Gómez arrives at Mexico City airport, credentials in hand. Gómez arrives at Mexico City airport, credentials in hand.

Once accused of embezzling $55 million, union boss returns from exile

Mine workers' union leader, now a senator, spent 12 years in exile

A union leader formerly accused of embezzling US $55 million has returned to Mexico to take up a position as a federal senator after spending 12 years in exile in Canada.

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, president of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers, fled Mexico in 2006 while facing accusations of fraud against 20,000 miners.

He was accused of stealing money owed to them in relation to the purchase of a state-owned mine by mining conglomerate Grupo México.

He continued to serve as the union’s boss while living in Vancouver and this year was elected to another six-year term.

The current federal government attempted to extradite Gómez to Mexico, and for a while he was included on Interpol’s red list.

However, a federal court ruled in 2014 that the warrant for his arrest was unconstitutional, while many labor organizations around the world claimed that Gómez was unfairly persecuted for political reasons.

Now, the union boss is on the verge of being sworn in as a plurinominal, or proportional representation, senator for Morena, the party that president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador led to a landslide victory in the July 1 elections.

After receiving his Senate credentials yesterday in preparation for taking the oath of office tomorrow — after which he will have immunity from prosecution known as the fuero — Gómez made some brief remarks to the media regarding his role as a senator but didn’t respond to questions, explaining that he will hold a press conference Thursday.

His goals as a lawmaker, Gómez said, were to “help to reconstruct the country, help to change economic policy so that we can really put an end to inequality and poverty and help to eliminate corruption.”

The United States’ largest industrial labor union, the United Steelworkers, said in a statement that it welcomed Gómez’s return and included an extract of a congratulatory letter written by its international president Leo. W. Gerard.

“With your swearing-in to the Senate, a new world of possibilities begins for Los Mineros and the working class of Mexico,” the letter said.

“For the first time in decades, there is a real opportunity to transform the structures of worker representation . . . This transformation would benefit not only workers in Mexico, but also their sisters and brothers in Canada and the United States who have suffered the unfair competition resulting from wage suppression in Mexico.”

Olga Sánchez Cordero, prospective interior secretary in the incoming federal government, today defended Gómez’s appointment as a senator, saying that no charges against him had been proven and that he had been absolved of all of them.

Source: Milenio (sp), El Economista (sp)

Reader forum

The forum is available to logged-in subscribers only.