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Mexico City's Juanito refuses to be a political place-holder

Rafael Acosta, aka Juanito, a flamboyant street vendor, ran for a borough office in a deal with the PRD that called for him to give up the post to its favored candidate. But he's changed his mind.

December 01, 2009|By Ken Ellingwood
  • Rafael Acosta gives a thumbs up to the press as he sits in the offices of the borough chief of Ixtapalapa in Mexico City.
Rafael Acosta gives a thumbs up to the press as he sits in the offices of the… (Marco Ugarte / Associated…)

Reporting from Mexico City — One of Mexico's most flamboyant political figures, the headband-sporting street vendor known as Juanito, revived a circus-like power struggle Monday by saying he would like to govern the capital's largest borough after all.

Juanito, whose real name is Rafael Acosta, threw Mexico City into a fresh tizzy when he showed up to work as delegado, a position akin to mayor, of the working-class Iztapalapa borough after a two-month leave of absence. Acosta, wearing his trademark red, green and white headband and a T-shirt with his own image, was accompanied by a locksmith and news cameras.

Acosta, elected in July, said he would name a new government for the community of 1.8 million.

Mexico City officials searched for ways to unseat Acosta, and scores of protesters clustered at borough headquarters calling for his ouster.

Acosta said only death would keep him from the post, which he won through a political maneuver that was aimed at putting someone else in power.

"I am the delegado," he declared. "I am in this seat."

Everyone thought the matter was resolved in October, when Acosta took office and then, as part of the switch, asked for the leave of absence. He named former Congresswoman Clara Brugada as his replacement, and the arrangement appeared done: Brugada would govern Iztapalapa, and Acosta would move on to other pursuits, such as a budding acting career.

Alas, nothing in this episode has gone according to plan.

Over the weekend, Acosta announced that he would take over Monday when his leave ended, rather than give up the post permanently. He staged a sit-in with supporters at the Iztapalapa government complex, while Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard urged him to leave the job to Brugada, a member of Ebrard's leftist party.

Brugada dispatched allies to a rival sit-in and made comments questioning Acosta's mental stability. She appealed to the leftist-dominated Mexico City legislature to fire him to keep the peace in Iztapalapa.

A legislative committee late Monday voted to ask the full Mexico City legislature today whether to oust Acosta.

Acosta, meanwhile, toured borough offices and posed behind the delegado's desk, jabbing a thumb in a sign of victory.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former mayor and presidential candidate, devised the plan to have Acosta elected in order to block a candidate from a rival wing of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, which dominates in Iztapalapa.

Lopez Obrador urged supporters to vote for Acosta, an activist from the little-known Labor Party. The deal called for Acosta, if elected, to step down in favor of Brugada, a Lopez Obrador ally who was ruled off the July 5 ballot after a disputed internal party vote.

But after winning, Acosta threatened to keep the job, saying Brugada was reneging on promises to hire his followers. He eventually agreed to the leave of absence, which everyone assumed would be permanent.

Acosta is to play himself in a satirical production about the ruckus. The play, whose name translates to "Oh Juanito, Don't Back Out," opens Friday.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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