29 November 2009

Juanito's back - and this time it's for real

Juanito signage in Iztapalpa
"Juanito" has announced his return to the borough government of Iztapalapa after taking leave Oct. 1 to make way for Clara Brugada, the preferred candidate of Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The newspaper Reforma summed up the ongoing Juanito saga best with its Sunday headline: The show returns to Iztapalapa.

The show features an emboldened Rafael "Juanito" Acosta, the headband-wearing, Iztapalapa borough chief with a leave of absence, taking back the office that he ceded to a die-hard loyalist of Andrés Manuel López Obrador that had been disqualified from the July 5 election by the federal electoral tribunal (Trife).

Juanito entered the borough offices through a back door over the weekend and defiantly promised that he would only leave if "they drag me out dead," according to the newspaper Milenio.

"They used me. Now I'm using them," he added.

But the show also features scorned López Obrador followers threatening to prevent Juanito from retaking his elected office. The López Obrador faction in the Mexico City Assembly (ALDF) already has promised to find "legal" ways to remove Juanito from his office, while supporters of the acting borough chief Clara Brugada - including the various "frentes" that agitate for housing in impoverished parts of the borough a and reputedly run the pirate taxi business in the capital - have surrounded the borough office in Iztapalalpa.

Brugada convened an estimated 500 supporters on Saturday night, when she alleged that Juanito was mentally unfit to hold public office and that he was provoking "ungovernability" in Iztapalapa.

"We're going to demand through peaceful means that Juanito keep his word. We're not going to allow social disorder in Iztapalapa," she told her supporters.

The Juanito saga began in June, when the Trife disqualified then-PRD candidate Brugada from the borough chief election due to irregularities at some of the polling stations in the PRD primary elections. Juanito, then-candidate for the PT, was then recruited by López Obrador to run - with López Obrador's backing - and then step aside in favor of Brugada after winning the election. Juanito had second thoughts after the election, but ultimately stepped aside for Brugada.

Juanito's return is provoking headaches for more than just López Obrador, however.

Mayor Marcelo Ebrard deemed the political crisis in the capital's largest borough so urgent that he returned early from a trip and met with Juanito on Sunday morning. The two men had met previously in late September - mere days before Juanito took his oath of office - after which time Juanito decided to take leave and informed the media that he suffered from poor health.

Juanito emerged from the latest meeting undeterred from his plans to retake his office - even though he revealed that Ebrard had offered him the top job in the capital government's sports institute. (Olympic medalist Ana Guevara previously held the job.) He demanded that more security be supplied - he plans on living in the borough office - and said that he would ask President Felipe Calderón for assistance if the Mexico City government failed to comply.

Juanito's motives for ending his 59-day leave of absence remain somewhat uncertain. And although he had said over the past month that he would return to running Iztapalapa, his pronouncements were largely disregarded. He also seemed to be moving beyond politics and capitalizing on his celebrity. Juanito was starring in a play and reportedly had been approached about being a correspondent for a Mexican broadcaster at the World Cup in South Africa. He had been pathetically carting around a statue of himself on a dolly, looking for a place to put it.

It also was no secret that Juanito's relationship with the PT had soured since the election. Juanito had been living in a Colonia Juárez hotel since shortly after the election due to fears for his safety in Iztapalapa, but the PT had stopped the bill last week, according to media reports.

Toward the end of November, Juanito let his scorn be known for Brugada and López Obrador - the latter being a man he passionately supported over the years.

"I asked for leave (Oct. 1) because everyone was against me. Clara Brugada and the López Obrador mafia attacked me with everything and I knew that I wasn't going to be able to govern," he told the newspaper La Razón on Nov. 27.

"I knew that López Obrador, along with Clara Brugada, were going to find a confrontation and blame it on me. I preferred to avoid that and that blood not run."

That scorn extended into Brugada's governance in Iztapalapa and the alleged irregularities in the management of social programs.

Brugada already had raised eyebrows by requesting a 50 percent budget increase for Iztapalapa from the capital government. She also fired some 4,000 employees from the former regime - a frequent occurrence in Mexico when governments are changed.

Juanito called the 4.5 billion pesos that Brugada asked for, "Exaggerated," and alleged, "López Obrador saw Iztapalapa as a jackpot and was going to take from it for his campaign" in 2012.

María Teresa López, Iztapalapa social development director and a Juanito loyalist, told Reforma that since Oct. 1, "(Brugada) has controlled social programs and now we're going to review the management that she was doing of these resources and these beneficiary lists because there's been discretionality."

Juanito may not be so squeaky clean, either.

La Razón columnist Adrián Rueda wrote earlier this month that Ebrard had confronted Juanito back in September with proof that "Rafael Acosta has received a large amount of money from Nueva Viga investors and offers to grant permits to garages interested in dealing stolen auto parts."

How the situation in Iztapalapa unfolds remains to be seen.

The ALDF is expected to address the Iztapalapa situation during its next session on Dec. 1. It's uncertain if the López Obrador faction of the PRD and the PT have sufficient votes to oust Juanito, however. Brugada predicted a lack of governability and "paralisys" due to a suspension in services in Iztapalapa. As proof, Brugada alleged on Sunday that 250,000 homes in Iztapalapa lacked water service - even though the borough government has nothing to do with water service.

For his part, Juanito appears to be going nowhere. He told reporters after meeting with Ebrard: "(The mayor) proposed that I keep Clara in her position and I told him, 'I'm the borough chief and I'm going to stay in Iztapalapa."

28 November 2009

Former Chamber speaker resigns from PRD

Ruth Zavaleta

Ruth Zavaleta, the former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, who jumped into politics and activism after the 1985 earthquake destroyed her Mexico City home, resigned Friday from the left-wing party she helped to found 20 years ago.

In her resignation letter, Zavelta spoke of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) - which was reduced to third-place status in the Chamber after the July 5 midterm elections - as a lost cause. She also mentioned "intolerance" toward the factions that wanted the PRD to move beyond its self-imposed isolation in the legislature and its anti-establishment posturing. Zavaleta instead wanted the PRD to become part of the political establishment and broker deals with rival parties and the federal government - a federal government that loyalists of 2006 PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador consider to be "illegitimate" and refuse to recognize.

"At this time and since the July 5 election, I don't share the way of doing politics in the PRD," Zavaleta said in her letter.

Zavaleta didn't mention López Obrador by name in her letter, but one long-time enemy of the self-declared "legitimate president," former PRD director of political formation, Fernando Belaunzarán, told the newspaper La Razón that she had tired of the "Stalinist intolerance against her," and, "she was attacked in a hypocritical way."

La Razón columnist Adrián Rueda, meanwhile, suggested on Friday that Zavaleta was disappointed that PRD president Jesús Ortega refused to endorse her aspirations for the 2011 gubernatorial race in her birth state of Guerrero - a move that "accelerated" her resignation.

The decision surprised many, but mostly due to the timing of Zavaleta's departure. The PRD holds a "refoundation" forum Dec. 3 - Dec. 6 that has been organized in response to the party's scandalous 2008 leadership race - that Ortega won by barely 16,000 votes and was settled by the federal electoral tribunal - and could result in disaffected factions and members heading for the exits.

Zavaleta expressed pessimism that the forum would produce results.

"I'm not willing to participate in the supposed discussion on the refounding of the PRD because I don't believe that discussion will be had," she said in her letter.

Her departure reflects the ongoing divisions in the PRD as the New Left, a faction loyal to Ortega that favors dialogue with other parties and the federal government, continues to clash with the factions loyal to López Obrador.

Zavaleta - a former New Left member - favored dialogue with the federal government and reflected that posture during her September 2007 - August 2008 tenure as Chamber speaker.

During her tenure, she said that she had a duty to act in an "institutional manner," which meant dealing with the executive branch of government and allowing debate on legislation that might offend the López Obrador faction - such as energy reform. She became the darling of the PAN and Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), however. Then PAN Chamber leader Hector Larios called her, "A star." But Zavaleta enraged parts of her own PRD, whose members so disliked her that on one occasion they failed to vigorously condemn death threats against her.

López Obrador, meanwhile, leveled misogynistic insults after she met with then interior minister Juan Camilo Mouriño - who López Obrador was trying to scalp for allegations that the Campeche native steered Pemex contracts to family businesses. Then-PRD spokesman Gerardo Noroña Fernández also uttered threats against her after she was seen exchanging pleasantries with First Lady Margarita Zavala at a forum on addictions. (Zavaleta responded to López Obrador by calling him, "A man looking for a fight.")

In some ways, though, Zavaleta was a media creation: She had long been a PRD militant and previously served as borough chief in Venustiano Carranaza, but she held a low political profile prior to her becoming speaker.

Her time as speaker was marked by turbulence; the Chamber approved sweeping reforms to the electoral and criminal justice systems, but was shutdown for 16 days by López Obrador loyalists to prevent the introduction of a bill that would reform the petroleum sector. (The bill was eventually passed in October 2008.) Zavaleta became even less popular among the PRD during the shutdown by presiding over sessions convened in an alternate location that allowed the PAN and PRI to approve legislation that weakened the PRD hammerlock on the Mexico City Assembly.

Her tenure ended with a gala departure, but her career since then has been somewhat quiet. Sources say that she had wanted to replace Javier "El Guero" González Garza as PRD leader in the Chamber, but the internal opposition was too strong. Her aspirations to run as PRD gubernatorial candidate in Guerrero also apparently floundered.

Even though Zavaleta has left the PRD, her fortunes, ironically, may be tied to what transpires in the PRD's refoundation forum next month. Rueda - whose daily column in La Razón is required reading for understanding local politics - wrote Friday that Sen. René Arce, the New Left political boss in Mexico City, has a "political association" registered in the capital that might be converted into a new local party before the 2012 elections.

"They will look to consolidate the new party by negotiating in 2012 with whoever has to gain and seek power in Mexico City," Rueda wrote. That might well be the PRI, which is gaining strength nationally, but is weak in the capital.

Zavaleta has said that she won't join another political party, although the PAN has already come calling with César Nava saying that the doors are open for "distinguished citizen" like her. (Zavaleta is reportedly friends with several senior Panístas, including Zavala and Social Development Secretary, Ernesto Cordero - the latter being a member of President Felipe Calderón's inner circle.) But with her media savvy and a cache of good will from former rivals for her work as speaker, her political future remains bright - and most likely lies with a non-left-wing party.