On August 8 the Mexican government announced it was dropping charges against former teachers’ union leader Elba Esther Gordillo and the sinister long-time political operator was set free after five years of various types of arrest (for a time-machine return to her sensational bust, please read our blog post from that wonderful day). The big news came on the same day that Andrés Manuel López Obrador received his official certification as President-elect from electoral authorities, provoking widespread speculation that El Peje had somehow played a role in Gordillo’s release. The López Obrador transition team responded that the timing was a mere coincidence, causing further arching of eyebrows and sidelong glances. Gordillo, for her part, announced that she will be making a political announcement on August 20, so local pundits are suggesting she may reveal some sort of collaboration with the new government.
López Obrador may not have ordered the release of Gordillo, but if this isn’t making his starry-eyed true believers nervous, it should. First, he announced that he would be naming historic PRI villain Manuel Bartlett to head the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). Then long-time PRI villain Elba Esther Gordillo was summarily set free with all charges dropped, and may turn up in the new government in some capacity. Yesterday, the local rags ominously reported that the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) has approved a new electricity company made up of the remnants of the former Mexico City public electricity utility Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC), a towering monument to corruption and incompetence under the PRI that was mercifully dissolved by President Felipe Calderón in 2009.
What do Manuel Bartlett, Elba Esther Gordillo and LyFC all have in common? They are high profile figures synonymous with corruption dating to the era of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988 – 1994), who has been the absolute bête noire of AMLO himself throughout his multiple presidential campaigns. López Obrador has always defended Luz y Fuerza, of course, since he is a fierce proponent of state control over the energy industry. But Bartlett is historically reviled among the Mexican left for being the face of the PRI’s presumed electoral fraud that stole the presidency from leftist icon Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in 1988, paving the way for the Salinas regime that ushered in free trade with the United States and Canada. Gordillo amassed a personal fortune as a union leader and after a long career in the PRI cozied up to the PAN and then formed her own party, Nueva Alianza.
We have yet to see what role Elba Esther may or may not play in the new government. The latest signs, however, raise the prospect that Mr. López Obrador’s promised “Fourth Transformation” for Mexico may be a transformation back to the bad old days of the 1980s PRI. The sudden reemergence of some sinister figures from that era is an alarming start.