by a U.S. political analyst as "Mexico's Jimmy Hoffa in a dress," immediately fired back at Yunes, saying in an open letter to the media that his claims were "rash, frivolous and slanderous."
Known as "La maestra" (The Teacher), Gordillo has inspired admiration and hatred throughout her lengthy stint as head of the SNTE, traditionally a pillar of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico from 1929 to the 2000 election victory of the PAN's Vicente Fox.
Gordillo had cordial relations with Fox and was drummed out of the PRI in 2006 because she helped start a new centrist party, Panal, that put forward its own presidential candidate.
She told Efe that she confirmed her arrangement with Calderon amid pressure from radical elements from both the PRI and PAN and in the context of a society demanding the truth.
But she said allegations of mismanagement of ISSSTE's finances should be the focus because there are hospitals that lack alcohol and some medical facilities have been left unfinished.
She said she also is open to an audit of the SNTE, which, according to the press, takes in $10 million a month in union dues.
But she says such an inspection should not be carried out under the "heat of pressure" because the funds it manages are private not public like those of the ISSSTE, an institution that is "patrimony of the workers."
Gordillo said after a burst of laughter that it would be "ideal" if $10 million in union dues were collected monthly. "The day we present (the real figure) many things will be cleared up," she said.
"I think those voices (demanding access to the SNTE's accounts) are legitimate ... I think there's a need to do it, that it's a step in our democratic life," she said.