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."

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