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MEXICO CITY – One of Mexico's powerful old-time union bosses has made an unrepentant, triumphal return to the public spotlight after being freed from nearly five years of prison and house arrest.
Elba Esther Gordillo was arrested in 2013 on corruption and money laundering charges, the last of which were dismissed this month. Her fall helped President Enrique Pena Nieto implement a reform requiring teacher testing.
Members of the National Education Workers Union she once led turned out to cheer her euphorically Monday, with some weeping as she appeared at a Mexico City hotel to read a brief statement.
"I recovered my freedom and the education reform has collapsed," Gordillo said, using the oratory and theatrical skills that once made her a major political figure. But she didn't say whether she would return to politics.
"For the present, I owe my time to my family who suffered during my absence, but that doesn't mean I will abandon my convictions," Gordillo said. "My place and my loyalty will always be with the teachers of Mexico ... Life goes on, and things have to go well for Mexico."
President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office Dec. 1, has pledged to rescind the educational reform, and has announced a public consultation to determine how to improve schools.
The testing reform broke the union's stranglehold on management of the nation's schools, where some teachers had been able to pass their teaching jobs on to their children.
But Lopez Obrador, and many teachers, said the reform relies too heavily on standardized tests that may not reflect a teacher's ability.
Pre-school teacher Adriana Femat, 53, was one of the throngs of Gordillo's supporters who pressed their way into the crowded event hall to cheer Gordillo. Femat wept a bit as Gordillo— known as to her supporters simply as "The Teacher" — began speaking.
"The Teacher's words were very beautiful, with all the support for teachers," said Femat. For her Gordillo represents "respect for teachers. We have been so excessively insulted. Education begins at home," she said, adding parents needed to do more.
But outside the hotel where Gordillo spoke, a small knot of protesters held up signs reading "Your place is in prison."
Gordillo had been accused of funneling about $160 million in union funds into private bank accounts with the help of assistants. She was never convicted, but her spending — on luxury clothing brands, plastic surgery, and homes in San Diego — became legendary and contrasted strongly with the realities of her poorly paid teachers.