Elba Esther's plane

Elba Esther's plane

Organisation: Nexos Magazine (Mexico)

Publication Date: 04/07/2017


Size of team/newsroom:small


The research uncovers aspects never before known about the power, political interests and lifestyle of Elba Esther Gordillo, president of the Mexican Teachers' Union, the largest in Latin America with 1.4 million members. From a novel perspective, the research reconstructs how the airplane was the main tool of the union leader to move without restrictions in Mexico and abroad in order to intervene in elections, negotiate with local leaders, interview with governors and gain power. In addition, the research documents how Gordillo spent part of the economic resources that the Mexican teachers gave to his union. The investigation prioritizes the data and facts, not the opinions, to display the hundreds of trips Gordillo made in more than eight years. Through a precise narration, the airplane is shown as a symbol of power, status and excesses of this woman, but also as a symbol of her fall. With the travel documents of Elba Esther Gordillo in her private plane we were able to know how the political and electoral operation was carried out by the leader of the teachers union in her last years in freedom. Gordillo is one of the most popular women in Mexican politics and her controversial figure interests to most Mexicans. Before it was stopped, Forbes magazine considered her the most powerful woman in the country.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

In Mexico there are not enough data, numbers and records of the political operation and the excesses of Elba Esther Gordillo as leader of the teachers' union. We knew to have a plane at his disposal, but an investigation was needed to document why she was traveling, with whom and how she used the money from the teachers' union. Nobody had accurate record of Gordillo's private activity in the last years and flight plans were one of the few alternatives to know his movements. Flight plans are not open documents. We made a request for information to the Mexican government through the transparency law. We obtained hundreds of official documents, made a database and crossed the data with news published in the media. We had access to the file with the judicial investigation against Gordillo for the crimes of money laundering and interviewed the prosecutors who investigate it. Thus we documented the financial framework that allowed Gordillo to have a private plane that took her for eight years. The investigation had an important impact because it showed to the Mexicans the networks of power and the lifestyle of Elba Esther Gordillo. The investigation was taken up by Mexican media and the value of the data it disseminated was acknowledged.

Technologies used for this project:

For this research we use the programs Excel, Word and Google as an internet search engine. We also use Google Maps, Google Earth, NextGen from the Federal Aviation Administration and FlightAware Flight Tracker. The report involved a work of 29 months and was published on June 1, 2016.


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